Awa Gai is a 19 year old Law student at the University of The Gambia, an anti-FGM activist and a feminist. The youngest staff and volunteer, she serves as the Administrative Assistant at Safe Hands for Girls, a non-profit youth-led organization that aims at eradicating Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), child marriage and all other forms of Gender Based Violence through raising awareness, community outreach, advocacy, and youth empowerment.
Below is our conversation about FGM prevalence in the North Bank Region of The Gambia and Awa’s role in ending it.
Which part of the country do you come from and what is the prevalence of FGM there?
“Gambian statistics have shown that FGM is still prevalent in The Gambia. Generally, the prevalence rate of FGM in The Gambia is 78.3%. However coming from the North Bank Region of my country, I’ve learnt that the prevalence rate of FGM in that region is about 49.2%. Regionally, there is a slightly higher rate of FGM in the rural areas than in the urban areas.”
Is it confined to a specific community in that part of the country or is it widespread and what are the reasons for the practice?
“The practice is not confined to a specific community in the North Bank Region. nothwithstanding, one part of the region (Lower Niumi) which is dominated by the Mandinka tribe registers a higher prevalence rate for the the practice of FGM compared to the other parts of the region (Upper Niumi) which is dominated by the Wolof tribe. This is due to the fact that the practice of FGM varies within the different tribal groups in The Gambia. The prevalence rate of the practice among the Mandinkas is 96.7% whereas that of the Wolofs is 12.4%. In addition to the various tribal beliefs, I believe societies still practice FGM as it is an entrenched culture which they believe to be a “religious obligation”
What prompted you to become an anti-FGM activist?
“Personally, I was prompted by the disheartening stories of FGM survivors to become an anti-FGM activist. My father’s tribe does not practice FGM so I was fortunate not to have undergone the practice. At a later age, I moved to my grandmother’s home where the practice is accepted. Being the only uncut girl, I stood to have been at the risk of getting cut. My grandmother, having learnt and understood the harmful effects of the practice stood to say NO. Today, I am glad my grandmother made that decision. I want to stand up for those girls and show the world that FGM is just another form of depriving women the right to have control over their bodies.”
What are you doing in your capacity as an individual to end the cut?
“I have participated in a lot of youth forums, social media campaigns, indoor trainings, and school outreach programmes to sensitize the masses most especially the young people who I see as agents for change. Recently, we had an anti-FGM walk in commemoration of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM in which we had more than a thousand young people joined the walk and it was a huge success for it shows how adamant the young people are towards ending FGM in a generation. The regional school outreach in 2017 is also one that registered a great impact. Personally, I have contributed by creating awareness of the legal implications of FGM in The Gambia.”
What are some of the milestones you have achieved as an activist in the fight against FGM?
“So far, the greatest milestone I have achieved as an activist was being able to convince the rest of my family members to abandon the practice of FGM. I believe for there to be greater change, one needs to start from the home level as the saying goes “charity begins at home”. I am proud to say that my family has stopped practicing FGM and pledge to protect my children and future generations from being cut.”
What challenges exist in fighting the cut?
“Being an anti-FGM activist comes with a lot of challenges. FGM is not just some ordinary practice that can end overnight. It is a deeply rooted entrenched culture. Most at times, society sees those that are uncut to be unclean and as usually called “Solimas” in Mandinka.
Aside from the fact that society’s belief on the practice is deeply rooted,religion is another factor that society tends to rely on. Society fails to understand that even Islam does not make the practice obligatory. Most often, people tend to associate anti-FGM activists with non-believers just because they are against the practice.”
Will FGM be abandoned in your County? What will it take?
I believe we have a long way to go in ending the practice of FGM but the future is bright. with all hands on deck, we can and we shall end FGM in a generation not just in The Gambia but worldwide.
More stories from Kenya and beyond coming up in the #FightingTheCut series.