“I think the president cared about the issue, it was just something that was never brought to his attention." — Jaha Dukureh
During his annual tour of Gambia, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh issued a surprising announcement: Effective immediately, the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) would be banned across the country.
The announcement was as unexpected as it was welcome. With more than 125 million women and girls subjected to the horrific procedure in Africa and the Middle East, any time a country says "no more," it's a significant development.
But that's not the only reason to celebrate this announcement.
Here's five more reasons the FGM ban is a big achievement:
1. The campaign to end FGM in Gambia was started by a young woman.
For all the times it feels like politicians aren't listening to issues that really matter to their constituents, the story of anti-FGM activist Jaha Dukureh and her campaign to end FGM in her country is a kickass example of how of your voice and vote matter.
"I didn't expect this in a million years," she told the Guardian. "I'm just really proud of my country and I'm really, really happy."
“I think the president cared about the issue, it was just something that was never brought to his attention."
And speaking of voting...
2. It's election season in Gambia. Which makes President Jammeh's announcement a very bold move.
It's conventional wisdom that nothing gets done during an election cycle. Politicians are too busy trying to earn and hold on to votes to shake up the system or lose any potential voters.
But by making this announcement, Jammeh is showing that he cares more about the health and well-being of his country's women and girls than he cares about the people who disagree with him.
3. It'll save the lives and futures of so many girls.
76% of Gambian women have been subjected to FGM. That's 3 in 4 girls. And by the age of 14, 56% of girls in the country have had the procedure.
But whether it's due to cultural or religious customs, FGM is an extreme form of misogyny and a human rights violation. There are zero health benefits from FGM. Intentionally mutilating female genitalia for non-medical reasons only causes harm to girls — in many ways — and can even be fatal.
When fewer girls have to worry about their health and dignity being taken away from them, the better off our entire world will be.
4. This announcement is getting people talking about FGM, which is more significant than you might think.
One of the biggest hurdles to ending FGM is that no one wants to talk about it. It's still considered a taboo subject for many people, not to mention that even just thinking about it can be enough to make you cringe.
But FGM isn't isolated to far-away countries; it also takes place in the United States. It's an issue that deserves global attention, but we'll never be able to end it if we're not educating ourselves about it and what we can do to stop it.
5. Gambia's ban sets a precedent and opens the door for more countries to follow suit.
Gambia follows in the footsteps of Nigeria, where outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan banned FGM back in May. Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. A ban there is a clear sign to other countries that this violence against women and girls must stop.
Both African countries now join 18 others that have outlawed the practice. And Somalia — which has the highest prevalence of FGM in the world — has indicated that it hopes to end the practice too, according to The Guardian.