The Gambia has recently announced that it will ban the practice of female genital mutilation. Many African and Middle Eastern countries have been harshly criticized for the practice, which is extremely detrimental to the health of women. More than 130 million women worldwide have been subjected to this procedure.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh said earlier this week that the controversial surgical procedure would soon be made illegal. The ban is supposed to come into effect immediately. However, it is not known when the Gambian government will draft legislation to enforce this new policy.

Female genital mutilation is particularly widespread in Africa. In the Gambia, more than 76% of all females have had this procedure. Most women receive the procedure before age 14. Many activists in countries throughout Africa have been campaigning to put an end to the practice.

Activist Jaha Dukureh said, “I’m really amazed that the president did this. I didn’t expect this in a million years. I’m just really proud of my country and I’m really, really happy. I think the president cared about the issue, it was just something that was never brought to his attention.”

President Jammeh made the announcement during the country’s ongoing election cycle. Many people were surprised that the president made such an announcement at this time.

It’s very possible that President Jammeh could lose votes because of his decision, particularly from male voters. Many African men subject their wives and daughters to the procedure as a way of showing dominance. Additionally, female votes will also probably be lost, as African husbands will likely insist that their wives vote the same way.

Dukureh added, “The amazing thing is that it’s election season. This could cost the president the election. He put women and girls first, this could negatively affect him, but this shows he cares more about women than losing people’s votes.”

Certain groups of Muslims still practice female genital mutilation, although most Muslims have since abandoned the practice. Islam is said to be the most popular religion in the Gambia. Often, female genital mutilation is disguised as “female circumcision”.

Women’s rights activist Mary Wandia said, “The ban is an essential first step towards ending FGM, and we commend President Jammeh on finally announcing it. A law must now be enacted and properly implemented to ensure that every girl at risk is properly protected. The government needs to show strong commitment and prioritize this issue in a country where three quarters of women have been affected and reductions in prevalence have been slow to materialize.”

While the support for female genital mutilation is particularly widespread in the Gambia, public support for the practice has been declining in recent decades, especially among women. However, women are still highly subservient to men in the Gambian culture. The issue also varies drastically amongst certain ethnic groups.

Earlier this year, female genital mutilation was banned in Nigeria. Many other African countries have also banned the practice. Somalia has the highest rate of female genital mutilation in the world, with 98% of all Somali women being subjected to the procedure.

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