By Madi Jobarteh

In honour of Maria, there’s an urgent need for a national conference on girls and women. Yes, there are so many laws and institutions including law enforcement agencies mandated to protect girls and women, yet it is open secret that enforcement is a challenge. Furthermore, service delivery for girls and women is limited simply because budgetary allocations and capacity of institutions are also limited. The necessary monitoring of public institutions by the National Assembly to ensure that girls and women are catered for and protected is also limited.

Above all, the sociocultural background is not helpful. The prevalence of patriarchy, the caste system and the intense materialism and pop culture serve to further undermine and threaten the rights and dignity of girls and women. This is exacerbated by the fact that access to education and control and ownership of productive resources by women are low. Anyone who is less educated and poor is in a more vulnerable state especially in a society where injustice is prevalent like The Gambia.

Patriarchy coupled with low education and less economic well-being therefore affects the voice and participation of women in decision making hence limit their access to power. When the voice, participation and representation of anyone is limited it therefore affects their entire social, economic and political standing in that society – security, justice, equality, freedom, development, growth and happiness!

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Much talk continues to take place in The Gambia about women’s rights. For example we are quick to post comments, hashtags, pictures, videos and images on social media just to show our utter concern and disgust at the marginalization, oppression and exploitation of girls and women. Sometimes we even march for girls and women about maternal mortality, rape or education. Indeed these actions must be done and should continue. The tragedy is, that is where we stop!

Yet we know that this violence is fueled by ideas with which we are all socialized in our culture and society and homes – by our parents and ourselves from childhood to adulthood. We know that this violence is taking place in our homes and work places and all spaces. Sexual harassment and violence against girls and women in general are a pandemic in our society!

Therefore the time has come to sit back to really review ourselves as to how to, finally end oppression and exploitation of girls and women. We must commit ourselves with strong determination without maslaha to create a just and equal society. Otherwise we cannot call ourselves a civilized God-fearing and modern society! If that requires that we abolish and criminalize certain cultural words, beliefs and practices, then we should do that. If it requires that we change and create more laws so be it. If it requires institutional reforms and other budgetary and administrative measures, then let it happen!

But we cannot continue to compete in who is the first and the loudest to condemn rape and the killing of girls and women just like that. We cannot continue to commemorate every designated day for girls and women yet our wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, female colleagues and partners continue to be subjected to abuse everyday with impunity.

How many rape cases have been reported to the police so far or are in the courts already yet very little progress is being made? For how long shall we get amazed and disgusted at one case after another only to wait for another case to erupt? For how long? Indeed our society does not look like a modern, civilized and just society!

Our society and culture have many good things but they also carry lot of exploitative and oppressive ideas and structures which are the bases of the discrimination and injustices that manifest in such violence against girls and women! We have to dismantle and crush these unjust ideas and structures altogether. Now. That’s what civilized and serious people do as we see it happen in other countries where girls and women enjoy a higher status.

Therefore I think the relevant institutions in government including the National Human Rights National Human Rights National Human Rights Commission, The Gambia CSOs, the private sector as well citizens must convene a national conference on girls and women. Otherwise we shall only be counting case after case of violence against girls and women as another girl after another becomes a victim! For how long?

Remember, countries that register progress, protection and justice for girls and women at one point in their history saw the need for such convergence. The world itself had to convene in such conferences in Cairo in 1994 and Beijing in 1995 which conferences lay the basis for women’s rights globally today! Therefore let us also have our national conference on girls and women now before another girl, another woman is violated!

For The Gambia 🇬🇲 Our Homeland