An Open Letter to Pro-FGM Supporters: A Call for Reflection and Compassion

An Open Letter to Pro-FGM Supporters: A Call for Reflection and Compassion

Published May 8, 2024


Dear Reader, 

I write this with shaky hands but strong conviction in my heart. I only hope that I do you, the reader, justice. 

I want to highlight that this is neither an attempt to attack anyone’s culture and/or beliefs, nor is it my way of questioning anyone’s intelligence. On the contrary, it is because I hold your intelligence in such high esteem that I only intend to convince you with logic.  

There is an expression in my culture which directly translates to, “Listen with the mind and not with the heart.” It means to set aside one’s feelings on a matter so that he or she may listen, judge and/or act objectively and logically. I urge you to read with your mind and not with your heart. We all just want what is best for our girls. 

On that note, we may begin. 

The reasons for which Female Genital Mutilation/Circumcision (FGM/C) is practiced are widely known. There are three justifications for FGM/C under which the more nuanced reasons fall. FGM/C is practiced to curb promiscuity and/or unwanted pregnancy, as it is a part of a people’s culture and deemed a religious practice. Now, let’s unpack! 


On Promiscuity & Unwanted Pregnancies 

Let’s assume that FGM/C does curb promiscuity and that it consequently curbs pre-marital pregnancy. Most of the Gambian female population marries by their twenties. Nearly a quarter are victims of child marriage. FGM/C is supposed to keep and “protect” them from being “loose” between adolescence and marriage. I will make another generous assumption that the ages of potential promiscuity or “protection” of the average Gambian female populations are from 13 to 30, a total of 17 years of life.  

According to WHO data published in 2020, the average Gambian female has a life expectancy of 67.7 years. Now let’s do some quick math: the 17 years of protection is on average, 25.1% of a girl/woman’s life. In simple terms, a quarter. 

The Gambia’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey of 2018 by UNICEF revealed that 70% adolescent girls who underwent FGM/C were cut before the age of 5. From that source, 92% of girls who undergo FGM/C are cut by the age of 9. This informs us that 92% spend at least 58.7 years of their life, which is 86.7% of their life span, living as survivors of the practice.  

Many women and girls claim that they themselves, their mothers, and sisters underwent FGM/C but never faced any complications. They argue that it is only those who are cut poorly who suffer from it. 

Anyone who has a conversation with a Gambian will notice a penchant for throwing self-developed figures and statistics. A Gambian man with whom I was debating FGM/C told me that if there were 100 girls that went through FGM/C, only 1 or 2 would be risky. 

Not to validate his claim, but for the purpose of this letter, I will use his reasoning of only 1% of girls suffer complications of FGM/C. That said, what do we do with that 1%? Should we ignore the fact that they may or may not be able to have children, that they will never enjoy sex, that every month they will have to experience extremely painful periods, that simple functions like urination would be an unpleasant experience to endure forever. Should we ignore the 1%? Just because a woman “needs” protection for a quarter of her life, is it okay to possibly make her suffer for over 86% of it as well? That is, assuming they live long enough to suffer. What about the victims who die from FGM/C complications? What about the countless girls who do not even live to reach the years they need protection? 

Reader, I know you may still be telling yourself that it is only 1%, that you and yours who go through FGM/C have been and will continue to be fine, so you will continue the practice. But how can you be certain? How do you know the next girl you send off will be part of the 99% and not the 1%? What will you do if she is in the 1%? Why do you continue to risk it? 

This is not to say that FGM/C curbs teenage pregnancy. This is only using the argument of Pro-FGM/C individuals. 


On Culture 

Reader, I assure you that I wholeheartedly believe that culture is not just integral to the identity of a people but also necessary in maintaining our social fabric.  

However, it is important to note that cultures and cultural practices do not fall from the sky. They were neither made with the world nor with Adama and Awa1. At some point they did not exist. Cultural practices are man-made; they are a societal construct. They are practices that our ancestors initiated to meet the needs and promote the interests of their people in the best way they knew how.  

