Source: Daily Observer
In today’s edition of Observer Archives we bring a position that the current Vice President Isatou Njie Saidy took when she was the Executive Secretary of Women’s Bureau on March 2nd 1994.

Written by Momodu Musa Secka, the story headlined ‘Female Circumcision’ is Not a Religious Rite began as follows: “The Executive Secretary, Women’s Bureau, Mrs Isatou Njie-Saidy, has said that from an Islamic point of view, female genital mutilation or female circumcision is not a religious requirement. In her address at the opening of the Regional workshop on African Women and Tradition, Culture and Religion, held at the Atlantic Hotel yesterday ( 2 March 1994), Mrs. Njie-Saidy pointed out that as a representative of a country where Islam is the predominant religion, she and others have been educated to the knowledge that circumcision is neither encouraged nor advised by Islamic scholars.”

The reporter also took a direct quote from her speech in which she said: “That leaves culture and tradition as being squarely responsible for this practice, whose wisdom is increasingly being challenged in various quarters,” she declared. She pointed out, however, that not all of our culture and traditions are anti-developmental and unprogressive.

The Executive Secretary asserted that in an era when the drive towards greater social enlightenment has become all-embracing, the situation of a society divided between privileged and under-privileged based on sex, race or creed is an affront.

“In this workshop, we shall have the opportunity to exchange ideas on experiences and efforts being made, and progress attained in the struggle for the betterment of women in our various communities,” she said.

Mrs. Njie-Saidy also briefly touched on what Gambian women have been engaged in during the last decade. She said that at the national level, there has been an increased awareness in the last decade or so about what really needs to be done, and how to go about it.

“In all these development schemes and programmes, we are alive to the fact that, irrespective of what amount of legislation is put in place, the beneficiaries of the laws enacted, conventions signed, ratified and codified, can only be positively affected if they are part and parcel of the processes themselves, and people are convinced of their significance.”

Knowing rights, duties and obligations enables women, as mothers, housewives and careers, to know what is convenient as a family size and what is possible to shoulder in terms of rearing children, she asserted.

“We must, as organisations, individuals and community groups from various countries, commit ourselves, as never before, to ensure that decisions taken and affecting the welfare of women are put into practice,” she said.

In his address of welcome, the director, African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, Mr. Raymond Sock, said that the workshop is important because it gives African women scholars, activists and mothers, and indeed some men, a unique opportunity to explore some of the themes relevant to women’s rights in Africa, prior to the regional meeting for the Fourth World Conference on women.

“Although this workshop will concentrate on the effects of tradition, culture and religion on the realization of women’s rights in Africa, it is hoped that our discussions over the next five days will provide a catalyst for further investigation into other spheres of life militating against the advancement of women in Africa.” Mrs. Sock said.

The workshop, was attended by 25 participants from Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroun, Cape Verde, Canada, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, the United Kingdom and The Gambia.

What makes this story so eye-catching is that fast forward to 21-yaers later after Madam Njie Saidy made her views known on female circumcision, she is part of a progressive and pragmatic government that took the decisive step to ban Female circumcision in the country, or as it is known in current parlance Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGMC).

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