Tag Archives: Violence Against Women

FGM Ban In The Gambia: The Beginning of An End 

Today marks the beginning of another 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, an annual commemoration that runs from November 25th to December 10th each year.

In The Gambia, this year’s commemorations dawned with great news through an Executive pronouncement, Monday evening, banning the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the country, with immediate effect. The news, broken by the Minister of Information and Communication Infrastructure, Sheriff Bojang, on his Facebook page received a generally positive reaction, especially for organisations, activists and advocates that have dedicated their time, resources and lives to the cause of ending the practice over the past three decades.

However, there are also comments on caution and expressions of opposition to the decision; a reaction that is not surprising, given the context and the long traditional history of the practice of FGM in The Gambia. There are ongoing discussions looking at the way forward for the campaign and efforts to end FGM in The Gambia.

Does the Executive pronouncement bring an end to the work of the different organisations, activists and advocates? Is there a need to celebrate this development? Can victory be declared now, and attention shifted to other issues affecting women and girls in The Gambia?

The responses to these questions may vary from one individual or organisation to another, perhaps based on the level of understanding and involvement in the activism and advocacy to end the practice. There may be differences in opinion, but a growing sentiment in the activist circles is the need to translate the pronouncement into specific legislation and consequent enforcement, for greater impact.

Over the past three decades, organisations like GAMCOTRAP have led the advocacy for a law banning the practice of FGM, but efforts were met with negative results. The latest was the rejection of the proposed anti-FGM bill by the National Assembly, pushing back hopes to see legislation passed against FGM in The Gambia. From this context, this pronouncement is one to celebrate, as it displays a political will to ensure the practice ends in The Gambia, possibly leading to action from parliamentarians in line with the various international legal instruments protecting the rights of women and girls. Due process needs to be followed, and the different stakeholders should strike now and push for legislation following this pronouncement. The ground has been set and there have been expressions of support from several National Assembly Members, as captured in this vox pop on the Daily Observer Newspaper.

There has also been a very commendable turn in the media in the past year, with an increase in coverage on FGM, especially in the newspapers. These range from reports on events to opinion pieces examining FGM from different perspectives including health, culture, religion and human rights. The importance of the media in shaping perspectives and public opinion is common knowledge, and their role in the campaign to end FGM is crucial.

Over the past decades, perhaps due to the consideration of FGM as sensitive and taboo, little media attention has been given to the issue, especially on sensitisation regarding the negative effects of the practice on women and girls. Following the pronouncement, the Daily Observer’s issue of Wednesday, 25th November 2015 hosts a front-page feature, a Page 3 coverage, an editorial and a full spread vox-pop. Anyone who has followed media coverage of FGM knows this is a huge turn, even if desired at an earlier time. Other publications have featured stories on the issue and this has contributed to a heightened awareness on FGM, even if met with surprising reactions to the statistics on prevalence in The Gambia.

Increasing awareness of the public on the dangers of FGM and its effects on girls and women is the sure way to changing attitudes and influencing an abandonment of the practice. FGM is a deeply-rooted culture and its practice has prevailed with a justification along cultural, traditional and religious lines. As with many other cultural and traditional practices, there needs to be a shift in perception of the practice, for abandonment to become a true reality.

The pronouncement on the ban is a great first step, but it is only the beginning of the end for this campaign. Activists and advocates still have the very important responsibility of raising awareness on the realities of FGM, backed by evidence and data from the different perspectives. The most effective means of finally eliminating the practice will come from an understanding of its consequences and the voluntary decision of people in communities to protect girls and women from harm. Enforced legislation will be a guideline, but care must be given to the possible deviations from the law, as is seen with other issues that are considered illegal.

Using the law as a deterrent might lead to a new phenomenon of practicing undercover, to avoid the penalties associated with these violations. This can have serious implications, with a continuing risk of complications for the girls, as well as problems in collating accurate data to track progress made in the years following the ban. Where the practice is not done undercover, there is the risk of girls being transported to countries where there will be no legal implications for the practice. This is a current phenomenon in countries like Senegal, where the practice of FGM is against the law. The subject of vacation cutting has also emerged, where girls are generally brought to African countries from America and Europe for cutting, to avoid facing the law in these countries.

These are a few challenges that could arise with the provision of a specific legislation on FGM, and therefore highlights the need for continued work from all fronts to ensure a more holistic solution in line with ending FGM in a generation. There is need for more intensive work to make sure the gains made over the past decades are not erased and community outreach is still at the heart of most efforts to eliminate the practice of FGM. Communication strategies should be reviewed to project positive messages, taking into consideration new developments, avoiding intimidation and promoting dialogue in communities, for more impact. This will definitely yield long-term results, while drawing attention to the human rights and protection perspective for all girls currently at risk.

