Who will Protect me?
Who Will Protect Me?
Poster Courtesy of GAMCOTRAP
The poster is so apt that one cannot but reflect on the question posed on behalf of girl children who continue to be at risk of Female Genital Mutilation.
The United Nations sets aside 6th February as a day to globally recognize the need to protect girls and women from all forms of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) dubbed “International Zero Tolerance to FGM Day”. Since the year 2003, members of a Regional body leading the campaign in Africa, known as The Inter Africa Committee on Traditional Practices (IAC) have been celebrating this Political commitment to protect girl children and women.
The African Union Seventeen Ordinary Session held in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea from the 30th June to 1st July 2011 and States took a decision to support a Draft Resolution at the sixty sixth Ordinary Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations to Ban FGM in the World. This is a further commitment for African states to take legislative measures to ban the practice.
This year the global theme for Zero Tolerance Day is “From Malabo to New York: Support the Resolution of the UN General Assembly Banning FGM in The World.
In the Gambia, the call for a law against FGM from the communities resonates with the global theme, thus GAMCOTRAP has also localized it as thus: “From Kartong to Koina: Calling for a Law against FGM.” Delegates from all the Regions of the Gambia will converged in the Kanifing Municipality to bring attention to the need for a specific law to protect girls from FGM.
Every five years it is tradition that all the girls in the community are subjected to Female Genital Mutilation. The women have consulted but there was division whether the women should continue the age old practice on girls or not. Some women heard about the campaign to stop FGM but other had not been exposed to the information.
The Ngansingba (Female Circumciser) has prepared for the 2011 initiates. Four year old girl Sibo is amongst forty-four girls who are to be subjected to FGM in this rural community. An area outside the village has been cleared and prepared as the Circumcision Chamber. Men and uncircumcised girls and women will not reach the boundaries of this secluded area. It all started early hours of the morning and there are assistants to a circumciser ready on standby to ensure that they hold the vulnerable girls down so that they will not move their body to allow the Circumciser to cut the parts of the genitalia. She claims to be the expert and will not allow any part unclean. Furthermore she has to ensure that they are sealed until marriage.
A week after the forty-four girls were subjected to FGM, Sibo and Naba suffered from the effects of Female Genital Mutilation. They bled heavily and suffered pain in the lower parts of their body. Both girls had high fever and the Circumcision crew had to act discretely to separate them from the other girls. They could not be left in the secret chamber any longer. The adult women did not want the other girls to notice that there was something wrong because the girls were crying. Some of the women believed that the witches are after the poor girls, so the Kangkurang (traditional masquerade dancer) was called to scare away the witches who want to spoil the ‘bush’ because the situation is now beyond their control.
For days, the girls had suffered from high fever and pain, but the Circumcision crew ensured that the wound is healed externally and there was no sign of bleeding before they are taken to the health centre. This would make their complain of high fever be easily associated to the symptoms of malaria, rather than think of anemia and infection as the first possible cause of the fever.
Wula Karangba ( the Guard of the Circumcision chamber) was getting anxious and could not keep Sibo in the Chamber any longer. While some of her colleagues were thinking of how to deal with the witches, she insisted that Sibo should be taken to the health centre, because the initial kankurang dance was not making a difference.
Sibo’s condition was beyond the control of the local health centre. She is semi conscious, very high fever and pale. The sound of her pain could be heard ‘uuh, uuh,uuh!” Sibo was referred to the main hospital in the region. She did not go alone, by the time the ambulance left, Naba another girl from the Circumcision Chamber was also brought in. She was also suffering from high fever and was crying. After the diagnosis both girls were referred to Bansang hospital.
While the two girls were admitted at hospital and word quickly spread in the community and beyond. Soon someone pronounced Sibo dead. Neighbours, family members were crying and rushed to her family home. When people came to express condolence they were surprised that there was no sign of a funeral in the compound. Her parents stay in another village where her father works. It was strange, Sibo is not amongst the girls in the Chamber and she is not at home, where is she?
GAMCOTRAP was informed about her case and visited the community to ascertain that Sibo was alive or not. She had survived and was discharged from the hospital. Sibo was with her family at home and recovering slowly. When the GAMCOTRAP team visited her it was obvious that she was still in pain and could not walk properly on her own. Her mother Dianatou held her hand as they walked towards the visitors. Sibo could not manage to walk as her mother wished. She is weak, looks pale and her eyes are sunken. Dianatou had no choice but to carry her. Inside the hut, Dianatou sat Sibo on her lap on the smaller bed opposite the concerned visitors. Her grandmother, Joko brought a chair to join them.
Her grandmother told the GAMCOTRAP visiting team “this is the last case of a girl being circumcised in my family. We’re just lucky that she survived it but she had suffered.” An experience health worker was amongst the team could tell that Sibo was still suffering and advised her mother on the nutritious food she needs to take. She also advised that she is taken to the health centre for follow up, because she was continuously sweating, very pale and weak.
Meanwhile, in The Gambia, GAMCOTRAP is also taking lead in the campaign against FGM. Since the first Dropping of the Knife in 2007, Communities and individuals have been calling for a law to protect girls from FGM. The call has been getting louder from communities who have been exposed to the dangers of FGM and the need for adults to take responsibility towards the protection of children against the practice. This further led to two other Dropping of the Knife celebrations by Communities in 2009 and 2011 respectively. To date, more than one hundred Circumcisers have dropped their knives in the Gambia, and more than 564 Communities from the Upper River, Central River South and Lower River regions of the Gambia have come to consensus to protect girls from FGM.
Recognizing the importance of supporting the rights of women and children, The European Union funded GAMCOTRAP through the Non-State Actors Strengthening Programme in the Gambia to celebrate International Zero Tolerance to FGM Day. February 6 is an important symbolic day and a reminder to the authorities of the commitment undertaken by signing and ratifying the relevant Conventions protecting women and girls from harmful Traditional Practices and FGM in particular.
As we hear the voices of girl children crying for help, GAMCOTRAP urge everyone to join the call to create a safe and legal environment to protect vulnerable girls and women from the harmful effects of Female Genital Mutilation. Thus a reflection on the poster ‘Who will protect me from FGM?’
By: Amie Bojang-Sissoho