In the Gambia, it is estimated that six out of eight ethnic groups practice FGMC and that more than 70 percent of the country's girls and women have undergone either clitoridectomy (removal of the tip of or entire clitoris), or excision (removal of the entire clitoris and the inner lips).
BAFROW has, over the years, made efforts to review the practice of FGMC and has come to the understanding that awareness creation as a singular action is inadequate to stop the practice. FGMC provides power base and income generation for most circumcisers. On the other hand, women in general believe that the rituals and ceremonies involved in this practice do not only empower young girls in one way or the other, but also create a system that sustains social interaction among groups on issues specific to them.
Of great significance is the fact that the practice of FGMC is closely linked to the rites of passage of girls or initiation to womanhood. It is through the rites of passage that young girls are provided with knowledge and skills for self-empowerment. Because of this unique phenomenon which gives the community and its people a great sense of cultural identity that makes FGMC a well organized institution. The occasion is fixed for a particular period of the year when the girls are brought together in one village to undergo the various rituals of the passage rites.
It is against this background that BAFROW embarked on a pilot project as one of several actions to address the practice of FGMC through the restructuring of the rite of passage ceremonies for girls in the Gambia in order to exclude the physical act of genital cutting. This process was guided by BAFROW's ongoing work in related areas, such as programs to promote gender equitable development practices, including the provision of quality reproductive health information and services.
The program for Restructuring of the Passage Rite commenced in July 1995 with the conducting of a baseline survey, and subsequent studies, on the nature and prevalence of FGMC in targeted areas. Results of these researches showed that a major setback to the advancement of women is due to certain cultural norms and practices including FGMC.
Data generated from these studies informed the design of subsequent intervention strategies, and provided baseline data against which to measure progress made in the program intervention. From then on, BAFROW had been working towards the eradication of all Harmful Traditional Practices (HTPs) that affect the health and rights of women and girls.
Policy makers, circumcisers, and community and religious leaders were then sensitized and trained on the concept of restructuring the existing passage rites. It was followed by the setting up of a 30-member technical andmonitoring committee which is composed of health professionals, educators, social workers, converted circumcisers, community and religious elders. One of theresponsibilities of the committee was to design a new restructured passage rites curriculum which will guide the activities of the converted circumcisers in seeing the girls through the passage rites. The committee also monitors the activities of the component.
The curriculum was developed and translated into three of the main local languages i.e. Anima, Jola and Fula and includes aspects of health, culture and religion. It has been designed in such a way that takes into consideration the realities of various ethnic groups.
The strategy for the restructuring of the passage rite is a major breakthrough in the history of anti-FGM campaign in the Gambia. The concept is loved, respected and appreciated by many Gambian communities because it recognizes and identifies itself with the indigenous culture.