Public Declaration to Abandon Female Genital Cutting in The Gambia
Darsilameh, Upper River Region
June 14, 2009
Darsilameh, The Gambia—June 14, 2009 marked a major milestone for The Gambia as 24 communities in the Upper River Region came together to abandon the practices of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage. They are the first communities in the country to publicly abandon the practices within their social network, after going through Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) in collaboration with UNICEF and the Women’s Bureau of the Government of The Gambia.

The 24 communities participating in the celebration are comprised primarily of individuals from the Mandinka ethnicity. With an estimated 98% of Mandinka women in rural areas of The Gambia having gone through the FGC operation (Medical Research Council, 2001), this public declaration signified a truly landmark event.  
Over 600 people from two districts gathered under open-air tents to commemorate this joyous occasion. Former FGC practitioner/cutter of Darsilameh and Tostan program participant Sadjo ‘Kobai’ Nyabally emphatically declared her abandonment of the practice, as kankurangs, drummers, acrobats, and musicians danced through cheering crowds.   Nyabally was followed by a number of presentations on human rights made by representatives from the declaring communities, exemplifying their newly acquired knowledge, understanding, and confidence gained through their participation in the Tostan program.  
During the Community Empowerment Program modules that include themes on democracy, human rights, problem-solving, health, hygiene and literacy, participants learned about the human rights violations and the harmful effects of FGC and child/forced marriage on the health and rights of women and girls.  The participants in 20 communities then resolved to abandon both practices. They traveled to neighboring villages to share their newly-gained knowledge, and eventually four additional communities decided to publicly abandon FGC and child/forced marriage.
Min-Whee Kang, UNICEF Representative for The Gambia, traveled to the declaration with a delegation from UNICEF and congratulated all members of these communities. She also spoke of the revolutionary change occurring in the Upper River Region.  
 “Today is an historic day,” said Edrissa Keita from The Women’s Bureau within the Government of The Gambia. “People have come together to testify and make a decision on their own regarding what they stand for. It is a turning point.”
Tostan Executive Director Molly Melching noted that the event was much more than just a day-long celebration. “In many ways, this declaration has been years in the making, relying upon the true dedication of these communities. It adds an important new voice to the growing movement for abandonment of harmful practices in West Africa.”  She also commented on the key role these events play in people’s lives. “We know that it is absolutely essential to have a public event to signify the shift in this tradition.  FGC is practiced almost universally in these communities and is linked to a girl’s marriagability and to the entire family’s reputation. These events allow everyone to see that many others also are abandoning the practice. That way, no one has to risk their daughter’s future.”
Deputy Governor of the Upper River Region, Mr. Mamadou MS Kah, celebrated the communities’ great accomplishment.   He explained that this declaration was a momentous event for the 24 communities, as well as the beginning of the spread of ideas to other areas and ethnic groups within The Gambia.  
“I have not come here to close a program, but [to] mark the beginning of a program we want to continue forever,” proclaimed Kah. “It is one thing to say something, and another to get it done. I know my people and I know they will follow through, but we need to create room to allow them to get it done [elsewhere in The Gambia].”
To read more about this historic event, please click on the following links to read additional articles online:
Article from the Thomson Reuters Foundation:
GAMBIA: Reaching the FGM/C tipping point
Article in The Point:
Communities in URR Vos to Stop FGC
UNICEF press release:
A Public Pledge to End Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting in Gambia