Celebrate Solutions: “Dropping the Knife” Celebrations as Alternatives to FGM in The Gambia

By: Lindsay Menard-Freeman, Women Deliver

Bat mitzvah. Sweet sixteen. Quinceañera. Russefeiring. Ceremonies to celebrate rites of passage are often an energetic party, defining a coming of age moment and cultivating a sense of hope for the future. These celebrations also often serve as a marker of maturity and preparedness for the “real world.”

Yet for millions of girls, their rite of passage includes a serious violation of their basic human rights through female genital mutilation (FGM). Current trends suggest that at least 30 million girls will be at risk for FGM over the next decade. An estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone FGM, with 92 million over the age of 10 and residing on the African continent.

This reality has catalyzed the convening of the first ever Girl Summit, hosted by the United Kingdom and UNICEF. The goal of this effort is to mobilize domestic and international efforts to end FGM and child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) within a generation. The Girl Summit has created a platform to spur conversation about global efforts to end FGM, such as the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP).

With its head office in Serrekunda in The Gambia, GAMCOTRAP works nationwide to preserve beneficial practices while eliminating all forms of harmful traditional practices. Funded by the Global Fund for Women, GAMCOTRAP takes a multi-pronged approach to ending FGM – through community sensitization, action research, and social mobilization.

GAMCOTRAP holds “Dropping the Knife” ceremonies, encouraging community members to abandon cutting ceremonies by seeking alternate means of income through enterprise development training and grants to replace their livelihoods.
Circumcisers are publicly recognized for the important roles they play as custodians and leaders within their communities. These ceremonies also encourage many circumcisers become advocates against FGM in their respective regions.

Overall, more than one hundred circumcisers have dropped their knives in more than 564 Communities from the Upper River, Central River South and Lower River Regions of the Gambia. Because of initiatives like GAMCOTRAP, FGM is a practice one step closer to being abandoned, and many more girls may live their lives free from violence in the name of culture or religion.

Flickr photo via David Washburn

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