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Gambian lawmakers to vote on cancelling female genital mutilation ban

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Campaigners say women from religious minorities and disadvantaged castes face more online harassment

Gambian lawmakers planned on Monday to vote on a proposal to repeal a ban on female genital mutilation (FGM), which has been on the rise in recent years despite moves to outlaw the practice.

The small West African nation imposed steep fines and jail sentences in 2015 for those who carry out FGM. The World Health Organization says female circumcision has no health benefits and can lead to excessive bleeding, shock, psychological problems, and death.

Lawmaker Almameh Gibba presented the repeal bill earlier this month, arguing that the ban violates citizens’ rights to practice their culture and religion. Gambia is an overwhelmingly Muslim country.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a report released earlier this month that the number of women and girls who have undergone FGM worldwide has increased from 200 million eight years ago to 230 million now.

While more than half of the 92 countries where FGM is practiced have laws banning it, according to the advocacy group Equality Now, activists say criminalization is a crucial step.

The prevalence of FGM among girls in Gambia has fallen precipitously since its ban was enacted, UN data show.

“If the law is reversed in Gambia, there is a risk that the advocacy efforts in subsequent countries will fail or go back,” said Caroline Lagat, a programme officer at Equality Now.

“In countries that have adopted the law, we might see pro-FGM activists using Gambia as a case and an example of changing the law on the basis of culture,” she said.

Gambia’s ban, adopted under autocratic ex-president Yahya Jammeh, has faced pushback in Gambia, particularly since President Adama Barrow came to power in 2017.

Three women were fined last August for carrying out FGM on eight infant girls, becoming the first people convicted under the law.

The Gambia Supreme Islamic Council responded to the verdict by saying female circumcision was one of the virtues of Islam.

Members of parliament have come out both in favour of and against the bill. Barrow has not spoken publicly on the issue.

Jaha Dukureh, an anti-FGM campaigner in Gambia, said she was confident the bill would be voted down but that activists like herself faced an uphill battle.

“Everyone claims to be against the practice, but grassroots organisations and communities are not receiving enough support to end it,” she said.

Campaigners say women from religious minorities and disadvantaged castes face more online harassment

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