A total of 117 Fula and Mandinka communities in the
Upper River Region (URR) openly declared they have abandoned Female Genital
Mutilation (FGM); and early and forced marriage; among other harmful traditional
practices. The declaration ceremony was held at the Basse mini-stadium.
The public declaration was organised under the auspices of Tostan, an NGO that has been operating in The Gambia since 2006. Tostan works in the area of non-formal education. The occasion was attended by thousands of people among them the governor of URR, Tostan national coordinator, chairman of Basse Area Council, National Assembly member for Jimara District, Tostan regional coordinators for Kolda and Zigunchor, security chiefs and a cross-section of the community.
Speaking at the ceremony, Alhaji AF Jallow, a member of the steering committee applauded Tostan for the great achievement registered in URR since its inception. He acknowledged that the organisation has brought about positive changes in the life of the people. He added that the solemn declaration was a clear indication of Tostan’s unwavering commitment in achieving its mission and vision. Jallow described FGM, early and forced marriage as things that are of great concern and need to stop, considering their long-term negative impacts. He urged the communities to stand by their words, while commending Unicef and the Gambia government for bringing Tostan to the region. Also addressing the gathering, Ello Jallow, from the Office of the Vice President noted that the programme was meant enhance the protection of children’s rights by promoting community efforts to protect such rights.
He told the gathering that harmful traditional practices are a violation of human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Rights of the Child, which The Gambia is a signatory to. He stated that the promotion of human rights and responsibilities for women and girls are at the core of the Constitution of the Second Republic under the leadership of President Jammeh. Jallow went on to express Gambia government’s commitment to promoting gender equality and women empowerment as key factors to the attainment of the development agendas of the country.
He acknowledged that Tostan has brought about positive changes in the life of the people of URR, while expressing his office’s readiness to support the cause of the organisation. He thanked Unicef for funding the project in The Gambia, while applauding the communities for finally abandoning the harmful traditional practices. He also thanked the leadership of Tostan and staff for a job well done.
For his part, Alhaji Omar Khan, the governor of URR thanked Tostan, The Gambia government and Unicef for such a tremendous achievement, saying his region has now graduated from absolute illiteracy to a literate region. The governor acknowledged that Tostan has done a lot for the people of URR, and urged the organisation to extend its operations to other regions. He specially thanked Bakary Tamba, Tostan national coordinator; and Molly Melching, director of Tostan for Africa based in Dakar, for a job well done.
Bakary Tamba described the event as the biggest ever in the anals of Tostan-Gambia. He described the declaration as a clear symbol of Tostan’s stance in changing the lives of the people.
He disclosed that since 2006 Tostan has been conducting training for the communities in the areas of health and hygiene, democracy, human rights, and problem solving process, as well as helping them with micro-finance schemes. Tamba thanked the communities for the déclaration, and further urged them to stand by their words. He finally thanked the Gambia government and Unicef for supporting Tostan, noting that a lot have been achieved since 2006.
Other speakers at the ceremony included Salif Jassey of Unicef, Lamin Dibba of NGOs Affairs and Hammeh Minteh Krubally, the chief of Fulladou East. The ceremony was punctuated by cultural displays by different cultural troupes from URR and Senegal. It was moderated by Essa Kanuteh, Tostan supervisor.