Banjul, 30 June 2020
At least 19 harmful practices, ranging from breast ironing to virginity testing, are considered human rights violations, according to the UNFPA report, which focuses on the three most prevalent ones: Female Genital Mutilation, Child Marriage, and extreme bias against daughters in favour of sons.
“Harmful practices against girls cause profound and lasting trauma, robbing them of their right to reach their full potential,” says UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem.
This year, an estimated 4.1 million girls will be subjected to female genital mutilation. Today, 33,000 girls under age 18 will be forced into marriages, usually to much older men. Also, an extreme preference for sons over daughters in some countries has fueled gender-biased sex selection or extreme neglect that leads to their death as children, resulting in 140 million “missing females.”
In The Gambia, 3 in every 4 girls have been subjected to Female Genital Mutilation while 1 in every 3 girls is married off before her 18th birthday. Although some of these practices are waning, due to population growth, the number of girls subjected to them will actually rise in the coming decades, if urgent action is not taken.
Having ratified international treaties such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, The Gambia has a duty to end the harm, whether it’s inflicted on girls by family members, religious communities, health-care providers, commercial enterprises or state institutions. Although the Country has responded by enacting laws, but laws alone are not enough.
Decades of experience and research show that bottom-up, grassroots approaches are better at bringing change, “We must tackle the problem by tackling the root causes, especially gender-biased norms. We must do a better job of supporting communities’ own efforts to understand the toll these practices are taking on girls and the benefits that accrue to the whole of society by stopping them,” as stated by Dr. Kanem UNFPA’s Executive Director.
The economy and the legal system that supports gender inequality must be restructured to guarantee every woman equal opportunities, changing rules for property inheritance, for example, can eliminate a powerful incentive for families to favour sons over daughters and help to eliminate child marriage in the Gambia.
Ending Child Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation worldwide is possible by 2030 if we invest in scaling up efforts to keep girls in school longer, teaching them life skills and engaging men and boys in social change.
While progress has been made in ending some harmful practices worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to reverse gains. A recent analysis revealed that if services and programmes remain shuttered for six months, an additional 13 million girls may be forced into marriage and 2 million more girls may be subjected to female genital mutilation between now and 2030.
According to the UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Kanem, “the pandemic both makes our job harder and more urgent as so many more girls are now at risk,” further saying that “We will not stop until the rights, choices and bodies of all girls are fully their own”
As a result, and to mark the release of the 2020 SWOP report in The Gambia, UNFPA is supporting the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare in partnership with Paradise Foundation to launch the National Gender-Based Violence Helpline, a mechanism for reporting cases of Domestic and Gender Based Violence in communities. The helpline most importantly serves as a referral pathway that provides timely health, legal and psychosocial support to victims and survivors of Gender Based Violence.
The GBV helpline comes at a time when COVID-19 restrictions may lead to increase incidences of Gender Based Violence in our homes and communities.
UNFPA commits to continue supporting the government and people of The Gambia to eradicate all forms of harmful practices impeding the health and wellbeing of women and girls. We will not stop until the rights, choices and bodies of all girls are fully their own.
UNFPA – The United Nations Population Fund is the agency charged with the mission to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled. To achieve this, the agency works towards realizing three transformative results:
Ending unmet need for family planning
Ending preventable maternal death
Ending gender-based violence and harmful practices
For media and interview enquiries, please contact:
Programme Analyst – Communication, UNFPA The Gambia firstname.lastname@example.org