Source: Daily Observer
Forty-two communities in seven districts in the Upper River Region (URR) are the latest to drop knife as efforts towards the elimination of the deeply rooted traditional practice of Female Genital Cutting or Mutilation gained momentum.

The communities that made a public declaration Sunday during a ceremony held at Koba Kunda in Basse, also vowed to stamp out the menaces of early marriage and other harmful traditional practices affecting the girls and women of the country.

Organised and sponsored by Tostan International Gambia in collaboration with the communities, the ceremony brought together a host of local dignitaries including the governor of the region, the donors from the Swedish Post Code, Tostan officials from Senegal, members of the URR Technical Advisory Committee, circumcisers and cross section of the community. Reading a declaration statement in English and Mandinka on behalf of the communities, Dusu Boye and Yainding Jallow both commended Tostan, the government of The Gambia and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) as well as other development partners for supporting the programme. "Today, we solemnly and with full knowledge abandon the practice of Female Genital Cutting and early child and forced marriage in our communities," Boye declared.

This historical decision, according to her, is aimed at reinforcing the efforts of the National Movement for the Promotion of Human Rights in The Gambia, in Africa and the world at large. This, the ex-circumciser went on, is in line with the Tostan Community Empowerment Programme in partnership with the government of The Gambia, UNICEF, Swedish Post Code, and Nike GM since 2006.

Boye noted that this decision was not just reached overnight, indicating that it came after an intensive three-year holistic Community Empowerment Programme led by Tostan facilitators, communities and other stakeholders on issues seen as violation of the fundamental human rights.

The chairperson of the Steering Committee, Alhagie Jallow thanked Tostan for its support to the region. He noted that Tostan's Community Empowerment Programme is not only focusing on FGC, but that it is a holistic approach to community-led sustainable development process, covering issues such as democracy, good governance, human rights, problem solving, health and hygiene, literacy and management skills amongst others. Jallow however acknowledged that it would have been difficult for Tostan to achieve this major breakthrough without the support of the National Women's Bureau. He called on all to work hard and in collaboration to sustain the project, noting that in the event that it eventually phased out, communities should be able to take the lead using their knowledge and skills gained during this period.

The lady councilor of Basse, Neneh Darboe also thanked Tostan for its efforts in promoting the development of the region, and the country at large. Since the commencement of its operations in the region some years ago, according to her, it has not only created awareness on a lot of issues, but also build capacities of the rural dwellers.

Giving testimony on behalf of the circumcisers, Fatou Damba informed that they have been involved in the cutting for many years now, saying they have now dropped the knife on a strong conviction that it is an impediment to the growth and development of women. With the level of training acquired from Tostan, Damba said they are now aware of the he alt

In his closing remarks on behalf of the governor of the region, the chairman of Basse Area Council (BAC), Omar Sampo Ceesay attested that since the establishment of Tostan in the country in 2006, it has provided the communities of URR with numerous capacity building trainings. Tostan, he said is an NGO that is contributing immensely towards nation building, and thus reaffirmed his office's continued support to the project.

Ceesay underscored that the project has been able to lower the illiteracy rate of communities on burning issues through its capacity building initiatives. He urged development partners to support Tostan as it is a project that is empowering local communities.

The government of The Gambia, he said, is aware of the benevolent gesture that the project is rendering to the communities. Ceessay said the government is committed to bringing projects that will empower communities and improve their livelihoods.

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