A one day sensitization of political parties on women's political representation organised by the Female Lawyers Association, (FLAG) in collaboration with the inter-party committee comprising all political parties took place
at the Paradise Suites Hotel on the 24th of August 2011.
During the opening, statements were delivered by the President of the Female Lawyers Association, Janet Sallah Njie, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the US embassy, Cindy Gregg, the Interim Chairman of the Inter-party committee Halifa Sallah and Chief Justice, Emmanuel Agim. Presentations were made on the Temporary Special Measures being undertaken by political parties to ensure Women's representation at the political level in line with section 15 of the Women's Act 2010. The following political parties namely: APRC,, NRP,PDOIS and UDP made presentations. Other parties which sent representatives were NADD and GPDP.
In delivering her opening statement, the President of the Female Lawyers Association of the Gambia, Janet Sallah Njie asserted that it is indeed her singular honour and privilege to welcome the attendees to the workshop organized by her association in collaboration with the Inter-Party Committee, constituted by all political parties in The Gambia.
She said the workshop is funded by the U.S. Department of State Secretary's Office of the Global Women's Issues, Small Grants Initiatives under "The Women in Action Project". She said she must from the onset, on behalf of the entire membership of FLAG, express their gratitude to all the attendees for answering to their call and gracing the occasion.
As an association of female lawyers, she said, their main objective is to lobby for gender equality in The Gambia through legislative reform, public education and advocacy. She pointed out that their vision is to procure changes to the laws of The Gambia for the protection and well being of women and children in order to ensure the elimination of violence against them, freedom of expression and education. This, she said, they believe will enable women's potential for contribution to effective participation in the development process of the country.
She went on to say that it is their firm belief that the realization of their vision and mission would be attained if they are able to successfully lobby for women to be adequately represented in decision making bodies at the highest level; thereby ensuring that they can directly influence policy and law making.
Madam Janet Njie said this would in turn make it possible for them to effectively take an active and direct role in decisions that affect our lives.
She said the association, cognizance of the impending Presidential and Parliamentary Elections, deemed it necessary to sensitize all political parties in the country on the need to comply with national and international legal obligations relating to political participation and representation of women at all levels of decision making. What is interesting however and would be highlighted during the course of the workshop, she said, is that the Constitution of The Gambia has adequate and specific provisions addressing and guaranteeing women's right to participate in decision making at all levels including in the political arena, and that the Republic of The Gambia has also ratified several international instruments directly prohibiting discrimination against women and specifically imposing an obligation on the State to ensure that women are represented at all levels of decision making notably: the CEDAW, the African Protocol, and the Solemn Declaration On Gender Equity in Africa.
The President of the Female Lawyers Association stated that the Constitution of the Republic which is the basic law has stated that:
"The fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in the constitution will ensure full respect for and observance of human rights of the people at all times without discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, language or religion".
She went further to say that Section 26 of THE Constitution also states that:
"Every Gambian citizen of full age and capacity has the right to take part in the conduct of public office, to vote and be voted for in public office and equal access to public service without unreasonable restrictions".
Madam Njie further asserted that Section 28 also states that:
"Women should be accorded full and equal dignity of person with men and shall be treated equally with men including equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities".
These Constitutional provisions, Madam Njie said, recognize the equality of men and women and the right to equal opportunities in all spheres and that these provisions are in consonance with their international obligations enshrined in CEDAW, the African Protocol and the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa. These provisions clearly pave the way for women's participation in the political affairs of The Gambia, she stated.
She stated that the national statistics also suggest that women are in the majority in The Gambia, and that they also constitute the majority of registered voters. Furthermore, she said, there seems to be a consensus that women are always instrumental in the success or otherwise of all political parties during elections. In other words, she said, any party that does not have the support of women is doomed to fail.
She pointed out that it is however rather unfortunate that despite women's tremendous participation at all levels of the political process, this has not translated to effective representation at the National Assembly and that the reality on the ground is that the representation of women at the National Assembly remains unacceptably low.
She argued that this is largely due to the socio- cultural factors that militate against and inhibit women's political representation. To rectify this imbalance with regard to the participation of women at all levels of decision making, she said Section 15 of the Women's Act makes provision for "temporary special measures in favour of women" and it provides thus "(1) Every organ, body, public institution or private enterprise shall adopt temporary special measure as set out in this Act aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women."
In this workshop she said,they have chosen the theme, "TEMPORARY SPECIAL MEASURES TO ENSURE WOMEN'S POLITICAL PARTICIPATION" in
recognition of the need for a deliberate and concerted effort on the part of all stakeholders , particularly political parties, to encourage, promote and facilitate women's political representation.
