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Gambia parliament votes to reverse its landmark ban on Female Genital Mutilation

Banjul [Gambia]: The Gambian parliament on Monday voted to lift a ban on female circumcision or Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which involves the partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, Al Jazeera reported.

According to the Al Jazeera report, this move could make Gambia the first country in the world to reverse legal protections against the practice for millions of women and girls.

Politicians in the West African nation's parliament voted 42 to four to advance the controversial bill, which would repeal a landmark 2015 ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) that made the practice punishable by up to three years in prison.

Almameh Gibba, the legislator who introduced the bill, argued that the ban violated citizens' rights to "practice their culture and religion" in the overwhelmingly Muslim country. "The bill seeks to uphold religious loyalty and safeguard cultural norms and values," he said.

But activists and rights organisations said the proposed legislation reverses years of progress and risks damaging the country's human rights record.

Jaha Marie Dukureh, of Safe Hands for Girls, an NGO seeking to end FGM said that the practice was "child abuse". She, herself, underwent the practice and watched her sister bleed to death following the procedure, Al Jazeera reported.

"The people who applaud FGM in this country, a lot of them are men. These are men who don't have the same lived experiences that we do, and women who have been through this practice continue to tell them every single day what their suffering is, what their pain is," she said.

The debate over repealing the ban, imposed by former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, who ruled the country with an iron fist for 22 years before being toppled in 2016, has divided the nation.

The debate flared up in August, when three women were fined for carrying out FGM on eight infant girls, becoming the first people convicted under the law.

The bill will now be sent to a parliamentary committee for further scrutiny before a third reading, a process that is expected to take three months. The committee can make amendments to the measure.

UNICEF, the UN agency for children, defines FGM as "the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons."

Seventy-six per cent of Gambian females aged between 15 and 49 have undergone FGM, according to a 2021 report by UNICEF, Al Jazeera reported.

It can lead to serious health problems, including infections, bleeding, infertility and complications in childbirth, and impair sexual pleasure.
"Girls' bodies are their own. FGM robs them of autonomy over their bodies and causes irreversible harm," said the UN's The Gambia office on X ahead of the debate.

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