By Kebba AF Touray

The Speaker of the National Assembly Mariam Jack Denton, has said that over the past two decades, women have been reduced to mere spectators in the governance process of the country. She explained that during last year’s National Assembly Elections, only three women were voted into office, out of 53 contested seats; that it was therefore essential that political parties and all stakeholders in the political process including women themselves, are engaged to ensure that they become vibrant actors in our governance and democratization process.

Speaker Mariam Jack Denton made this remark on Wednesday 7th February 2018, while delivering the opening statement at a days’ workshop organized by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) West Africa Regional Office, together with the West Africa Network for Peace building (WANEP), the CSO Gender Platform and the Women´s Bureau, held at a hotel in Senegambia. The theme of the meeting focused on women’s participation in politics.

Speaker Jack Denton reminded participants that women in the Gambia constitute almost half of the total population; that there is also no shortage of legislation to guarantee the rights of women which recognizes the need for their empowerment to take part in decision making. The Speaker of National Assembly argued that despite women constituting over half of the population with enormous legislation to promote their rights and empowerment, there remains great challenges with regards to their ascendancy into public political leadership positions. She used the occasion to highlight the barriers faced by women when it comes to political participation in the country such as traditional, economic and institutional challenges; that since women know their situation best, they should participate equally with men to have their perspectives effectively incorporated at all decision making levels.

The Vice President and Minister for Women’s Affairs who was represented by Kajali Sonko, said the limited participation of women in decision making processes particularly at the grassroots level, is a cause for concern; that nationally, 10.3% of the 58 elected and nominated parliamentary representatives are women and out of 115 National Councilors, only 14 are women; that of the seven regional governors, only two are women and only four women are part of the present Ministers of Cabinet. Commenting on the Village and Ward Development Committees, she said they are equally struggling to include the actual number of women provided for by the Local Government Act. ‘‘This is indicative of women’s under-representation in all levels of decision-making and highlights the difficulty women experience in ensuring that their voices are heard,’’ she said. Sonko on behalf of VP Tambajang stated that women’s participation in community and national development processes, will be made more meaningful by increasing female representation in policy making, governance and decision making structures at all levels and across all sectors.

The National Coordinator of the West Africa Network for Peace Building (WANEP), Annan Jones, said women who reach positions where they can contribute to decision-making, continue to face barriers to their full and equal participation. This she said, is greater among poor and marginalized women; that whilst many programs and interventions may have already been undertaken to address this gap, much more needs to be done in order to render the process inclusive. She assured them that WANEP – The Gambia, can play a key role in providing access to continued mentorship and invest more concrete and direct efforts to strengthen internal democracies among political parties, the first port of call in this ever-evolving process. She finally appealed to all political parties represented, to ensure women are given seats in the upcoming 12th April and 12th May Local Government elections.

Mr. Andrea Ori, regional representative of OHCHR said elections are necessary and a fundamental component of sustained efforts to protect and promote human rights, adding that they provide citizens the opportunity to exercise their civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, assembly and association and to vote and contest in elections.

Present at the meeting were political parties, Civil Society Organizations and the Media.

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