She said they are also mindful of the fact that compliance with legal obligations and instruments to ensure women's political participation goes beyond merely making provisions in the laws and guaranteeing the right to vote and be voted into decision making position. She argued that for there to be true and effective compliance, they must together create a conducive environment to ensure that women are not discouraged, disadvantaged or discriminated upon both de jure and de facto, whilst claiming their rights to be part and parcel of the decision making process of their country. She pointed out that there must be a code of ethics for election and campaigning that, inter alia, prohibits any discriminatory or derogatory attack on female candidates that deprives them of the right to contest election and to be voted into decision making positions.
She noted that on behalf of the entire membership of FLAG, She wishes to express their profound gratitude to the Inter Party Committee for agreeing to collaborate and partner with them in this endeavour and that they hope that by the end of the workshop, they would be able to highlight the major impediments that inhibit women's political representation, and come up with strategies to address the problems and hopefully get a firm commitment from the parties represented and that they will do their utmost best to endeavour to field women as candidates in the forthcoming election.
She said they would like to know what special measures they (political parties) intend to put in place to achieve this.
Janet Njie noted that they also acknowledge the support of the Embassy of the United States of America, and it's Deputy Chief of Mission Cindy Gregg, for facilitating the grant from the "Women In Action Project", under which this training is being funded. Whilst expressing their gratitude for this, they look forward to a continued and sustained collaboration in the interest of the women and children of The Gambia.
She concluded by stating "We would once again like to say a big thank you to our patrons- the Honourable Chief Justice and the President of the Gambia Bar Association" and that "Your roles at this workshop bear testimony to your commitment to our work".
"I am proud to announce that both agreed to step into these noble roles at very short notice" and that "We are indeed very grateful for your commitment and service for humanity".
To their partners at the workshop, the political parties, she said, they wish them all the best in the forthcoming elections, and added that may the party that fields the highest number of female candidates win.
Finally, she said "I thank all present here today for gracing this occasion, and making it a success".
On her part, the Embassy of the United States of America's Deputy Chief of Mission, Cindy Gregg, thanked the organizers for giving her the opportunity to speak on this important topic. She said Women in political decision making roles is an issue near and dear to her heart. She stated that a famous poem written in 1865 says "the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world". She noted that here they are 150 years later and that is truer than ever. Why?
She said that poem is telling them exactly what they already know: that mothers have a strong influence on history, society and their destiny through their children. But she said her question is — why shouldn't women have DIRECT influence through their own actions and decisions?
She said Women are natural leaders and that Harriet Harman of the UK government, after a visit to Tanzania and Sierra Leone, reported that women are crucial players in developing good governance. She said they lead from the ground-up, not the top-down and that Women look for the support of their peers and not the vote of the rich or top government leaders. She said women are concerned that everyone's needs are being met. She pointed out that women seek the confidence of other women and that they build coalitions naturally.
By virtue of being a woman and a mother, she said, women put their needs second, the needs of their families and their communities are first.
US Deputy Chief of Mission asserted that Harriet Harman also reported that women support each other, saying that in Zanzibar elections, the women encouraged each other, telling each other, "don't give up if you fail the first time". "Don't rule yourself out if you don't have formal education, work at the grassroots".
She noted that the grassroots is where women truly make a difference. She noted that in the United States, one of the women's movements that has changed history, legislations, and the way people think is called MADD (Mothers Against Drunken Driving). This organization she said went from a handful of mothers with a mission to stop drunk driving to one of history's greatest grassroots success stories and helped save thousands of lives along. She said a mother whose daughter had been killed by a drunken driver was determined to make a difference, gathered other victim's mothers, met with politicians, published statistics and changed the way society felt about drunk driving and the policies of the automobile industry. She noted that the toll of people killed by drunken drivers dropped to half since the group began in 1980, legislation has been put in place to make drunken driving a crime.
She argued that it is most important that women know, understand and use their rights in order to improve the lives of their families and communities.
She pointed out that currently there are only 92 US women serving in Congress and that is only about 10 percent of the total, yet the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995 called for at least 30 percent representation in national governments. Since then, she said, many African countries have outclassed the United States in the number of women serving in Parliament or National Assemblies. She stated that South Africa and Mozambique have 30 percent of women in their parliaments. Kudos to them!
In conclusion, US Deputy Chief of Mission said, "Let's work together to increase the number of women in the National Assembly, on local councils and in community policy-making circles". She noted, "Women's voices have been channeled through our children and men throughout the ages as others have spoken for them" but that "now is the time to speak out directly, to act directly, and to understand concretely that women are the best change makers".
She concluded by saying that "The Gambia is the perfect place to make this happen as you come to understand the Women's Act and the right to equal opportunity afforded to all".