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Statement on Repeal of law banning female genital mutilation in The Gambia

Helen Clark, PMNCH Board Chair; Joy Phumaphi and Githinji Gitahi, Co-Chairs, PMNCH Advocacy and Partner Engagement Committee; Flavia Bustreo, Chair, PMNCH Governance and Ethics Committee; Martin Chungong, Secretary General, Inter-Parliamentary Union.

As the world’s leading alliance committed to the health and well-being of women, children and adolescents, including the most vulnerable, the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH) expresses profound concern over the proposed repeal of the law banning female genital mutilation (FGM) in The Gambia. This concern is echoed by the IPU, the global organization of national parliaments, striving for a world where democracy and parliaments are at the service of the people for peace and development. The Private Member’s bill introduced in the National Assembly to reverse the landmark Women’s (Amendment) Act of 2015 poses significant risks to the health, rights and dignity of women and girls in the country.

FGM is a grave violation of human rights and a harmful practice with severe health consequences, including physical, psychological, and reproductive and sexual health complications. FGM is associated with increased risks of postpartum hemorrhage and perinatal death, as well as urinary tract infections, menstrual difficulties and mental health conditions over the life course of women and girls.

The Gambia has demonstrated leadership in safeguarding the rights and well-being of women and girls through the passage of the Women’s (Amendment) Act by Parliament in 2015. This law was and continues to be a major step forward in protecting the rights of women and girls. It was adopted after a long process of community awareness and social mobilization based on research and data documenting the practice of FGM in The Gambia and its harmful effects. Repealing this law would not only undermine this progress but also perpetuate a cycle of discrimination and violence against women and girls.

The consequences of repealing the ban on FGM extend beyond individual health outcomes to broader societal implications. It would undo the hard-won progress in eliminating FGM and ensuring that women and girls reach their full potential and participate fully in Gambian society. It would send the message that the rights and dignity of women and girls can be revoked, undermining efforts to achieve gender equality and social justice. Moreover, it threatens to roll back decades of advocacy, awareness-raising and community mobilization aimed at ending the practice of FGM in The Gambia and beyond.

PMNCH and the IPU emphasize the importance of upholding international human rights standards and commitments to protect women and girls from all forms of violence and discrimination. As a signatory to various international instruments, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), The Gambia has a duty to uphold its obligations to its people and prioritize the health and rights of its population.

Combatting FGM requires partnership at all levels. Parliamentarians can develop and uphold comprehensive legal frameworks. Opinion leaders, including faith leaders, should speak out firmly against the practice. Community members, including health workers, can carry out powerful awareness campaigns based on lived experience, ensuring that care and support for survivors are integrated into sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health (SRMNCAH) services.

PMNCH and the IPU urge the National Assembly and its members to pursue efforts to continue to implement the Women’s (Amendment) Act of 2015, protecting this hard-won achievement and setting an example in promoting the rights of women and girls. We remain committed to providing the National Assembly with any required support.

We pledge all possible support to The Gambia in strengthening its efforts to prevent and address this harmful practice through multi-sectoral actions. This includes ensuring robust enforcement mechanisms, increasing access to quality healthcare services, and promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment initiatives. Additionally, we call for meaningful engagement with communities, including men and boys, to challenge harmful gender norms and promote positive social change.

PMNCH and the IPU stand in solidarity with survivors of FGM, as well as with civil society organizations, activists, and partners working tirelessly to end this human rights violation. Together, we must redouble our efforts to protect the rights and dignity of women and girls, and to create a future where every individual can live free from violence, discrimination, and harm.

IPU Secretariat, Geneva