Amie Sillah I wish to take this opportunity to salute the Women of the World inAmie Sillah 2 general, Africa and the Gambia in particular. Women are great. They are the bastion of the home, shock absorbers of stress and the effects of poverty, marginalization, oppression, degradation and exploitation.Despite all these challenges women still hold the families together. This year’s International Women’s day is an important occasion as we mark 20 years since the Beijing International Women’s Conference in 1995. All countries around the world are taking stock of women’s successes, constraints and challenges in their lived realities. In the Gambia, rural women are providing the bulk of food crops for family consumption. Both male and female farmers still use crude back breaking tools, lack farm inputs, storage facilities and face insect infestation, poor infrastructure and poor market prices for crops, irregular rainfall patterns, soil infertility, erosion and climate change, which affect production. These constraints still remain as challenges for self food sufficiency to better livelihood and this is a lived reality for rural women as well as high prices of essential food commodities. On the socio-cultural aspect; rural women play a great role in keeping families intact through service, care, love and empathy. Drudgery plus poverty related ailments make them grow older than their biological age .Poverty breeds maternal and child mortality and morbidity. Good cultural practices exist side by side with harmful ones which undermine women’s dignity, health and sexuality. Practices such as FGM/C, early/ arranged/ forced marriages, wife inheritance without voluntary testing to prevent the transmission of STI’s/HIV/Aids, backward widowhood rites, food taboos during pregnancy/breast feeding and child betrothal are challenges. Poor old women are sometimes accused of witchcraft practices which cause isolation, stigmatization, alienation, oppression. The caste system also causes discrimination between people which results in conflict and different people buried at different places. Child birth is still a big problem when women compete in polygamous homes just to give birth to males. Female children are linked to loss of status, Women without children became ostracized in patriarchal society. Poor nutrition and high cost of medicine are also challenges. On the environmental front, due to climate change, Gambia women have many challenges such as flooding, fire, soil degradation/erosion. Acquiring fuel such as firewood and charcoal is a challenge as it means destroying the forest cover causing deforestation and emitting smoke being a health hazard affecting eyes and lungs. Solar/wind power is still illusive to rural women /urban poor women. Portable water is still a big challenge for rural women, who trek afar to get water a gender role for girls/women. Electricity is out of their reach because of cost. Professional and Business Women who are presented as success stories also face some challenges such as access to national/ regional/international finance and  markets and  loss  of international partnership and opportunities due to  human rights and good governance issues . Socially they suffer gender-based violence, woman to woman violence in polygamous setups and all other backward traditional practices as well as unsustainable dependency due to the economic life of the country. Women with disabilities are also taking a stand to be counted by developing organizational skills and networking around their interest to make society recognise their strength and give them solidarity to overcome their weaknesses. They still face their challenges and constraints such as poverty, discrimination, marginalization and alienation. Gender based violence against women living with disability are enormous and society needs to give them more attention and solidarity to ease their livelihood socio-culturally, economically and politically. Gambian Women in Leadership Many training workshops have been conducted; capacity has been built but many challenges/constraints still remain in this area. 30 percent women representation is standard, in the composition of representative institutions. In the Gambia out of 19 cabinet members only 4 are women including the Vice President and the number keeps fluctuating due to lack of security of tenure; 5 Female National Assembly Members, 4 being elected and the Deputy Speaker a female is nominated out of a number of 53 members; Out of 1873 Alkalolus (village heads) only 6 are women. Women participation seem largely limited to the ward and village development committee levels. Chieftaincy is still within the realm of patriarchy and women are excluded. There is one female governor among 5 governors, a Mayoress in Banjul the capital and 2 male Mayors in Banjul and Kanifing Municipality;  11 women councilors out of 114 elected councillors. Legal Provisions National laws call for equality of men and women in political rights. Section 25 subsection (1)(e) states that: “Every person shall have the right to freedom of association which shall include freedom to form and join associations and unions, including political parties and trade unions. Section 26(b) of the Constitution provides that every citizen of full age and capacity shall have right without unreasonable restriction to take part in the conduct of public affairs directly or through freely chosen representatives to vote and stand for elections at genuine periodic elections for public office which elections shall be universal and equal and be held by secret ballot. Section 39 of the Constitution states that: every citizen of the Gambia being 18 years or older and of sound mind shall have the right to vote for the purpose of elections of President/Members of National Assembly. Every citizen of the Gambia who is a registered voter shall be entitled to vote in a referendum held in accordance with the Constitution or any other law. Section 28 of the Gambia Constitution states: 1.    Women shall be accorded full and equal dignity with men 2.    Women shall have the right to equal treatment with men including equal opportunities, political, economic and social activities In addition to the constitutional provisions, the Women’s Act 2010 calls for the adoption of temporary special measures in favour Women. This should be adopted to promote proportional representation. As  a member of the Central Committee of PDODIS , a  party which is committed to one third gender parity  in all institutions of representation, be it cabinet , The National Assembly  or the councils I call  on all women to advocate for such a special measure in promoting gender equality in representation. The Gambia has ratified a number of important conventions such as the CEDAW (UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) and the Maputo Protocol. It is not too much to ask for one third gender parity in all representative organs through proportional representation To conclude, I must reiterate that Illiteracy, harmful cultural and sectarian beliefs, lack of courage and confidence, patronage in politics, low level of awareness, lack of adequate presence of women in key decision-making positions and inadequate information on political issues; intimidation and threats and patriarchy in general are pushing women out of the decision making process rather than pulling them into achieving equal participation. How can we as a nation transform these challenges into opportunities to ensure full women participation? Factors Enhancing Effective and Efficient Participation – increasing education on Republican and democratic values – increasing financial situation to strengthen women – improving and increasing number of organizations standing for gender equality and empowerment – affirmation  action/positive discrimination to introduce Quota System List utilizing the Principle of Proportional Representation where every vote counts, -Constitutional/Electoral Reforms to ensure security of tenure for the umpires of the Electoral Process – opening the Public Media to women to amplify divergence /dissenting voices to give the electorates diverse opinions to read manifestoes to give informed choices – increasing regional/global concern for gender equality and women empowerment. – the quota system should aim at one third women presentation at all representative institutions of the state. Way Forward for Women Advancement in the Gambia Creation of jobs by connecting Agriculture to Industry to add value to agricultural products; Cottage industries to facilitate Appropriate Technology to ease household drudgery a big burden to rural/urban poor women; The River Gambia/ Atlantic Ocean can create a lot of opportunities in fish/fish products connected to industries, the creation of fish/shrimp/oyster ponds along the length/breadth of the River; Harnessing Sovereign National wealth from the soil, offshore to create wealth to provide social amenities such as good road infrastructure, subsidy to lessen utility burden and good housing for the populace to save poor families from high cost of rent. Constitutional, Electoral Reforms: Adherence to Good Governance and all its qualities to provide peace, progress, dignity and prosperity to improve lives and livelihoods. 20 years since the landmark decisions of the Beijing Women Conference in 1995, we are more resolved than ever to move forward forever and backward never. Amie Sillah]]>

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