By Sarjo Camara-Singateh
The shackle of patriarchy is breaking gradually in their stronghold of Niamina as women make joint decisions with their male counterparts at the district tribunals in the three districts of the Niamina Dankunku, Niamina East and Niamina West, in Central River Region. One of the adjudicators Mrs. Musukebba Kanteh a native of Pinia, Niamina, is among the first ever Gambian women to sit at a district tribunal to adjudicate on issues brought before it.
She was trained through the women’s socio-economic empowerment project by the Action Aid International the Gambia.
The self-confident woman said, “We serve as a hope for women, they lean on us, as a solution of the gender imbalance at the tribunals to consider gender sensitive issues that affect women in our various communities. The tribunal also promotes the alternative dispute resolution mechanism in the communities to deliver justice judiciously”.
Musukebba has wrecked the cycle of cultural stereotype in her community and paved the way for equity and equality in delivering service to her community and nation at large by delivering judgments on issues that affect their communities. According to Musukebba they serve as role models in their communities, so that many young people will emulate them, and they will not shy away from taking any gender sensitive roles in the interest of the nation.
She dilated on the challenges faced by her fellow women which compel them to take the back seat in decision making. “Women have not been participating in such because of the culture and the backwardness of society. Culture and tradition have been a stumbling block to us women taking up some critical leadership roles in our communities”.
“Women shy away from talking in public especially when you have more men in a gathering like the district tribunal, like if they are brought before a tribunal to give testimony of her ordeal, some break into tears or surrender or give up; they simply cannot express themselves in a court room full of men. It is rare to see a woman before a district tribunal which represents the highest form of patriarchy; they mostly appear timid and in many instances they end up losing their case. In cases were the judgment may affect many men in practice, like marital problems, members of the male tribunal back each other to deny the woman a judicious judgment, all in the name of culture and tradition.
She noted that is high time for women to educate themselves and know about the divine books, some men do hide behind culture and tradition using it as a scapegoat, now in today’s generation there is not space for such practice.
Her competence in dealing with tribunal cases was apparent as she explained some of the issues they deal with at the tribunal. She explained that they sit on different cases like divorce. She informs that if a man decided to divorce a woman he should take the responsibility of the children (child maintenance) for a given period. On early marriage, she explained that if a young girl brings a case of early marriage before the tribunal they would engage all parents including the suitor, to encourage them to give the girl child the opportunity to further her education.
Regarding inheritance she explained that at first many women were denied the changed the tide and now they are aware that women are entitled to inherit their parents. They now know that if your father dies your brothers are entitled under sharia to two shares and we the women will get one share, be it land or other properties. And we do apply this in other tribunals.
She expressed her gratitude to the Action Aid International The Gambia for training them as women adjudicators to sit over different cases that affect people as a form of empowering women to have access to justice in our communities.
Mr. Pansaw Nyassi, the project manager said it was a move to promote and empower women in leadership roles. He said there was no big resistance in accepting women to be members of the tribunal after they conducted several trainings at different communities in the region. Both men and women appreciate the idea of having women at the tribunal to help them adjudicate issues that affect the community like early marriage, divorce, land rights, maintenance of the child after divorce, and inheritance. He indicated that women’s economic empowerment is another aspect of the training.
Musu Bakoto Sawo, a gender and rights activists with a legal background stated that enrolling these women at the tribunal as adjudicators is a step in the right direction as society should accept these women as someone knowledgeable in their area of expertise. She noted that we need more women in the decision-making positions. Musu Bakoto said the role these women are playing is key in our democratisation process. She urged the society not to look low on these women as they have a vital role to execute in their various communities.
Musu Bakoto Sawo said women have the potential to take up decision-making positions in any area of development and that this should not be a one-off thing but a continuity in our democratisation process of the country. She noted that these women deserve respect and dignity in executing their duties at the tribunals. She indicated that the constitution protects women against discrimination.
According to the women’s policy 2010 – 2020, traditional gender roles and cultural norms contribute immensely to the generally low level of education among Gambian women, thus limiting their access and participation in formal sector employment and effectively barring them from taking advantage of government policies that promote wage employment opportunities. The high rate of female illiteracy has resulted in women only occupying 9.4% of the skilled labour force and 61.9% of the unskilled labour category.
The position of the policy is to enhance the status of women in Gambian society in line with the Women’s Act 2010. Hence in its fight to attain this objective section 50 (2) of the Act states that the government of the Gambia shall take all appropriate measures to enhance the participation of women in the formulation of cultural policies at all the levels.
The constitution guarantees all women and men with equal opportunities without discrimination. This is indeed a herculean task for the government given the reality on the ground. Needless to say, the training of women under the ActionAid project and making them occupy positions in the tribunals do not only empower these court members but women in these districts. It is indeed a good beginning and other districts should follow suit.