Guest blog by Jacqueline Hoover.
Kids Come First Foundation is a community based non-governmental organisation dedicated to the welfare of needy children and young people in The Gambia. Since its establishment in 2012 it has made a great impact on the lives of many from all ethnic back-grounds by providing educational support including free computer classes and a resource centre with books. Two energetic young men, Bakary Seedy Dampha (Programme Manager) and Momodou Darboe (Programme Coordinator), run the foundation together with many volunteers. Both are savvy with social media, and together they run an internet café for the youth and the wider community that they hope will propel the young people toward higher education and good careers.
Kids Come First organises many different youth forums, and I had the honour to teach a few sessions on female genital mutilation (FGM) for one of these on November 28-29, 2015 while I was in The Gambia representing 28 Too Many. It was a great privilege to teach the enthusiastic young people. Some 30 to 40 youth from several different schools participated. The two days started at 10:00 am and lasted until 4:00 pm with breakfast and lunch provided for everybody.
I started the first day by telling Dr Ann-Marie Wilson’s story of meeting a young girl in Darfur who had been raped and who struggled to give birth because she had been cut. This encounter propelled Dr Wilson to give her life to eradicating FGM and to launching 28 Too Many.
Then I asked the young people, ‘What are the problems for girls in your community, and what are the problems for boys in your community?’ The girls shared their challenges with early marriage, FGM, excessive domestic work, lack of parental care, prostitution, lack of education, and the absence of decision making power. The boys noted that their problems were drug abuse, gambling, illegal migration, and bad peer influence.
I then proceeded to talk about the origins of FGM. It was practiced in ancient Egypt and might be an old African purity rite. It predates Christianity and Islam. I showed them some reliefs of ancient Egyptian circumcision scenes from Egyptian temples and referred to the earliest references of female cutting in the known literature of the world. Afterwards, we looked at the geographical regions where FGM is practiced and the different types of FGM. Type one (clitoridectomy) involves the cutting of the clitoris or the clitorial hood, Type two (excision) is about the cutting of the clitoris and the inner lips. Type three (infibulation) is the most severe form of mutilation because the clitoris, the inner and the outer lips are cut and the remaining skin stitched or sealed together leaving only a small opening. Type four involves other harmful procedures including piercing, pricking and stretching or introducing corrosives. The terms used in The Gambia for FGM are different. Type one and two are called ‘flesh removed’, type three ‘sewn closed’ or ‘sealed’, and type four ‘nicked’. We also looked at the Arabic terms used for female cutting because they imply ritual purification and beautification. This led to a discussion of the misconceptions about FGM and the adverse health effects. At the end, we watched a film clip about some young women in Kenya who resisted family pressure and opted for an alternative initiation ritual not involving any mutilation.
In the afternoon after a wonderful lunch of Benachin, a tasty stew of vegetables and chicken served over rice, Bakary Seedy Dampha (Buba) taught about the rights of children and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
The following day was spent working through a booklet on FGM, repeating the main points and focusing especially on how to end FGM. We focused on BAT: the B stands for Break the silence and talk about FGM; the A stands for Advocate and be a champion for change; and the T stands for Together we are a strong team.
To top off the week end we watched the 2004 film Moolaadé by Ousmane Sembene, a very famous Senegalese writer and filmmaker. It tells the story of Collé, a very courageous women living in a small village in Burkina Faso, who protected a group of girls against the village’s attempt to have them cut. It was a truly inspirational film. One young woman told me afterwards that the film was not only about FGM, but also about strength and courage to stand firm in the face of opposition.
What are the challenges facing the elimination of FGM in The Gambia? One key thing is to break the silence and to empower young people. Some youth said that they would not be able to talk about this topic with their parents. There are also questions regarding the vocabulary used. Some argue that ‘female genital mutilation’ is too offensive, and ‘female circumcision’ or ‘cutting’ should be used. I argue that all types of FGM are a form of mutilation, not just type three (infibulation). I think this is especially important since some Muslim clerics, including Imam Fatty, a leading imam in The Gambia, continue to justify type one (clitoridectomy) on religious grounds. There are many arguments against all types of FGM, including religious arguments, and they need to be developed.
It was a great experience working with the Kids Come First Foundation and the wonderful group of young people that they gathered together. Kids Come First is planning a camp for another youth forum from the 19th to the 29th of December 2015 to continue discussing FGM and other issues important for the wellbeing of children and youth in The Gambia. During this camp, Kids Come First will conduct community outreach and launch advocacy programmes. It hopes to enter into dialogue with a village head (Alkali) and other traditional leaders and engage them about FGM and other matters relating to the upbringing of children.
I am delighted that 28 Too Many is associated with Kids Come First and is supporting their camp in December. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to participate in one of their youth forums. They have the initiative and passion to address difficult issues, and they deserve support for their work.
28 Too Many researches FGM and campaigns to end the practice in the 28 African countries where it is practised and across the global diaspora. You can support our work by donating to fund our research and keep up to date with our progress by liking our page on Facebook and following us on Twitter.