“We can only end FGM if everyone works together. Now they have made those speeches, they are engaging and these are things we can build on.”
FGM is not illegal in the Gambia, where 76% of girls are still cut, many of them going through the most severe form of the practice that involves the removal of the clitoris and labia and the sewing-up of the vagina so only a small hole remains.
Nancy Niang, permanent secretary for the ministry of youth and sports was unequivocal in her address to the audience. “To steal from Shakespeare, I come here to bury FGM, not to praise it,” she said.
Asked if the government would take action, Binta Jammeh Sidibeh, executive director of the women’s bureau, said people had to be ready to renounce the harmful practice before a law could be put in place. “We have to educate the masses, this is deeply rooted in our culture. Before you make policies, people have to accept change,” she said. “The government is there for the people, it can’t do anything before the people are ready for it.”
But she welcomed the youth summit as a major step forward. “This is what we need – young people coming together, and taking up issues started by their elders – I guess we need some more energy.”