It is evident there is still a lot of work to do, and a lot more ground to cover. However, there is enough reason to celebrate this new change as it has clearly contributed to a huge shift in opinion from various duty bearers that had, hitherto, taken the backseat. It is a huge step for all involved in the campaign to end FGM, and should be a guide to creating new strategies and actions that will lead to legislation as well as effective outreach and sensitisation, especially targeting practising communities.

This is a positive start to the 16 days campaign in The Gambia and I extend congratulatory wishes to everyone who has been involved, at whatever level, in the campaign to end the practice of FGM in The Gambia.

The executive pronouncement banning the practice of FGM in The Gambia is the beginning of an end, and the next steps taken will determine how much success will be registered. The true winners will be the women and girls of The Gambia, especially those at risk of FGM.

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We Rose With The One Billion

Image courtesy of pa Abdou Waggeh

Image courtesy of Pa Abdou Waggeh

About two weeks ago, I sat in my room browsing through the One Billion Rising website, hoping to find a V-Day event I could attend on February 14th. Yes, it was Valentine’s Day. No, I wasn’t looking for a Valentine’s Day event. V Day is a day of victory, celebration and solidarity with all victims and survivors of Violence Against Women. It is a global day of action to call for solutions to this problem and work towards creating a better, safer world for women and girls. You’ll get more information on their website.

My search yielded no results, for the second year in a row. The nearest event was in Spain and it was completely impossible for me to make it there. To keep it short, I went from wondering why there was no event in Morocco to drafting a plan for one. Due to certain conditions, I couldn’t host a physical event. However, my recent post on three years of blogging reminded me that I had an online platform I could use for this. I also took cue from my participation in the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women. I had a great online presence and Linguere could definitely host a One Billion Rising event. About five days to the day, Rise With Linguere was born.

I sent out a mini-survey question on Twitter to see if people would be willing to participate and the response was great. I shared the idea with a few close ones and cooked up a flyer that night before going to sleep. The response grew the next day and the campaign was already taking form. Excitement built up and within two days, I had three amazing ladies offering to help me run it. These, apart from the ones that shared ideas, helped in promoting the campaign and just being there to offer moral support. Word went round and the team was ready.

What I rose for, among many other things

                                    What I rose for, among many other things

I’ll have to confess that we didn’t expect the response we got for the Rise With Linguere campaign. What was supposed to be a day’s event eventually ran for five days, including the two days after V Day. Work came in and sleep, food and rest went out. There were peak moments when the team was completely overwhelmed by the amount of submissions we had to deal with at a time and stress levels ran high. Our Facebook message thread was quite fun to read after we closed the campaign. However, it was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done and I’m sure I’ll do no wrong if I said the same for my teammates too.

At the time of closing the campaign, which got very emotional for us, we had created both Facebook and Instagram pages and posted all the submissions we had received/saw.
Within 5 days, we received over 275 photos from 20 countries around the world; a manifestation of our unity and recognition of our collective responsibility to end Violence Against Women . Each photo conveyed a message, taking a stand against one form of violence that women and girls go through. We sought to raise awareness about VAW and encourage more action in this regard. The participation was very symbolic and reaffirms that there is strength in numbers and we can indeed make a change when we come together!

That phase of the campaign has ended but for us, everyday is a day to rise to end the injustices against women and girls. The hope is that we translate the powerful messages into action, starting from somewhere as near as our homes, spreading out to the streets, schools, offices and other public places. One little action can make a great difference. Our tiny steps will lead us to a great place where fairness, equality, equity, love and respect reign. We chose to ignore comments aimed at devaluing the campaign and watering down the significance of getting people together for a cause. The response we got,  spoke for us and showed that, indeed, we could – and had – made a difference by getting people to talk about these issues. Every act from thinking up a message and writing it down, to taking a photo and sending it to us meant a lot.

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We’ve sent out gratitude posts to the many participants who made this campaign successful. I’ll go on to thank my teammates Haddijatou Ceesay, Ndey Ngoneh Jeng and Mariam Camara. Without these amazing ladies and their incredible resourcefulness, sacrifice and readiness to work, the story would have been different. I can’t thank them enough, but I am comforted with the knowledge that they don’t need to be thanked for doing what they felt they had to do. Mother’s blessings and encouragement sealed the deal for us too. Many thanks to everyone who helped out in any way, to those who offered to help with any other projects we come up with, to those who mobilized groups and sent us lots of photos. It was all amazing!

Finally, special thanks to Mine for accepting this new way of spending Valentine’s. No complaints, much support and encouragement, and reminders of the task at hand and what it meant. I couldn’t ask for a better gift. Thank you.

