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Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you. The rainy season is imminent in The Gambia, taunting the thirst of the land and its people. Late in the day, the sun, exhausted, drops below the horizon and children gather to play football on a dusty field by the village. In the yard of her modest compound, Sira Janko and her co-worker, Fatou Jatter, set to work, sifting pebbles from the river sand and mixing it then with water and native grass.
Sira is one of hundreds of women who have made the life-changing decision to abandon the practice of female circumcision. It is a decision that does not come lightly but exists as part of a collective movement that is transforming the country and forging a new future for women in The Gambia. As the smallest country on mainland Africa, The Gambia is forged by a winding river, which runs like a backbone through its lean body. Following the course of the river as it ebbs and flows towards the Atlantic Ocean, a quiet yet powerful movement to protect and nurture female health and sexuality is unfolding.
The practice, which varies in degree from tribe to tribe, is usually experienced by girls during adolescence as part of a coming-of-age ritual; a celebration of womanhood. Though widely regarded as a religious obligation in The Gambia, the practice pre-dates the arrival of Islam and Christianity, and is etched into the cultural and social identity of the nation.
In light of new knowledge about the serious immediate and long-term health consequences that circumcision inflicts upon women and girls, a home-grown response has emerged to bring an end to the practice. Female circumcision is traditionally carried out by women that have inherited the role and responsibility within their respective communities. Many of them rely on it as their main source of income to support themselves and their families.
After the training and knowledge she gained, Sira Janko was able to stop alongside her community and is grateful for her new freedom and peace of mind. When she was cutting, Sira was never convinced that what she was doing was right; she was always in two minds.