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Female Genital Mutilation In The Gambia

Author: Alena Shautsova

Female genital mutilation also known as female circumcision involves the deliberate act of partially or completely cutting or removing the external female genitalia for no medical reason. The process is mostly carried out by traditional cutters or circumcisers who also function as birth attendants in many cases. Health care personnel in some places also take up the practice believing it is safer when conducted medically.

Whether practiced in a medical environment or not, female genital mutilation has no proven positive impact on health.

Origin Of Female Genital Mutilation

There is no vivid account as to the exact origin of female genital mutilation. Some scholars suggest it dates back to Ancient Egypt, with evidence of female Egyptian mummies having mutilated genitalia. It is also suggested that due to the geographical distribution of female genital mutilation the practice could have originated from around the West Coast of the Red Sea.

With a widespread FGM practice in many parts of Africa and Asia, it is perceived that the practice could have been independently originated among various cultures for different reasons. Females undergo this ordeal usually at infancy or as teenagers. Some women in parts of Africa could have their vagina injured when they become pregnant believing it aids delivery.

To some other cultures, FGM is seen as a rite of initiation for female children and as a preventive measure to curb promiscuity. One thing is quite certain, the practice existed before Christianity and Islam.

Types Of FGM

Type 1 FGM: This is also referred to as clitoridectomy. It is the partial or total removal of the external or visible part of the clitoris (clitoral glans) and or the clitoral hood.

Type 2 FGM: This type is also called excision. It refers to the partial or total removal of the clitoral glans and the labia minora. This is done with or without the removal of the labia majora.

Type 3 FGM: This type is also called infibulation. It refers to the creation of a covering seal in a bid to narrow the vagina opening. This seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora and/or labia minora, especially by stitching. This process could be carried out with or without the inclusion of clitoridectomy.

At some point, especially before marriage, the seal is usually reopened. This is to enable sexual intercourse and facilitate childbirth.

Type 4 FGM: This involves all other procedures that could cause injury to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes. It includes piercing, incising, pricking, scraping, and cauterizing the female genital area.

FGM In The Gambia

In the Gambia, statistics show that female genital mutilation is prominent amongst 74.9% of women from age 15 to 49.

54.8% of women within 15 to 49 years of age were circumcised before the age of five. 28.1% got their genitalia circumcised between the ages of five to nine years. About 7% of these women had their circumcision between the ages of 10 and 14, and 1% from 15 years and above. 9% of the data was unknown.

Traditional circumcisers are responsible for 95.7% of circumcision. Meanwhile, 65% of women in the Gambia who have heard of the FGM practice believe it should continue. The most common types of FGM practiced in the Gambia are clitoridectomy(Type 1) and excision(Type 2).

FGM is most prevalent in the rural community of Basse with 96.7% of women(age 15-49) having undergone genital modulation. It is least prevalent in the urban city of Banjul with 47.4% of women having undergone the process.

Laws Against FGM

FGM is a degradable and torturous act perpetrated against the girl-child for unjustifiable reasons. The Gambian Constitution bans the act and views it as a punishable act.

The law against FGM was enacted by President Jammeh in 2015, with an amendment to the Women's Act passed into law in December 2015.

Although the Gambian government did put strategies in place to curb female circumcision, however, the law against the act is not fully enforced. Campaigners in favor of female genital mutilation believe the law against FGM expired with the passing of the previous government. However, the Gambian Vice President said in 2018, that the laws enacted by the previous government to ban FGM still hold.

Health Implications Of FGM

FGM has no health benefit to women and should not be encouraged. Some of the immediate dangers of FGM to women's health include tetanus, hemorrhage, severe pain, urinary problems, genital tissue swelling, shock, and death.

Long-term complications can include painful intercourse, painful urination, urinary tract infections, vaginal problems, menstrual issues, increased childbirth complications, and psychological issues such as depression, PTSD, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

The practice of FGM has no positive impact and its effect on a survivor can't be outgrown. It remains as a stigma and reminder of unbearable pains. It is a violation of the fundamental human rights of girls and women. One that should be kicked against with all vehemence.


World Health Organisation. "Female Genital Mutilation." 2020

28 Too Many. "What Are The Origins And Reasons For FGM?" 2013

Adriana Kaplan, Suiberto Hechavarría, Miguel Martín &Isabelle Bonhoure. "Health Consequences Of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting In The Gambia, Evidence Into Action." 2011

UNFPA. "Top 5 Things You Didnt Know About Female Genital Mutilation." 2019

Thomson Reuters Foundation. "The Gambia: The Law And FGM." 2018

Jewel Llamas. "Female Circumcision: The History, the Current Prevalence and the Approach to a Patient." 2017

Satang Nabaneh. "Banning Female Circumcision in The Gambia Through Legislative Change: The Next Steps." 2015

19 December 2021
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