It raises the question: why is it so unthinkable to end cultural practices that no longer serve us? Should we still exercise those practices though we know they have no beneficial use? Should they be final and binding no matter what? 

Even our ancestors knew that FGM/C was deadly. There would always be deaths when girls were taken to be cut. It is why they started another practice: girls to be cut as they are accompanied by ‘Kangkurangs’2 and other masquerades. The masquerades were to protect the girls from jinns and evil spirits that wanted to take them away. I would have found it funny, maybe even laughed, if it was not about FGM/C because the evil spirit was and still is FGM/C itself.  

Last week, I learned about a fishing village where eating the head and tail of a fish was taboo and unacceptable. The villagers could not give any solid reason for this. They just did not allow the eating of fish head and tail. After a visitor had gone to that village, they decided to find out the reason behind it. Upon investigation, they found out that several generations back, cooking pots used to be much smaller than they are now. It therefore became the norm to discard the heads and tails of the fish they cooked so that it would fit in the pots. Over time, people just stopped eating them all together and it trickled down.  

As I mentioned earlier, I am all for culture, but I am also all for culture being questioned, and for harmful practices to be cast away.



On Islam (Religion)

It should go without saying that I am no cleric. For this letter, I do not need to be. I just wish for you to continue to read. I promise to only stick to the axioms that even new Muslims know. 

There are a few hadiths3 that support FGM/C in Islam. These hadiths basically state that FGM/C is a sunnah. Even though the authenticity and strength of those hadiths are disputed, that will not be my focus. Just for today, I will agree with you that the hadiths are indeed sound and authentic, that FGM/C is an established sunnah4 

I will also agree with you that Islam would not cause harm to anyone and that it dictates that only a little bit of the clitoris be cut. However, that begs the question; how much is “a little”? Who decides that? What makes you fit to decide how much is too small, enough, or too much? Even if you are fit to decide, can you be present at every single cutting of every single girl to ensure only a little is cut? I digress but ponder over those questions. 

You know what the beauty of sunnah acts is Reader? The beauty of sunnah acts is that they are not obligatory or by force. It is not a sin to not perform something that is sunnah. Choosing not to perform them, takes nothing away from the faith or blessings of a Muslim.  

Also, think about the Prophet (PBUH). I find it interesting that he did not impose FGM/C on any of his wives or daughters. 

So even if it is truly a sunnah, knowing all the above, if nothing else, at least question the need to practice FGM/C. 


I hope that I have at best convinced you that FGM/C should be stopped or at least planted a seed of doubt on the matter. If it is the latter, if you question what you know, conduct extensive and objective research (from multiple sources), and think and act logically, I will be glad to have achieved this letter’s purpose to you. 

I also want to tell you that it is okay to change your mind. It does not make you a hypocrite. It only means that you did better when you got to know better, and it requires a lot of courage and humility. 

My name is Mariama Jammeh. I am a young Gambian woman; unmarried, childless, and a faithful Muslim. I am grateful to not have been through FGM/C and I do not wish to put myself or my future daughters through it.  

I, along with all the girls and women like me, are a testament that not being cut does not make you any less decent, Gambian and/or Muslim.  



Mariama Jammeh



1) Kankurangs- Gambian masquerades 

2) Adama and Awa- Adam and Eve / Adam and Hawa 

3) Hadiths- Sayings of the Prophet (PBUH) in Islam 

4) Sunnah- Traditions and practices of the Prophet (PBUH) in Islam 








I know you may still be telling yourself that it is only 1%, that you and yours who go through FGM/C have been and will continue to be fine, so you will continue the practice. But how can you be certain? How do you know the next girl you send off will be part of the 99% and not the 1%? What will you do if she is in the 1%? Why do you continue to risk it?

Mariama Jammeh