Our women must be at the table, not on the menu; the positions they occupy must be uncountable, not counted on the fingers of one’s hand.
As we commemorate International Women’s Day, I celebrate all the women of the Gambia and appreciate their indescribable efforts to break the glass ceiling, free themselves from the clutches of patriarchy and chauvinism, stand firm against rights violations, have a voice and place under the sun, better the lives of their families and be recognised as persons with dignity and deserving respect and honour.
But while we celebrate, we must, as a nation, engage in soul searching, a thorough review of the landscape and trajectory that have been women’s and how we(men) have contributed by design to make them jagged and terrible. From 1965 to 2020, what positions have women occupied in our socio-economic and political spheres? Where are our women on the ladder or totem pole of our polity, at the top or bottom rung? Are we satisfied with what positions we(men) give them?
Women now comprise about 52 per cent our population. In effect, they hold half the sky. Where are our women in the turning wheel of power? As cogs or drivers? Has their numerical strength enabled them to have better grasp on the wheel of power?
Ponder on this: how many women are either heading these power wielding institutions or positions? What percentage of the decision making machinery comprises women?
· Cabinet (how many women Ministers are there in a Cabinet of 18?
· National Assembly (of the 53 elected parliamentarians, how many are women?)
· State Owned Enterprises
· Highest echelon of the Civil Service (how many women Permanent Secretaries do we have?)
· Foreign Service (as Ambassadors or High Commissioners)
· Local Government (Of about 144 elected Area councillors, how many are women?)
· Local Government (of about1873 village Alkalolu, how many are women?)
· Local Government (of about 48 Chiefs, none is a woman)
· Regional Governors (only 2 of the 5 regional Governors are women)
· Local Government Chairperson (of the ?8 Local Government authorities, only 1 is headed by a woman)
· Commercial Banks (how many CEOs are women)
Since 1965, the following State institutions have never been headed by a woman, as far as I know:
· Ministry of Finance
· Ministry of Interior
· Central Bank of the Gambia
· Gambia Police Force (not even DIGP or AIGP)
· Gambia Immigration Department
· Gambia Prisons Services
It is also true that:
· Poverty is higher among women, mainly due to high level of illiteracy.
· Illiteracy is highest amongst women.
· Unpaid care work is not considered in the calculation of the GDP or NDP.
· Women form the majority in the informal sector but aren’t conspicuous in managerial or decision making positions
· Maternal morbidity is still very high
· Women are disproportionately the greatest victims of gender based violence
· One in three women would become a victim of gender based violence in her life time
Some truths I hold incontrovertible:
· No society will progress so long as its women remain poor and marginalised
· The development of every family, community and nation is proportionate to the “development” of its women
· Women are very industrious and their care role is responsible for the wellbeing of families
· Women of the Gambia have greater resilience than men; after every hard fall, the woman rises up and trudges on, for the sake of the family.
The conditions of women cannot be positively altered, in their favour, unless they are at the table where policies, laws and decisions are made. Ultimately, everything, or rather most things, hinge on power, authority, voice, resources and control. One who has power and resources, or can determine their distribution, will control the lives of others who don’t have power or resources. And yes, it is about education. One who has it, controls others. We must educate our daughters and fight the illiteracy amongst our women.
While here and there few women have held positions of power in the public, private and civil society sectors, we mustn’t be satisfied with such “progress”, if progress they really are. The “drops” in the ocean aren’t anything to write home about. Our women must be conspicuously present everywhere, at every table. Their presence must become “uncountable”.
Happy IWD to all of you women who made all of us, and are still striving, to make life better for all of today.
My mother, of blessed memory, and all the women in my life remain my tower of strength. I salute you.