Take a look at the photos on the links below:
Rise With Linguere on Facebook
Rise With Linguere on Instagram

 

 

Beyond The 16 Days Of Activism To End Violence Against Women

From November 25th to December 10th, people from all over the world participated in the 16-day campaign to end Violence Against Women  (VAW). The campaign started in 1991 and calls on groups, organisations and individuals to speak up and take action to end VAW. Each year, the campaign begins on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls and ends on International Human Rights Day. Within this period, we also observe International Human Rights Defenders Day (29th November), World Aids Day (1st December) and the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre (6th December).

“From peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence against Women! ” was the theme for this year’s campaign and participants addressed issues ranging from domestic violence to the dangers faced in public spaces. This year also marked a significant growth in the social media presence of the campaign led by the SAY NO- UNiTE team, with the initiation of the Orange Your World actions that encouraged people to wear something orange to show support and solidarity. . A series of interesting social media chats were held to engage people on these platforms in meaningful conversations centered around the issue of VAW.

I took part in the #orangeurworld campaign, sharing facts and opinions about VAW and possible solutions to the problem on my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. When I started out, my aim was to raise more awareness about VAW and stimulate a healthy discourse that would engage my social media friends and get more people involved in the campaign.

On one of the 16 days, I caught sight of a tweet on the futility of ‘social media activism’ that does not translate to much in the real world. Unlike other days, I chose to ignore the tweet. For me, it was yet another reminder of the challenges faced when people decide to say or do something about certain ills in our society. To be fair, at one point in my life, I had also questioned the impact one could make by simply using social media platforms to advocate for their chosen causes. Over the last two years, my views have changed and I have come to realise that one can actually make a positive impact using social media platforms. Social media networks are actually used by real people and each account on these sites represents a living being in the ‘real world’.  The past 16 days further confirmed this for me.

On Day two of the campaign, a relative and another online acquaintance decided to join me on Instagram by wearing orange and posting selfies too. I was touched by the act and decided to share their photos as a gesture of appreciation for the support. This would lead to more people putting up photos and tagging them all to show support (see slide show below). For me, each notification informing me of a tagged #orangeurworld photo was a success for this campaign.

It meant people were paying attention and were willing to add their voices to the conversation. It meant more people would know of the campaign and its goals due to the ripple effect that the posts had. It meant that the alarming statistics and other facts about VAW would reach more people and perhaps influence more action towards a solution. It meant more people became even more aware of this issue and could understand the gravity of the situation in our world today. It also reminded people that no gesture was too small for the campaign and encouraged them to take action in any way that they can.

The 16 Days campaign has come to an end for this year, but this does not draw the curtains on the daily campaign to end VAW. It does not mean we will go back into our little ‘safe’ corners and wait for November 25th, 2014 to be heard again. These 16 Days were a means of getting more people on board and it was beautiful to see supporters from all over the world going orange for this period. It meant that, for 16 Days, we all focused on a common goal and did everything we could to spread the word and influence action. We were strong activists for 16 days; what next?

We continue what we have started and go beyond these 16 Days. VAW still exists and it is important that we hold tight and forge on until we see significant drops in the statistics; until we see a world where women and girls are not afraid of being attacked, abused, raped molested, discriminated against, married off at an early age, mutilated etc because of their gender. It is our collective responsibility to bring an end to this menace and the theme for this year’s campaign couldn’t have come at a better time.

We all come from homes and it is said that the family is the basic unit of society. I believe this is where the work begins. This is where we teach our sons and daughters the value of life and the importance of respect for the other person and their privacy. This is where we call out and rectify even the subtlest forms of violence in the early stages of our children’s lives. This is where the very people who are found in public spaces should be groomed and nurtured into respectful and respectable human beings. It all starts from the home and extends to the world outside it.

Indifference, like I say, is not an option. We are all affected and should take a stand to end VAW. I would like to thank everyone who showed support during the 16 Days campaign. Your voices were heard and I’m sure we all made a difference in at least one person’s life. I would also like to note that this was not MY campaign. It belongs to us all and I’m glad we all took part in it. Here’s to many more efforts together as a community.

Below is a slide show of photos from people who supported the cause and participated in the #orangeurworld campaign.

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Beneath Her Veil

Beneath her veil lay eyes filled with fear
Of man and his ways, of evil bred within good
Of what lay ahead of her, what fate had dealt her
A world that turned against her, blamed her, maimed her
Condemned to a death so bloody, an end so violent
A memory tainted by unjustified justifications
Innocent? Guilty? A victim of societal condemnation
Actions based on so-called religious obligation
Her body, tears, blood, their means to purification
To their honour, a restoration
Of her being, a termination, elimination
Perhaps she was born into the wrong nation

Beneath her veil lay eyes filled with questions
They leave their homes, closing their doors to their own sins
Their robes kissing the earth, their voices rising in mock anger
Stony looks matching the hearts in their chests, the rocks in their hands
Personifications of the ironies of this world
Dishonorable soldiers of God’s army, fighting for honor
Casting stones with hands tainted by their own misdeeds
Egos inflated with the thoughts of doing right by God’s law
Judges of the ‘adulteress’, defenders of their own adultery
Drowning out the voice of reason, her pleas, her desperate calls for mercy
Chanting loudly from the holy books, words they refuse to honor
Teachings they refuse to follow, commandments they refuse to submit to
Picking what favours them and discarding all else that follows
She questions the sincerity of man in his quest to please our Lord.

