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Source: Daily Observer
Thirty female circumcisers in 336 communities in the Central River Region north over the weekend publicly declared their abandonment of the deeply entrenched traditional practice of Female Genital Mutilation, during a landmark fourth declaration ceremony held in Wassu village. The declaration ceremony, which came after the end of series of sensitisations and advocacy programmes by The Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP), was described as a victory for the anti-FGM campaigners, and GAMCOTRAP in particular.

GAMCOTRAP organised the declaration ceremony in collaboration with the Council of Chiefs, who shared the views that this deeply rooted traditional practice has had serious health complications on women and young girls; hence the need to abandon it. The ceremony brought together hundreds of the inhabitants of the village and dignitaries, including foreign resident diplomats, religious leaders, representatives of the various NGOs and the security apparatus. It was supported by the United Nations Fund for Population Affairs (UNFPA). In her statement on the occasion, the executive director of GAMCOTRAP, Dr. Isatou Touray, explained that the organisation is an NGO that promotes women's social, political, economic and cultural rights, with main focus on sexual and reproductive health rights. The organisation, she said, creates awareness on traditional practices with a view to eliminate the harmful practices that are inimical to the health and well being of women and children, particularly the girl child.

Dr. Touray indicated that communities all over the country from Banjul to Basse are responding to the change, describing the fourth declaration in CRR as a testimony of the fruitful nature of their campaigns. "We are celebrating a historic moment in a region where more than 300 girls or children are cut in a given district or perhaps by single circumciser in a given year. The day signifies the result of people whose voices are heard; the manifestation of which is seen by the dropping of the knife. This brings an end to the relentless efforts, engagements, trainings, dialogue and consensus building to end the practice of FGM," Touray remarked.

The women's rights activist further stated that the day did not only provide another platform to say no to FGM with a louder voice, but also outlined the giant steps to be taken by the communities to sustain the abandonment of the practice. The dropping of the knife, Dr Touray stressed, should serve as the beginning of steps geared towards the promotion of the health and rights of Gambian women. GAMCOTRAP and its partners, according to her, are proud of the women and men of CRR north under the watch of its local authorities and religious leaders, who contributed in making the declaration successful.

"We must build social cohesion and ensure the protection of women and girls from all forms of violence. Since 2011, GAMCOTRAP has been engaged in effective and efficient social mobilisation processes with the support of the community leaders," She lauded the UNFPA for being supportive to GAMCOTRAP over the years. She also commended the Gambian authorities for creating an enabling environment for their work.

A professor of development geography at London School of Economics, Sylvia Chant, who graced the occasion, expressed delight for being among the multitude of people in Wassu to witness the landmark declaration.

Professor Chant used the occasion to disclose that the UK Prime Minister David Cameroon has pledged 35 million Pounds to eradicate FGM, given that girls in Britain are more at risk of the practice than anywhere else in Europe. This move, he said, is the biggest ever international investment aimed at tackling a situation in which over 60, 000 women living in UK have already undergone cutting with estimated further 30, 000 girls at risk.

The assistant country representative of UNFPA, Fatou Sanyang said the declaration in Wassu was the end result of series of trainings, and sensitisations over the past two years. "We have succeeded in declaring CRR north FGM-free zone with effect from today 13th April," she stated.

The governor of the region, Gaynie Touray, said the occasion is important to the health and well being of women and children, as it marked the abandonment of a practice that has had its toll on their health. He praised GAMCOTRAP and its partners for championing this worthy cause.

Other speakers included Nyimasata Sanneh-Bojang of GAMCOTRAP board, the regional health director in CRR, Jankoba Jabbie, Kebba Barrow of TANGO, and Chief Pierre Bah of Naini.

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