Author: Satang Nabaneh
Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of The Gambia.
There is nothing more powerful than a decision made at the right time, especially one which is a desideratum. So it was with the ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) in The Gambia. From the coastal village of Brufut, on the chilly night of 24 November 2015, President Jammeh declared a ban on FGM stating that it was a cultural and not a religious practice (that is not to say that the practice would have been justifiable if it was a religious practice, given its well documented harmful effects). The news was as unexpected as it was music to the ear. It was every campaigner’s wish, to see an end to FGM in The Gambia. This was swiftly followed by the passing of the Women’s (Amendment) Bill 2015 by the National Assembly on 2 December 2015 to prohibit female circumcision. The amendment addresses one of the key deficiencies of the Women’s Act 2010 which was the absence of a provision on eliminating harmful traditional practices. The Amendment Act added sections 32A and 32B in the Women’s Act. With the enactment, The Gambia joined a number of African countries in adopting legislation as a reform strategy for ending FGM.
International Day of the Girl Child: 11 October 2014
“The female soldiers did everything we did. In addition they were forced to cook for the commanders, wash their clothes, and some were forced to have sex with them.” – Khalid al-Amin on life as a conscript, Aljazeera interview – Escaping Eritrea’s ‘open prison’ (3 October 2014)
The legal age at which a girl can get married in Eritrea is 18 years, however many marry earlier as an act of great desperation.
Child marriage is prohibited in numerous international human rights instruments, namely; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) and in the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. That said, child marriage is nevertheless rampant on the African continent. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) figures (2013), out of the 20 countries most affected by child marriage, Africa hosts 15. ‘Typical’ drivers of child marriage include customary/traditional beliefs, desire for economic gain or to provide security. I hesitated at the mention of ‘security’ because how does a minor gain security from being forced to engage in sexual reproduction, childbearing and birth within a completely unprepared body and mind?
The kidnapping by Boko Haram of over 200 school girls in Northern Nigeria is an act of gender based violence for which not only Boko Haram is responsible, but also the Nigerian government. Indeed the militant group has carried out atrocities against boys and men that are equally deplorable, however, in this instance it is not by chance that Boko Haram kidnapped girls. They were targeted because they are girls.
The leader of Boko Haram said in a video shortly after the kidnapping that he would sell the girls in the market. His statement is reflective of an exceptional disdain for girls, which did not exist in isolation, but within a patriarchal society where harmful stereotypes perpetuate girls’ inferiority and enable violence against women to be an accepted norm. Amnesty International has reported that up to two thirds of Nigerian women may have experienced violence in the home by an intimate partner. While domestic violence differs in nature from the kidnapping of over 200 school girls, the common thread is the context within which the acts occur; in a society which does not accord women equal value and provides the structural conditions whereby a girl or woman can be abused in the home or kidnapped and threatened to be sold in the market.