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The Gambia
Gambia mother and child
At present SOS Children's Villages supports over 23,000 people in The Gambia through 2 Children’s Villages, a youth home, 2 Nursery Schools, 2 primary schools, an SOS Vocational Training Centre, a Family Strengthening Programme and a Medical Centre. … more about our charity work in The Gambia

Putting down the knife: A world without female genital mutilation

Every 11 seconds, a girl is subjected to female genital mutilation. We're dedicated to changing that.
Every 11 seconds, a girl is subjected to female genital mutilation. We're dedicated to changing that.

Today is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). It is a day when the world comes together to condemn the continuation of a procedure that severely damages the lives of hundreds of thousands of women and girls every year and clearly violates their human rights.

At least 200 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to FGM. The fear is that if the practice is allowed to continue, a further 15 million teenage girls between the ages of 15-19 will undergo the procedure by 2030.

What is FGM? FGM is a procedure, also known as female circumcision or 'cutting', carried out on girls – often as young as five – teenagers and young women. It involves the cutting of the female genitalia, including the clitoris and labia, for reasons that aren’t medical.

What are we doing?

At SOS Children we are committed to women’s empowerment and challenging abusive behaviour towards women. The team in the UK is directly responsible for programmes dedicated to changing attitudes, tackling inequality and combatting FGM. One of these programmes is in The Gambia which finally outlawed FGM in November 2015. The programme is run in partnership with our Gambian team and local charity partners and is funded by the European Union. 

Empowering women in The Gambia

Being a woman in The Gambia is tough – the country is ranked 151 out of 169 on the gender equality index. Instances of FGM are incredibly high – 76% of women have been subjected to it. 56% of those cut are under 14.

In certain areas, such as the Foni Jarrol district, nearly every female undergoes FGM before her 16th birthday. We are dedicated to changing this.

Women's empowerment project, The Gambia
SOS staff members and local women gather at an event dedicated to the discussion of women's rights issues

Putting down the knife

An old woman sits in the shade of a large tree in Foni Jaroll District. She is an important lady, a Ngamsimba. Ngamsimbas carry out female genital mutilation in their communities. This is how, until recently, she made her living. But things have changed.

Following a workshop set up for local women by SOS Children with an ex-Ngamsimba from a neighbouring community, she has decided to give up the practice. The workshop detailed the damage FGM has on both the physical and mental health of those subjected to it.

FGM causes severe pain and bleeding, makes urination difficult and increases the chance of vaginal and pelvic infections. It also causes problems during childbirth and can even lead to the death of both the mother and child. In the worst cases, women and girls have died as a direct result of the procedure.

Persuading this Ngamsimba to put down her knife for good is only one of the successes we hope to have as part of our women’s empowerment project in The Gambia.

The project is still in its early days, but so far thanks to SOS Children and our partners:

  • 100 vulnerable women from communities in the area have been supported through a series of opportunities to learn about their rights and gain a better understanding of complex, sensitive issues including FGM
  • Community structures dedicated to supporting women and helping them know their rights have been established 
  • Whole community events have been hosted to raise awareness about various aspects of women’s rights, including FGM, early marriage and discrimination in employment and education 
  • Community members have a better understanding of the negative impact FGM has on the female body – this is incredibly important as ignorance is one of the key barriers to the eradication of the practice: people simply aren’t aware of the health risks it poses
  • Several mothers have declared that their daughters will not undergo FGM.

In detail: What is FGM?

Women's empowerment project, The Gambia (2)
Community workshops, like this one, are essential to the successful eradication of FGM by challenging deeply entrenched views

There are several different forms of FGM; from removing the clitoris to the total cutting off of the inner labia and the labia majora (the lips around the vagina). No matter what the procedure involves, it is always intensely painful and causes long-term damage to the individual. 

FGM is a symptom of deep-rooted cultural attitudes which see women as inherently unequal to men. Undergoing FGM is seen as a necessary rite of passage for any girl hoping to marry and crucial for discouraging sexual activity.

Traditionally, FGM is carried out without anaesthetic or antiseptic. Knives, scissors and even razor blades are used to perform the cutting. In the majority of cases, there are no medical professionals present and severe bleeding is not uncommon.

The practice is illegal in the UK, but continues to be carried out in countries across Africa and the Middle East and in communities in places as far apart as Colombia and Indonesia. Nevertheless, progress is being made towards an FGM-free world – we're excited to be part of that progress. 

Discover more about our work to empower women in The Gambia.