FGM & Gamcotrap - Gunjur Report April 2015

It reflects the strength of our relationship and the trust we have built up with colleagues as a result of our 32 year partnership with this strongly Islamic community that we were asked by Gambian diaspora friends in Bristol the Kombo Sillah Association, to help them to write a funding application to work with a Gambian NGO Gamcotrap to eradicate the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Gunjur.

You might ask why, after 30 years of friendship, we have not been involved before. FGM is such a widely practised (it is estimated that 76% of girls are cut), and deeply embedded and secretive cultural activity which no one likes to talk about, that we have been hesitant to "jump in" as outsiders, always feeling that change has got to come from within the community, not imposed from outside.

We paid courtesy calls on the Imam, Nyansimba and the Alikali. The meeting with the Imam was interesting as we brought up the topic of FGM. The Imam made it clear that Islam neither condoned nor disapproved of FGM and that he knew that certain clan groups e.g. the Mandinkas and the Fulas practised FGM, Wollofs did not. He said that was a matter of their choice and both attitudes were acceptable in Islam.

We expressed our concern about FGM from the Human Rights as well as the health perspective, pointing out that it put babies at risk of dying if there was delay in labour due to scarring. The Imam said that the death of a baby was the will of Allah.

During the recent two weeks (April 2015) we had several meetings and discussions on this topic.
The Nyansimba is the head of the women's organisations in Gunjur. Janneke Blokland and Nick Maurice met with her and Demba Touray, the Chair of the Village Development Committee. We asked her if she would be prepared to discuss the subject and she said she would not because it would damage her reputation amongst the women of Gunjur who feel strongly in favour of FGM. She did however agree to listen to us talking for 30 minutes about the health and human rights aspects at the end of which she said that she would reflect on what had been said. We could not have asked for more.

Gamcotrap (The Gambian Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children)

We held an excellent two hour meeting with the staff of Gamcotrap led by Amie Bojang, the Deputy Director (Dr Fatou Touray, the Director was in the US).

They talked about their campaign to persuade women to "drop the knife". They have already done some work in Gunjur and made several local radio programmes on the subject. They meet with the elders and religious leaders. They said that often the cutters had no understanding of the female anatomy and do appalling damage.
They show videos of the cutting process to women and men which they find very disturbing. They provide alternative employment for the cutters, as cutting is well paid at 100D (£1.50) per child. Many ex cutters are now working with them to persuade others to drop the knife. Gamcotrap provides training to empower ex-cutters and provide them with employment such as keeping livestock, bakeries and making juice from mangos.

At a political level, there is draft bill to make FGM illegal and both the Minister for Women's Affairs and the Vice President are opposed to FGM but are influenced by the utterances of the Supreme Islamic Council who maintain that it is an Islamic practice despite the fact that it is illegal in Saudi Arabia.
It was agreed that Gamcotrap would provide MBG with a written proposal and budget for the campaign in Gunjur.

The Chair of the Supreme Islamic Council based in Banjul is Imam Alhagie Lamin Touray who is a resident of Gunjur. We hope to meet with him on our next visit.

Nick Maurice