Mon, 11 Mar 2024 Feature Article

Humanism, Female Genital Mutilation, and Islamic Theocracy in The Gambia

Humanism, Female Genital Mutilation, and Islamic Theocracy in The Gambia

The West African Humanist Network deplores attempts by Muslim clerics and parliamentarians to repeal the ban on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in The Gambia. The move constitutes a threat to democracy and women's rights in the country. According to a BBC report, the government of The Gambia outlawed the practice in 2015. The then president, Yahya Jammeh, stated that the practice was incompatible with Islam. However, some Muslim clerics disagreed with him and have been campaigning to unban FGM in The Gambia.

Female Genital Mutilation entails " removing the sensitive clitoris, the genitals are cut and stitched closed so that the woman cannot have or enjoy sex". More than three-quarters of Gambian females between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone genital cutting.

Some Muslim clerics regard the practice of FGM or 'female circumcision' as consistent with their religious and Islamic beliefs. The main body of Muslim clerics, The Gambia Supreme Islamic Council, supports the move to unban FGM. The lawmaker who tabled the bill, Almammeh Gibba, noted that the "practice could not be described as mutilation if done properly". He added that the bill would "uphold (Islamic) religious purity and safeguard cultural norms and values". West African Humanist Network rejects this notion of 'cultural norms or values'. Bills should uphold human rights, liberty equity and justice.

Although the majority of the population identifies as Muslims, The Gambia is a secular democracy, not an Islamic theocracy. There should be separation of mosque and state, gender equity and justice in The Gambia. West African Humanist Network joins The Gambia's Female Lawyers Association in condemning this bill and urges other parliamentarians to reject it.

Humanists regard this move to unban FGM as a backward step that Gambians of all faiths or none should oppose and resist.

Parliamentarians in The Gambia should propose bills looking forward, not backward, protecting the rights of women and girls, not undermining their reproduction rights and health in the name of religion, in this case, Islam.

West African Humanist Network will work with other human rights groups to resist this retrogressive move to repeal the ban on FGM in The Gambia.

Leo Igwe is a member of the Western African Humanist Network