In another milestone for community-led social transformation in the Upper River Region (URR) of The Gambia, 38 Serahule communities pledged to abandon the harmful traditional practices of child/forced marriage and female genital cutting (FGC), on December 29, 2013 in the village of Sotuma Sere. Of these 38 communities, 30 had participated directly in Tostan’s nonformal Community Empowerment Program, and eight were ‘adopted’ villages – becoming part of the movement to abandon FGC through information received from program participants and dedicated social mobilization teams.
The event was attended by community members, representatives of local government, NGOs, health workers, Tostan staff and organizational partners, and the local media. In his welcoming remarks on behalf of Sotuma Sere’s village Alkalo, or Chief, Musa Kaba Sankano said the day would be important for the history of his community. He expressed the pride felt by the entire council of elders in witnessing a ceremony marking positive social transformation and stated that the Tostan program had nurtured a spirit of love, unity and cooperation among the members of his community, vital for development.
As was highlighted by Muhammed J. Sankano, Chairperson of the Steering Committee that helped the host community organize the event, the decision to abandon child/forced marriage and FGC did not happen overnight. Instead, for most of the communities it came after a three-year program during which participants had gained knowledge on health and human rights. Mr Sankano described the decision to abandon the practices as the result of careful evaluation of the information received through the program, as well as discussion and dialogue with local and influential leaders on the harmful effects of these practices. He concluded by encouraging the communities to ensure the sustainability of the learnings from the holistic program.
Representing the former cutters of the communities, Jainaba Damba shared her testimony before stepping on and destroying a calabash bowl traditionally used to hold the cutting instruments. This action symbolized the complete commitment of the group of former cutters to abandon the practice of FGC and child/forced marriage.
The choice to abandon these traditional practices was recognized as an important decision for women, by the Women’s Bureau Regional Program Officer, Kaddy Janneh, National Women’s Councillor, and Haja Nyaballo Jallow. Likewise, Seedy Touray, on behalf of the Regional Health Director, recognized the importance of grassroots democracy on a wider scale, and the engagement of women, in particular. He appealed to the Governor of the region to encourage these initiatives. When the Governor of the URR, Omar Sompo Ceesay, later spoke, he confirmed the Government of The Gambia’s continued guidance and support for Tostan’s work, urging the participating communities to practice what they have learned.
Following skits prepared by participants on the themes of human rights and child/forced marriage, along with other traditional performances, the declaration was read by Isatou Damba in Serahule and Kaddy Susso in English. “We, the representatives of the 38 Serahule communities voluntarily and with full knowledge declare that we are abandoning the practice of female genital cutting and child/forced marriage in our communities,” read Kaddy, before the ceremony ended with a call for other communities in the region to join the movement.