By: Nyima Sillah
As the Gambia looks forwards to joining the rest of the world in the observation of the 16 Days of Activism, top women’s rights activists have urged the government to invest more in women’s empowerment and other related issues concerning women and girls.
The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an annual international campaign that kicks off on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and amplifying of the voices of women that runs until 10 December, Human Rights Day.
In an exclusive interview with The Voice, Tabou Njie Sarr, Women Rights Manager at the ActionAid The Gambia also the President of Gender Platform said empowering women is a way of mitigating violence.
She said when a woman has been empowered the tendency for that woman to suffer violence is very little. She added that the 16 Days of Activism can help the government to ensure that there are critical decisions to make to protect the rights of women and girls but also to mitigate violence against any vulnerable person.
“In empowering women, the government needs to invest in agriculture. Over 70% of the workforce in agriculture is women. They also need to invest more in economic empowerment initiatives.
“Women are usually found in the informal sector, the government should ensure that the informal sector is formalized and integrated into the formal sector so that women in the informal sector can also benefit from the services that the formal sector provides e.g. having health insurance. Also is pension scheme so that when they retire they can get pensions from social security. These are all social protection measures that can help them to empower women and help their resilience to be built.”
She also pointed out that the budget allocated to women is not gender-sensitive. Noting that what is allocated to health, education, and agriculture would have been very good if the budget and allocations are disaggregated according to sex or according to groups.
“The budget allocated to the ministry of gender compared to other ministries would have been better because the ministry of gender does not house only women’s issues, but children’s issues and the social welfare of vulnerable people.
“Their budget should at least be an amount that they would able to use with their programs and also to ensure that the services of those cohorts are met. I don’t think the budget allocated to them is enough to ensure that they do what they want to do. I think their budget needs to be increased,” she pointed out.
She noted that there is an increment in budget compared to last year but it’s very minimal. She criticized that “attending all the conferences overseas can be minimized and given to the ministries that serve or has the responsibility of taking care of vulnerable people. “It could be disseminated in health, but technology diverts it to ministries or issues that will empower people rather than using it on international conferences it does not make sense,” She disapproved.
PROTECTION OF WOMEN
According to Tabou Njie Sarr, Women and girls are getting protections based on legal terms because they have rectified so many convections like the SEATO Convention but also, the Gambia is part of Africa and has also adopted the African Charter of human and people on the rights of women. Gambia is also a signatory to the ECOWAS protocol on human rights good governance and democracy.
“Legally, yes there are so many provisions our constitution gives us fundamental rights to be protected as every citizen. But in practice that is not the case. In practice, there is more that needs to be done because when we say the protection of human rights is not only limited to violence it encompasses the economic empowerment of women and girls. It encompasses the social, and political rights of women and girls also encompass.
“So in practice, we have some shortfalls as a country and as a government, I think the government can do better in ensuring that in practice women and girls are protected because at the moment we are confronted with so many insecurities,” she explained.
Dr. Isatou Touray, Executive Director of GAMCOTRAP, a Women’s rights organization working on the Sexual and Reproductive Rights of women and girls said the presentation of women in politics is very poor.
“Currently if you look at parliament we have 5 out of 58 representatives which is very poor it has not even reached 10%. Come to the cabinet, it is worst, I think we need to improve on that even though a lot of work has been done in terms of advocacy to advance women’s rights in elective positions.
“We need the political will because the final decisions and making things happen will only come when we have more women either equally in parliament or cabinet where when bills come they can promote based on gender justice,” she said.
She stated that if men are still dominating presidential positions it would be difficult for women who are on the ground to succeed if the political will is not there and that needs to improve.
According to her, having fewer women in parliament will also have an impact on the women’s bill.
“If you look at the statistic, politically, 57% of the registered voters are women. We have to change the mindset, we have to educate men and women and youth to be able to take note of gender-responsive, equality.”
Meanwhile, she added that the government needs to do a lot of things in other to empower women. “Government is the primary duty bearer and if they are the duty bearer, they are accountable to the whole population and what needs to be done is to promote women’s rights. One thing the government has done is they have to file laws from the first republic, second but we still need more because that is not enough. All the documentation and protocols and bills of rights are not happening.
Thus, she said the constitution has given rights to women. And looking at the literature a lot was done but in practice, is not. She, therefore, urged people to change their perceptions toward women.
National Coordinator of the Network against Gender-Based Violence, Fallu Sowe, noted that the international theme for this year’s celebration is unite activism to end violence against women and girls. And in the Gambia, the celebration would be held under the theme: Unite activism to end sexual and intimate partner violence in the Gambia.
He said these are two forms of violence that are affecting a lot of women and girls in this country.
He highlighted that the rate of domestic violence is on the increase not only shown by the data they collected but it is also shown by the demographic health survey 2019-2020 which has shown that there is an increase in the incidents of violence in this country, the civil servants and the government needs to do something before it gets out of hand.
“FGM is going down but not to the rate we want it. is going down at a very slow rate. We want to see a drastic reduction in cases but this can be a result of the fact that the law is not been enforced, I believe if the law against FGM was effectively enforced in 2015 to date, we would have experienced a drastic reduction in FGM, likewise child marriage,” he explained.
Sowe explained further that “Women are facing a lot of challenges which range to poverty because they are the most vulnerable people in the society they are very dependent. The political power, the socio-culture power, economic power all the powers are in the hands of men and when that happens, the females would tend to suffer because the men will misuse the powers they have to always violate women’s rights.
“This is the reason why you find a lot of cases of sexual and gender-based violence in the country because of the imbalance and the inequality between men and women in this country and as a result women are also criticized in many ways because of our cultural, traditions like FGM, Child marriage, wife battering happens and they are normalized in our communities which should not be acceptable.”