Including religious leaders in end female genital mutilation (FGM) efforts has been vital to addressing the harmful practice. Grassroots organisations working in The Gambia have been working with religious leaders and religious schools to change people’s mindset over the misperceived link between Islam and FGM. In some cases, well over half the participants reported a change in mindset, highlighting the success of the projects but also the need to scale up the efforts.
Working in one of the countries with the highest prevalence of FGM, The Gambia, grassroots organisations have been working towards ending FGM by engaging different community members. Around 75% of women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone FGM. That's 3 out of 4 women and girls. In some regions the prevalence is almost at 90%.
Many organisations working towards ending FGM have been highlighting the incompatibility of FGM with religion. In February 2017, the Kids Come First Foundation (KCFF) worked with religious leaders and secondary school students in Gambia’s capital, Banjul, to break the perceived link between FGM and Islam.
As well as aiming to break the links between religion and FGM, KCFF led awareness training sessions that aimed to highlight the negative impacts of FGM. Health care workers explained to the students the negative impacts of FGM on young girls and women. A community volunteer also shared stories of FGM survivors who have suffered some of the negative effects in their adulthood.
Even though FGM predates both Islam and Christianity, many Gambians cite religion as being a significant reason for carrying out FGM. In a recent survey, almost half of women and men believed that FGM was a religious requirement. To address this,
A representative from KCFF highlighted the importance of including religious leaders in end FGM projects:
“Working with religious leaders is quite significant as it breaks religious misconceptions on the practice of FGM. Religious leaders hold and play significant positions in the community. They can influence behaviour of people as dictated by the Qur’an for positive gains. The religion is so caring that it doesn't intend to inflict harm on its subjects.”
Elsewhere in Banjul, another organisation worked with Islamic schools to explain the misconceptions surrounding FGM and religion. Gold Award Holders Association (GAHA) engaged with Islamic teachers and students together. This was a departure from past trends, where teachers and students have often had separate discussions.
Both teachers and students made strong commitments to speak out against FGM. Students went ahead to share what they had learnt during the sessions with other students at school assemblies, whilst teachers made commitments to be champions in ending FGM. GAHA was able to train 40 teachers and 40 students on the negative effects of FGM.
Wider steps to delink religion and FGM have been made in The Gambia. More and more Islamic scholars and prominent imams are sharing with their communities that FGM is not a religious requirement. Interventions by KCFF and GAHA point to the need to create more awareness about FGM to break the linkages between Islam and the harmful practice.
The Girl Generation’s End FGM Grassroots Fund supports local grassroots organisations in some of the countries most affected by FGM. We believe that their local connections, insight and influence mean they are best placed to spark the social changes required for FGM to end. Find out more about what the fund has been able to achieve