15 June 2015

A week in The Gambia

Blog by Ann-Marie Wilson and Tina Bellamy.

Having published our FGM in The Gambia FGM Country report in March, we have headed off to West Africa for a month, initially travelling to Banjul, The Gambia, where FGM affects 76.3% of girls and women. 

We set off at 4am for a flight to Brussels, and then to Banjul, via Dakar, Senegal. As we got off the plane, the heat hit us which was a big change after a rather cool start to summer in the UK. We were held back whilst a VIP was collected at the plane. We were all Ebola screened and we blended in with Rest of the passengers in their long clothes and travel wraps. 

Then Tina got her first experience of Africa - driving along a dusty road, colourful scenery and negotiating. First we had a currency exchange stop which was negotiation number one. Next we stopped at a supermarket for water which led to negotiation two. Our third negotiation during the journey was to organise a take away dinner stop and finally there were more negotiations to ensure both of us got a vegetarian meal. Fortunately our accommodations were already arranged for a well-deserved rest after our long journey. 

Our first meeting was with three men from the Mandinka, Jolof and Fula people groups who spoke of how their sisters and communities have been affected by FGM. They invited us to address a Women's meeting in rural Gambia on Saturday and we gladly accepted. The role of faith based organisations is key to ending FGM here.

We also met a couple heading back to Basse, six hours away, complete with donkey cart and a dozen ducks. The woman, Elizabeth, had witnessed FGM at a cutting ceremony and cried as she told us what she had seen. She went away equipped with information to share with the women of her village, having heard of our work from our Malian Country Representative. Both men and women need to engage in ending FGM.

Our second day was spent with 300 children in a local school and with 3 youth activism charities. Kids Come First, Safe Hands for Girls and Think Young Women all aim to rally African survivors and encourage young people to be the first in their families to not practice FGM. In a country of youth, their role in ending FGM is key.

Another day we spent with UNICEF, the government's Information Office and the Law Faculty of the University.  As the draft FGM bill has not yet passed into statute, much debate followed over how important this is to help end FGM in The Gambia. Our research on FGM shows that when a Government passes such a bill it facilitates other action against FGM. The law needs to clearly state that FGM is a crime and that those responsible for it will be held accountable. Knowledge of the law empowers more people to find courage and strength to defend their human rights. 

During the rest of the week we visited The Standard newspaper who boldly published an article this week on 30 girls who were cut last weekend, and after our visit they also published one on an interview with Ann-Marie.  We also spent a day with the NGO sector, and our friends GAMCOTRAP and Action Aid. We shared resources, ideas and campaigns and watched training resources on sensitising communities to FGM. Video footage of FGM is always upsetting to see, but it is often the only way for men to know what the practice entails, and watching this is saving lives.

Over the last few days we have seen that much is being done to raise awareness to stop FGM but FGM remains prevalent in many parts of The Gambia. Even as we visit and meet with anti-FGM campaigners, we are told that this is the cutting month and, as seen in the newspaper report earlier this week, many girls are undergoing FGM. There many barriers to overcome such as a lack of education, resistance to change and the misconception that FGM is a religious requirement. However the women and men we have met want this practice eradicated and they have the self-belief and stamina to keep fighting for this cause and to save the next generation of girls from being cut. 

Our 8 days in Banjul have given us a warm welcome to The Gambia, and we feel progress is on the way. We look forward to returning again soon.

Learn more about FGM in The Gambia in our Country Profile report.


28 Too Many researches FGM and campaigns to end the practice in the 28 African countries where it is practised and across the global diaspora. You can donate to support our research and campaign to protect girls and end this practice. Please also follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on the global movement to end FGM.