Source: The Daily Observer
The vice president of the Republic and Women's Affairs minister has stressed that "women and girls must be empowered as critical partners to our continental development".

She further stressed that the role of African male and female business entrepreneurs and professionals must be strengthened so that they also contribute to the Pan- African vision.

Speaking Wednesday ahead of global celebrations tomorrow of the International Women's Day, which is observed annually on March 8, Her Excellency Aja Dr. Isatou Njie-Saidy warned that inequality for women and girls is not only inimical to personal development and wellbeing, but it also undermines national development. Reducing or eliminating inequalities in societies, she argued, is critical to improving the socio-economic wellbeing of men, women and girls. "We must try and recognise our lost glory and make Africa once again work on both male and female legs. In ancient Africa, before the advent of colonialism, women wielded a lot of power in matrimonial set-ups particularly in social and economic spheres," she emphasised.

The veep said the establishment of the Pan-African Women Organisation (PAWO) in 1962 has played a significant role in building African unity and solidarity among women during a crucial period in the struggle for political emancipation. She however insisted that Africans must as a priority, decolonise the African mindset, act with greater speed and a sense of urgency with the equal participation of women, to create free trade areas that will achieve the common market, create the five regions as building blocks of the Union and facilitate the free movement of peoples and goods.

"Our greatest resource is our people, especially our young population whose energy, creativity and courage must drive Africa's renaissance. Investment in their education and training more generally in science, technology, research and innovation remains critical to drive Africa's modernisation and development in all her spheres," she noted.

The VP seized the opportunity to launch an appeal to Africa and its leaders to look into the past to create their future by connecting the continent's demographic dividend with her potentials to propel economic growth and development. Africa must build confidence in herself, her ability and obligations and be the driver of her own destiny, she stressed.

Commenting on the national theme for this year's celebration - "Pan-African and African renaissance in the context of equality for women progress for all" -, VP Njie-Saidy described it as relevant as it takes into account the progress made in socio-economic empowerment of women and girls.

"However, a focus on Pan Africanism and African renaissance gives an opportunity to reflect on Africa's self-reliance trajectory and the need to popularise our history and our shared values," she said.

The theme, she went on, is also meant to ensure that Africa's development is put into its socio-cultural, socio-economic and glorious gender perspective.

"Fifty years after independence and self-rule, Africa enjoys her liberation and its unity, unprecedented economic rise, democracy, good governance as well as peace and stability. Pan-Africanism at its inception was more than just a search for racial or geographical identity, and it was also a strong refutation of the mindset that defined Africa and Africans from the perspective of the historical experience of slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism and racial discrimination," she remarked.

Since independence, she noted, the concept of Pan-Africanism has continued to evolve, measured by the challenges and aspirations of the African continent. The vice noted that during the independence period, this ideology enabled Africans to overcome domination and oppression by ending colonialism and apartheid on the continent.

"Today, as we debate Pan-Africanism and African renaissance, 50 years after the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was formed, we have to ask some tough questions about our dream for Africa for the next 50 years and the Pan-Africanist values that continue to inspire us," she stressed.

Gambia's gains

The vice president noted that The Gambia government, under the leadership of President Jammeh, (whom she said is a Pan-Africanist himself), has recognised the potentials of all including women and girls and has since accorded high priority to gender equity and the empowerment of women. This, she pointed out, is clearly manifested in the positions of responsibility women continue to occupy and the myriad of development interventions geared towards improving the status of women and girls.

Taking health as an example, the VP said the sector is a major priority and that government continues to accelerate action and increased support for building stronger national health systems in order to further scale-up and leverage the gains being made in expanding service delivery to achieve universal access targets. She indicated that the government is also speeding up progress on maternal and child health, saying The Gambia Demographic and Health Survey (GDHS 2013) has stated that significant gains were made in reducing the maternal mortality rate to nearly 50% from 730 per 100,000 in 2001 to 434 per 100,000 live births in 2013. "The infant mortality dropped from 92% per 1000 to 34% per 1000 in the last 2 decades. In basic and secondary education, gender parity has been attained and in some schools, female enrollment surpasses that of boys. Overall progress on the status of women and girls has been registered in all the sectors of the economy notably, education and agriculture amongst others," she indicated quoting the Survey.

The VP used the opportunity on behalf of President Jammeh to thank all partners who have contributed in one way or the other to the preparation of the forthcoming event (Gambia celebration of the day), particularly those who have provided the needed labour saving devices and garden materials to women of the West Coast Region (WCR).

Brikama celebrations

Meanwhile, The Gambia will join the rest of the world to celebrate the day from the 24th to 26th April, 2014 in Brikama, West Coast Region (WCR). The event will be marked by a two-day conference and a colourful match past by security forces, school children, the National Women's Council as well as public and private sector institutions, women associations and cultural entertainment amongst others.

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