Gambian Lawmakers Visit Egypt to Benchmark on FGM: A Journey of Learning and Insights

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Group Picture of Gambian Lawmakers in Cairo

By Alieu Ceesay

In a significant move towards addressing the complex issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in The Gambia, 30 members of the National Assembly and their support staff recently concluded a study tour in Cairo.

This initiative, led by the National Assembly Joint Committee of Health and Gender, aimed to gain a comprehensive understanding of FGM from various perspectives, particularly in relation to the Women’s (Amendment) Bill 2024, which seeks to lift the ban on FGM.

The tour was supported by prominent organizations such as the World Bank, the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on FGM, the CSO Coalition on FGM, and Safe Hands for Girls. These bodies recognized the importance of informed decision-making and provided the necessary resources for the Gambian delegation to engage with experts and stakeholders in Egypt.

“We came here to learn and understand the journey Egypt has taken regarding FGM,” said one of the Assembly members. “Egypt’s history with the medicalization and subsequent criminalization of FGM offers valuable lessons for us.”

Before their trip to Egypt, the Committee had already conducted extensive consultations within The Gambia. “We received position papers and held discussions with civil society, community organizations, the Supreme Islamic Council, gynecologists, and other stakeholders,” explained another Assembly member. “This groundwork was essential to form a balanced and well-informed committee report.”

In Egypt, the delegation visited Al-Azhar University, which is known for its expertise in research, medicine, and health-related matters. “Interacting with doctors, scholars, and experts at Al-Azhar provided us with in-depth insights into the implications of FGM,” said a support staff member. “The discussions were enlightening and addressed many of our questions and concerns.”

The choice of Egypt for this study tour was strategic. “Egypt is a notable country when it comes to the practice of FGM, especially within the context of Islam,” noted another delegate. “Understanding their transition from medicalization to outright criminalization of FGM is particularly relevant for us, given the current debates in The Gambia.”

One Assembly member highlighted the significance of learning from Egypt’s experience: “Egypt’s decision to criminalize FGM, despite earlier attempts to medicalize it, underscores the inherent harms of the practice and the principle of ‘no harm.’ As we navigate our legislative path, this is a crucial lesson.”

Contrary to some public opinions, Benchmarking is a standard parliamentary practice worldwide. “It’s essential to look beyond our borders to make well-rounded decisions,” stated another Assembly member. “Benchmarking doesn’t mean we will change our stance; it’s about learning and being guided by our conscience on how to use that knowledge.”

As the delegation returns to The Gambia, they bring a wealth of knowledge and insights that will inform the next steps in the legislative process. “We look forward to resuming submissions on the Bill on July 4th,” said one of the committee members. “Our goal is to ensure that our decisions are well-informed and reflect the best interests of our society.”

This journey marks a pivotal moment in The Gambia’s efforts to address FGM, showcasing the importance of learning from global experiences to inform local actions.

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