Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Manneh Kunda Declares End To Female Genital Cutting
Tostan-Unicef and the Gambia Government community-led sustainable development project, currently under implementation in URR have once again demonstrated its commitment to the empowerment of the Gambian rural communities, following a declaration made by over thirteen communities including adopted communities in Basse and Jimara to abandon the practice of female genital cutting, and child forced marriages at a ceremony held at Basse Manneh Kunda. The ceremony was well attended by the dignitaries in URR, TAC members, local and influential leaders, traditional communicators, as well as the entire business community in Basse.
In his welcoming remarks, the Alkalo of Manneh Kunda, Alasana Kebba Manneh in a very joyful mood, welcomed the participants and thanked them for uniting the community of Manneh Kunda and pledged to abandon some harmful traditions that have negative health implications for women and young girls. This according to Alkalo Manneh is an indication that Tostan is one family.
For his part, the VDC Chairman Mr. Manlafi Sanyang said that the ceremony is historic as far as development and respect for human rights is concerned; that it is a clear manifestation that the knowledge gained through Tostan is being put into practice. He thanked them for their efforts and urged them to be more committed.
The chairman of the piloting committee also welcomed the participants on what he called a landmark victory in the history of Manneh Kunda as the thirteen communities in Basse and Jimara openly declared that they will abandon harmful traditions. He said this bold decision taken by the participating communities occurred after an intensive three year Community Empowerment Program (CEP), jointly implemented by UNICEF-Tostan and the Gambia Government. He stressed that Tostan is not only focusing on FGC, but a holisitc approach focusing on issues of democracy and good governance, human rights and responsibilities, problem solving processes, health and hygiene, as well as literacy and numeracy and an introduction to small project management among a host of others. He pointed out that regular cleaning exer initiated and implemented by the Tostan communities is a step in the right direction and is consolidating ‘Operation Clean the Nation’. He said Tostan cannot achieve all these successes without the support of the Government. He therefore thanked the Governor of URR Alhagie Omar Khan and TAC members for their active collaboration. He thanked the founding mother of Tostan International Madame Molly Melching known as Sukaina Njie inSenegal for her unflinching support, tireless efforts and dedication towards the empowerment of African communities. He said the success of any development project depends on the availability of funds.
Mr. Momodou Lamin Fofana who represented the Regional Health Officer commended the participants for their decision to protect the health of young girls. This according to him will no doubt complement the efforts of the government and department of Health in improving the health of the citizenry especially women and young girls. He urged them to be more committed to their decision. Mr. Yadi Nget the Regional Family Planning coordinator in URR who represented the Governor underscored the importance of protecting our young generation and future leaders. According to Mr. Nget he has been working in the area of reproductive health for nearly twenty years but said the effects of FGC and child/forced marriage on the health of women cannot be overemphasized. He therefore thanked the communities and Tostan for their efforts to improve the health of our young generation.
Speaking on behalf of the UNICEF, representative Madame Mariama Sabally, a UN Volunteer highlighted that the issue of FGC is controversial since many agencies and NGOs attempted to introduce the subject across Gambian communities but were met with stiff resistance. This she said is due to long standing cultural and traditional beliefs rooted in our societies. According to Mariama Sabally, the approach used by Tostan is exceptional as evidenced by the declaration. She pointed out that UNICEF is very proud to witness yet another important event on the abandonment of FGC and child/forced marriage by the thirteen communities in Jimara and Basse, which she said is preceded by the declaration of twenty-four communities in Wuli and Sandu on the same subject. She thanked Tostan on behalf of UNICEF for their efforts in achieving its desired objectives. This she said is in line with the PRSP as well as MDGs. She urged other development partners to integrate Tostan's approaches in their activities while commending the thirteen communities in Basse and Jimara for their foresight in committing themselves to abandoning such harmful traditions.
For the benefit of the readers: Globally, an estimated 100-140 million girls and women are reported to have undergone FGC and more than 3 million girls will potentially go through this procedure every year on the African continent alone. It is reported to be practiced in 28 African countries and the Gambia has one of the highest rates at 78% among women 15-49 (MICS 2005/6), which is one of the reasons for the expansion of the project and its piloting in the URR. It has been linked to serious physical and mental health risks for girls and women including complications at child birth, maternal deaths, infertility, infections, and tetanus among others.
Violence against women is a worldwide yet still hidden problem. Freedom from the threat of harassment, battering, and sexual assault is a concept that most of us have a hard time imagining because violence is such a deep part of our cultures and lives.