Beneath her veil lay eyes filled with indifference
To everything happening around her, deep within her being
Her effort to numb out the pain as the first rock strikes
Thrown from hands that had once held her close and professed love
From fingers that had interlaced with hers on those moon-lit nights
Stones cast by her friends, neighbours, her family
Blind to the innocence in her eyes, the purity in her heart
An outcast within her caste, disowned by her own
Her ‘partner’ set free, supposedly innocent of the act
Defying all logic… takes two to commit yet one was enough to submit
To the will of man, the unjust cause of the Homo sapiens

Beneath her veil lay eyes filled with pity
‘Forgive them Father, for they know not what they are doing’
Stoning down an innocent soul, ending a life they did not create
With every drop of her blood, their shouts of victory grew louder
All compassion lost, all empathy thrown away
Sucking out her life, reaffirming their holiness
Fighting and winning a battle that belonged to God
Ignorant of the facts, the sad reality of their existence
That with every rock cast, every jab felt and every breath lost
An immaculate being was abused, the earth defiled.

Beneath her veil lay eyes absent a soul
She slumped, her body a mass of bruises and scars
She met her death standing, buried to her waist
Her last breath in the whites she had put on herself
Whites of her baptism and wedding turned to a bloodied shroud
No ritual bath, no prayer, not a chance to be mourned
Cheated of her life, denied a chance at justice, a sacrifice
For men who sought reassurance in the sins of others
Yet their honor shall never be worth a drop of her innocent blood
And their sins shall forever remain theirs to bear.

IWD 2013: Take The Promise

It’s March 8th again. It’s International Women’s Day; a day set aside to celebrate all women in the world, irrespective of their backgrounds and differences.

We celebrate appreciation, respect, love and admiration towards women. We equally celebrate the numerous achievements registered in the social, political and economic spheres among others.

“A Promise is a Promise: Time for Action to End Violence Against Women” is the theme for this year’s celebrations. Somewhere in New York, Governments, activists and supporters of women’s rights are gathered for the 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Discussions revolve around the priority theme: Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls. Earlier this year, the world witnessed the greatest movement of feminists and supporters on February 14th, demanding an end to Violence against Women. The ‘I Rise’ campaign reached out to people from all parts of the world, united towards achieving a common goal. Yesterday, in the United States of America, the Violence Against Women Act was signed into law by President Obama. It is only the first quarter of the year, but I can’t help celebrating these great achievements, while remaining positive for even greater things by the time the year rolls out.

The conversation continues, but the call for action has grown even louder. Do you hear it? Are you ready to take the promise? Are you ready to deliver that promise?

It starts from the smallest unit in society: the family. Take the promise to protect the women and girls in your home from violence and abuse of all forms. We’ll sweep the world clean, one home at a time!

Today, I honor the women in history! The strong Lingueres who paved the way for today’s feminists. The brave ladies who broke the traditional norms to speak up and demand that women get their basic human rights.

I celebrate the thousands of activists, carrying the torch forward and standing firm on their feet. The resilient men and women who shall not rest until the woman is treated as an equal, a human and one of God’s noble creations.

I stand in solidarity with all victims and survivors of violence and gender-influenced mistreatment. The world owes you justice. I stand tall with you and add my voice to your cry, growing louder until the world pays attention. I pray for those who didn’t survive the abuse and hope that their deaths will be avenged.

I salute my male comrades, who’ve broken the barriers and stay firm in their pledge to support the cause of women. I strongly believe solidarity and cooperation are indispensable to the success of our campaign. Equality can only be achieved when all parties concerned understand what it means. Our dear we-men, your efforts are appreciated.

I challenge all goverments and people in power to live up to their promises, assume their responsibilities, respect the rights and provide for the needs of the people they are meant to serve. The promise goes beyond signing and ratifying conventions and treaties. It extends to concrete and effective action to uphold and put into place the many recommendations they put forward! The world is watching and I implore you to act now!

Time is running out. One act of violence is one act too many. We can not afford to lose any more women, to death, physical disability, emotional breakdowns, psychological trauma among others.

Speak up! Act now! Do whatever you can! Don’t sit back and wait till it gets to you or those dear to you. Every woman’s cry should be your cry too! Live the promise!

“Though she’s half a world away
Something in me wants to say
We are one woman
And we shall shine” -One Woman song

Have a joyous International Women’s Day!