Gambia May Overturn Landmark Ban on Female Genital Cutting

Gambian lawmakers are preparing to decide whether to revoke a ban on female genital cutting by removing legal protections for millions of girls, raising fears that other countries could follow suit.

Members of Gambia’s national assembly plan to vote on whether to overturn the ban on Monday after the second reading of the bill. Human rights experts, lawyers and women’s and girls’ rights campaigners say it threatens to undo decades of work to end female genital cutting, a centuries-old ritual tied up in ideas of sexual purity, obedience and control.

If Gambia repeals the ban, it will become the first nation globally to roll back protections against cutting, and campaigners fear it will open the doors for other countries to take similar action.

“They are using girls’ bodies as a political battlefield,” said Fatou Baldeh, one of the leading opponents of genital cutting in the small West African nation. She said she fears that if the men leading the charge — whom she described as extremists — succeeded, they would next try to roll back other laws, like one banning child marriage.

If the bill passes Monday, government committees will be able to propose amendments before it comes back to Parliament for a final reading. Analysts say if the bill is not killed at this stage, its proponents will gain momentum and it will probably pass into law.

People returning to Banjul, Gambia’s capital, in early 2017, the day after the dictator Yahya Jammeh left the country.Credit…Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images
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