The Gambia Votes to Reverse Landmark Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

The Gambia Votes to Reverse Landmark Ban on Female Genital Mutilation
Anti Female Genital Mutilation protesters outside the National Assembly in Banjul, Gambia. © Muhamadou Bittaye, March 18th, 2024, via AFP.


Tsedenia Gigar Getaneh 

Women’s Rights Researcher, 

Global Human Rights Defence

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,” - by Jaha Marie Dukureh, founder of an anti-FGM group, Safe Hands for Girls.

In a move regarded as being both controversial and significant at the same time, The Gambia's parliament recently voted to advance a bill that could potentially repeal the country’s 2015 ban on female genital mutilation (FGM), sparking intense debate and concern amongst human rights activists and organisations worldwide. FGM was outlawed in the country eight years ago and is punishable by up to three years' imprisonment. The new proposed legislation, which seeks to overturn the ban imposed during the authoritarian regime of former President Yahya Jammeh, has been defended by its proponents, including legislator Almameh Gibba, as an effort to preserve cultural and religious practices in The Gambia. “The bill seeks to uphold religious loyalty and safeguard cultural norms and values,” he said (Aljazeera, March 19, 2024).

Many of the women who entered the National Assembly building on Monday to witness the proceedings had experienced the horror that comes with cutting, a practice that has been carried out for generations in the country. The bill, which was passed with a vote of 42 to four, is now under further scrutiny by a parliamentary committee before a third reading, a process expected to last three months. This period of review allows for possible amendments to the proposal, which originally made FGM punishable by up to three years in prison (The Guardian, March 18, 2024).

FGM, defined by UNICEF as the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia for non-medical reasons, affects three-quarters of Gambian women aged between 15 and 49, according to the country's health survey. Jaha Marie Dukureh of Safe Hands for Girls, an NGO dedicated to ending FGM, argues that the practice constitutes child abuse and has been vocal in opposition to the bill, stressing the severe health risks and psychological trauma associated with FGM (Aljazeera, March 19, 2024).

The debate over the bill has highlighted a deep division within the country, coming to the forefront in August when the first convictions under the existing law were made against three women for performing FGM on eight infant girls. This incident further ignited discussions about the future of women's rights in The Gambia. Critics, including Janet Ramatoulie Sallah-Njie of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, express concern that repealing the FGM ban could lead to a regression in the fight against early and forced marriages, underscoring the broader implications for women's rights in the region (Aljazeera, March 19, 2024).

As The Gambia stands at this critical juncture, the international community and local activists watch closely, hoping the extended period of review and consultation will lead to a decision that prioritises the health, rights, and dignity of women and girls. The controversy over the FGM ban repeal underscores the complex interplay between cultural traditions and the imperative to protect human rights, presenting The Gambia with a profound challenge in safeguarding the well-being of its female population (The Guardian, March 18, 2024).

Sources and further readings:

  1. Aljazeera (March 19, 2024). The Gambia votes to reverse landmark ban on female genital mutilation. Retrieved March 21, 2024, from,Girls'%20bodies%20are%20their%20own.

  1. The Guardian (March 18, 2024). Move to overturn FGM ban in the Gambia postponed. Retrieved March 21, 2024 from