By Alagi Yorro Jallow
Mahatma Gandhi had once said, to judge how civilized a nation is, just look at how it treats its own minorities. Going by this yardstick, The Gambia does not make a passing grade since Jammeh.
In most countries, minorities suffer from so-called “horizontal inequality.” While on paper they may enjoy legal equality, in real life, the playing field remains uneven. The Gambia is no different.
It’s worth remembering that Proportional Representation (PR) is a key enabler of minorities in politics especially women and Christians whose representation fell too short in elective office since Independence.
Gambians must celebrate and acknowledge the women who have braved the rigors of political life to make it to elected positions and all those who participated in our electoral politics. Women are still more than half the population yet still Gambian women have only less representation – at best with fifty-three members only two women elected. This National Assembly is the only assembly in the world in which men severely outnumbered women.
In rebuilding our nation, we should make a conscious decision to put inclusiveness and equality at the heart of the reconstruction process. I propose a bill to be put forward by the National Assembly members to introduce a quota system for female representation in National Assembly and women call upon to take up the demanding tasks of physical and social reconstruction of the nation, social healing, unity and reconciliation, peace building in times of political healing, justice and governance program.
Most people do not support a formal quota system for achieving greater representation in Parliament. Most women wish to be selected on their merits and on the basis, that they are the best person for the role, not because of their gender.
Political scientists have agreed for years that PR systems lead to more equal gender representation as well as minority representation in parliaments, and a series of studies by political scientists have shown that more women have usually been elected under PR systems than majoritarian systems (Norris, 1985; Matland, 1998; Reynolds, 1999; Kenworthy and Malami, 1999; Siaroff, 2000; Moser, 2001; Salmond 2006
One reason why the issue of minority rights is not on the political radar screen of the government is the absence of their political voice. In most countries, the Parliament is the venue where a nation’s political agenda is discussed and adopted. Giving Christians, women and other minorities a stronger voice in our Parliament could help put the spotlight on the status of minorities.
A wise man, suggested that Christians and women should demand their proportional representation in Parliament. Many countries have it, why can’t we have the same? (To be perfectly clear, Some Asian countries reserved seats for minorities, not proportional representation per se). A similar demand has been made in Asia countries with predominantly Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians populations to allocate seats for religious minorities.
The quota system in Rwanda has clearly helped to speed up women’s participation in politics. Women have proved that they can make a positive difference to peoples’ lives
Women in the world perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of the food, but earn only 10% of the income and own only 1% of the property,” the UNDP’s newest goodwill ambassador, Connie Britton, said earlier. In politics, 21.8% of national parliamentarians were female as of 1 July 2014, a slow increase from 11.3% in 1995, according to UN Women.
In Rwanda, there are more female elected officials than men, with 64% of parliamentary seats held by women. This is partly due to the use of a quota system to increase the number of women in parliament. The constitution written in 2003 states that Rwanda commits itself to granting women “at least 30% of posts in decision-making organs”. That same year, women won 48.8% of seats in the lower house of parliament.
Rwanda’s success in increasing the number of seats held by women in its parliament displays the efficacy of using quota systems, and shows how beneficial they can be in getting women’s voices heard and considered when discussing national affairs
The idea of proportional representation has also been embraced by many scholars. Dr. Nazrul Islam, a Bangladeshi economist now working with the United Nations, in his new book, Governance for Development (Palgrave Mcmillan, New York 2016), has argued vociferously on why countries should consider switching to proportional election. Among other things, such an electoral arrangement will enable minority groups to be represented in accordance with their numerical strength, rendering the legislature to be more inclusive. “They can pursue their interests and demands more freely and directly, without having to depend on bigger parties.” As a result, he concludes, proportional election could encourage smaller parties and groups to channel their grievances through the Parliament, rather than through extra-parliamentary means.
Reserve seats or proportional representation, whatever the course may be, the time has come to consider ways to ensure that The Gambia’s minorities have a voice on matters that matter most to them. Parliament could be the place where this could have its most logical beginning