Gambia lawmakers back recommendations to maintain female genital mutilation ban

Dakar, Senegal — Gambian lawmakers adopted recommendations Monday for the country to maintain its ban on female genital mutilation ahead of a vote later this month on whether to decriminalize the practice.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) has been outlawed in Gambia since 2015, but the deeply rooted cultural practice remains widespread in the West African nation and the first convictions last year fueled a backlash against the law.

After a heated debate Monday, the recommendations contained in a report by the joint health and gender committee passed the full house sitting, with 35 lawmakers voting in favor of adopting the report, 17 against and two abstentions.

A final vote on the bill on whether to decriminalize FGM is currently set for July 24.

If parliament approves it, Gambia would become the first country to reverse a ban on FGM. It passed its second reading in March with only five out of 53 lawmakers voting against it and one abstaining.

After the second reading, the joint committee carried out a national public consultation with religious and traditional leaders, doctors, victims, civil society groups and circumcisers among others.

Its conclusions, presented Monday, described all forms of FGM as a “traumatic form of torture” and “discrimination against women.”

“Repealing the law would be a significant setback for the Gambia,” said Amadou Camara, the lawmaker who read out the report.

The first FGM conviction last August — of three women found guilty of cutting eight infant girls — sparked outrage and prompted independent lawmaker Almaneh Gibba to table the repeal bill in March.

Gibba and his backers, who include influential religious leaders, say the ban violates citizens’ rights to practice their culture and religion in the Muslim-majority country. Many Islamic scholars dispute this argument.

The World Health Organization says FGM has no health benefits and can lead to excessive bleeding, shock, psychological problems and even death.

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