By Madi Jobarteh
Since the historic conference on women in 1995 in Beijing, there became a universal recognition that in order to ensure a more just society with improved economic wellbeing for all, there is need for a gender quota in power and decision-making institutions and processes. It was recognized that since women constitute more than half of the world’s population yet remain the poorest, with the highest percentage of the illiterate and most politically disempowered there is need to bring in more women in centres where decisions are made about laws, resource distribution and wealth creation. It was recognized that in most parts of the world, even in more advanced democracies, women face discrimination and oppression in all spheres of life and society, which is being backed by culture, religion and capitalism hence the imbalance between men and women.
The reality of women cannot be better explained than in the story of the life of a Gambian woman. Due to the harmful parts of our socio-cultural beliefs and misconceived Islamic ideas, the Gambian girl and woman remain the poorest, least educated and most powerless in our society. Consequently the Gambian woman has become most vulnerable as she is abused at home, in the community, at the work place, in business and inside our political parties where women continue to be behind. For this reason, this election therefore offers us an opportunity to actually give practical meaning to women’s empowerment and equality in our society. No more lip service.
When we vote for women, we empower the entire the society. When we vote for women we enhance family life and give children a better future. When we vote for women, we advance our democracy and ensure durable good governance in our country. This is because when we vote for women we bring in other voices and stakeholders in the rom who raise more issues from another perspective. Let us use this election to therefore break the barriers and shatter those backward cultural beliefs that hold that women are not leaders.
The United Nations at the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women set a gender quota of 30% for women representation in decision-making centres. The AU Maputo Protocol on women has affirmed this ideal to which the Gambia is also a party. Yet since 1982 when the late Nyimasata Sanneh Bojang became our first elected parliamentarian, we have seen that the representation of women at local and national decision-making levels has been dismal in the country. Currently only 7.5% or four women are National Assembly Members while only 12.5% or 14 women are elected in the 112 seats of the local councils.
Even though Dr. Isatou Touray broke the barriers to set history in 2016 by being the first woman to seek the office of the president, yet the voice and power of women remain poor in the Gambia. Our political parties, since the first republic only use women as political tools. That is, we use our girls and women merely as community mobilizers as Yaye Compin, or as cheerleaders, cooks and dancers to ginger up male candidates who are most of the time less qualified, corrupt and incompetent.
Let us bear in mind that the trend in the world is opening the space for equal representation of both sexes. This is not a matter of favour or charity or a mere feminist utopia. But this is practically a matter of justice and equality so that all members of a society have equal space to participate in the life of that society. The discrimination that women face is unfair and unjust as it is based on nothing other than anachronistic male chauvinism embedded in patriarchy and religion where dishonest male leaders and scholars misinterpret the Scriptures just to keep power and trample upon the rights and dignity of women. No civilized society should deny and obstruct the right of women to rise and participate in their society.
Currently many countries of the world have deliberately taken steps to correct this imbalance and injustice. For example more than 30 countries have introduced some kind of electoral gender quota in their constitution and electoral laws. Also, major political parties in more than 50 countries around the world have now introduced their own quota regulations requiring a certain minimum of candidates for public elections to be women, i.e. they have created party quotas. For example in Nepal party quotas give 5% to women; in Costa Rica it is 40% and in France it is 50%. The ANC in South Africa also requires 40% women on the party’s lists, while the ruling Swedish Social Democratic Party has set 50% for both women and men.
In fulfillment of the resolutions of the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women, several countries have also adopted legislation at the national level to boost women representation. In Africa and the world, Rwanda stands as the best where women make up 48% of the Parliament and 34% of the Senate! This is matched by only Senegal where a 2010 amendment of the electoral law requires 50-50 male and female nominations in national, regional, municipal and local elections, and currently 43% of members of its National Assembly are women!
When we talk about women’s issues, ignorant and bigoted men are quick to dismiss it as a Western idea or unnecessary. Some argue that voting for women does not matter because men know and understand the concerns and issues of women. These are false. In the first place, women’s issues face the same contention in the West where there are also the same bigoted men and misconceived religious and backward cultural ideas used to pin down the woman. The US is one good example.
Secondly, no man, no mater how well you love and understand women can feel and see life exactly in the same way as a woman does. Only a woman can better understand and explain her issue. For example, no man, even male midwives can tell the kind of pain women undergo in labour. Hence no man can speak for a woman. Therefore let us vote for women so that women themselves can deliberate on laws that affect women’s lives. Let us vote for women so that women themselves can discuss budgets and determine resource allocations to services that go to women and children. No matter how much a man is sensitive and just, he cannot still speak about the importance of good facilities in labour wards as a mother would. So let us vote for women so that women can talk, defend and monitor these issues on their own. He or she who feels it knows it!
Therefore by voting for women we enhance national development and democracy. This is because as we make women speak to issues that affect them, then it means we will touch each ad every issue of our society and life. Female NAMs are more likely to highlight, defend and address family life issues in the parliament. Some can argue that there are also dishonest women such as APRC female Cabinet ministers and NAMs. Yes, this is true but these are a minority. The majority of women will speak for and defend the rights and welfare of women, girls, children and husbands hence the entire family. When we address the concerns of the family then we address the very core of our society hence national development.
For this reason, let us vote for the women candidates and then monitor them to make sure they deliver and remain faithful to the concerns of the woman, the family and the entire society.
God Bless The Gambia