Marie Jeng is a 2nd year Law student at the University of The Gambia and also the assistant Information and Public Relations Officer of the Law Students Association. She is a poet, 2-time debate champion, and 5-time crowned beauty queen in the university. Marie hails from Banjul, a city in The Gambia. In Banjul, FGM prevalence is at 47%. The practice is widespread and the prevalence varies from community to community within the city.
I had a conversation with Marie about FGM in The Gambia and her role in #FightingTheCut in her country. Here’s our conversation.
What are some of the reasons for the practice of FGM in Banjul?
Some of the reasons why people continue to practice FGM is as a result of the following misconceptions:
-the belief that FGM is a religious obligation.
-that it eases child birth
– that it protects one from evil spirit
-that it purifies a lady
-that the clitoris grows in size and if not cut will grow to the size of the male organ
– that the female reproductive organ smells e.t.c
What prompted you to become an anti-FGM activist?
“Growing up as a child, I have always been passionate about activism particularly on issues affecting women and girls and to this effect I became part of an organization called the young people in the media. During my time as social secretary of the young people in the media, I championed a radio talk show where I constantly made research on pertinent issues affecting women and there I ran into FGM, I was devastated learning about it and the health complications it has on women and girls both in the short term and in the long run.
As a lover of justice, I felt I could do something about this and I made a vow to be part of those people that will protect the future mothers of the state. I pledged to stand against this injustice that not only causes harm to women but denies them of the right to make choices about their own bodies. Seeing to it that I achieve this goal of mine prompted me to join Safe Hands for Girls to echo my voice.”
What are you doing in your capacity as an individual to end the cut?
“I am currently working with Safe Hands for Girls which is a survivor-led women’s right organization that aims at eradicating Female Genital Mutilation and child marriage as an Executive Assistant. I have been part of the implementation of all the activities of Safe Hands ranging from outreach programs on FGM, FGM media awards, peer group training on FGM, Girls indoor training on FGM, launch of the Business plan for Girls in The Gambia to name a few. I have on my own level as the Assistant information and Public Relations Officer of the Law Students Association hosted the law hour and used it as a platform to send across messages on the anti-FGM law as a whole.”
What are some of the milestones you have achieved as an activist in the fight against FGM?
“Some of the milestone include: my participation in gathering over 1000 students from the length and breadth of The Gambia to commemorate the International Zero Tolerance Day for FGM where students were going “up with Justice and down with FGM”
Secondly, I’ve been part of the very few people to facilitate a training of prosecutors and child welfare officers on FGM since they are the enforcers of the law. After this training a task force committee was set within the police unit who will specifically be responsible for handling FGM and related cases.
Also, I headed an establishment of Safe Hands Clubs in various schools in The Gambia where the executive of the club are properly trained on FGM through an indoor training and they eventually use the information and turn them into drama and poetry which they share with their fellow students in school.
Lastly, I was part of the team that went to donate radios and mobile phones to women listening groups who sensitize their fellow women on FGM. These groups were formed in one of the highest practicing FGM communities.”
What challenges do you face in doing this?
“Firstly, most of the prosecutors are believers of FGM and hence, find it difficult to arrest and prosecute cases of FGM.
Secondly, difficulty to convince people on the negative effects of FGM due to the linkage they believe it has with religion.
Thirdly, replication of certain activities by other organizations with different messages on FGM. Lastly, difficulty in the translation of certain facts in the local dialects.”
Will FGM be abandoned in your country? What will it take?
“FGM will come to an end but it will take a lot of commitment, patience and dedication. Organizations must come together, form a coalition/ network, and send across uniform messages. FGM must be addressed in school health programs to better inform young people. Women, youth and traditional leaders should be encouraged to create pressure groups to lobby government’s involvement in the fight against FGM. Finally, involving the media in setting up collaborative activities on FGM.”