THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD THROUGH
SENSITIZATION OF RELIGIOUS AND OPINION LEADERS ON GENDER BASED VIOLENCE AND
RELATED LAWS IN THE GAMBIA
PRESENTATION ON THE WOMENS ACT OF 2010 BY:
MR.MALICK H.B JALLOW ESQ. LLB. BL. PDIL, BARRISTER AND SOLICITOR OF THE SUPREME COURT OF THE GAMBIA/PRESIDENT, INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF CHILDRENS RIGHTS/LAW LECTURER, FACULTY OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF THE GAMBIA.
It gives me great pleasure and professional fulfilment to engage you on the Women’s Act of 2010. I am also greatly encouraged by the fact that you are all religious and community leaders, individuals who are opinion leaders and who also have the ears, minds and attention in your respective spheres of influence. I believe sensitization initiatives such as this can fundamentally help in breaking down some of the unfounded stereotypes and misconceptions concerning women’s rights and ensure that the important role of women in national development is given greater recognition. It is vitally important to have progressive laws such as the Women’s Act but in the absence of strong commitment by all stakeholders to fully realise the promise of such laws, they are reduced to mere pious declarations with very little teeth or effect. Your role in this collective effort is vitally important indeed.
Important Statistics on Women’s Rights in the Gambia
Between January and October 2013 the Department of Social Welfare in the Gambia reported 375 cases of domestic violence including paternity, custody cases and cases of violence against children and women
Domestic violence is often underreported due to the stigma that is often attached to it in our communities. Another reason attributed to lack of adequate reporting of cases of gender based violence is that even when they do occur, it is usually settled at community or family level.
In the year 2013,girls constituted 51percent of primary school students and one-third of high school students
According to a UNICEF survey carried-out in the year 2005-06 almost 80percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 19 had undergone FGM-C and that 7 of the 9 major ethnic groups practiced FGM-C on girls from shortly after birth until age 16.
Overview of Women’s Rights Beyond the Gambia
700million women alive today were married as children (below 18years of age) and more than 250million married before 15 according to a UNICEF report.
According to a World Health Organisation report published in 2013, 35percent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual partner violence or non-partner sexual violence
According to UNICEF, as at October 2014 more than 133million girls and women have been subjected to FGM-C in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East. According to UN Women: Beyond extreme physical and psychological pain, girls who undergo FGM are at risk of prolonged bleeding, infection (including HIV), infertility, complications during pregnancy and death.
Every day 39,000 girls are married before they turn 18 and if current trend continues we would have 140million child brides by the year 2020
Background to Women’s Act Of 2010
It can be strongly argued that the advent of the Women’s Act in the Gambia owes its inspiration from the following legal instruments:
Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women(CEDAW) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 18 December 1979 and ratified by the Gambia in 16 April 1993
Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, Adopted by the 2nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union, Maputo
1997 Constitution of the Republic of the Gambia-Section 28-guarantees rights of women to equal treatment with men, equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities, Section 29- aims to guarantee the best interest of the child including the girl-child at all times and Section 30 provides for the right to education for all including women and the girl-child
A Look at Relevant Provisions of the Women’s Act of 2010
Section 6-This section guarantees the right of all women to be protected from violence. This includes physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering whether in public or in private.
Section 8-guarantees the right to freedom of expression for all women including the girl-child. In other words, women should have the freedom to be heard and form an opinion on issues concerning them without undue interference.
Section 9-guarantees right to freedom from discrimination. A woman should not be deprived of an opportunity or facility solely on the ground that she is a woman. In other words, emphasis should be on the merits and not gender of the person.
Section 10-This is inextricably linked to section 9. The section formally prohibits discrimination against women and stipulates that any person found to be discriminating against a woman is liable to pay compensation to the woman involved for such amount as the High Court may determine. The section further states that all discriminatory laws against women are void and of no effect.
Section 12-This section states the mechanism for enforcing the rights of women provided for under the Women’s Act. Essentially, it identifies the High Court of the Gambia as the appropriate judicial forum for enforcing the rights of women. This is consistent with section 37 of the Constitution of the Gambia 1997 which mandates the High Court to deal with all issues pertaining to infringement of fundamental rights and freedoms of all including women.
Section 16-This section prohibits discrimination against women in employment. In other words, every woman has the right to same employment opportunities, including the application of the same criteria for selection in matters of employment.
Section 26-This section states the right of every woman to education and training. Women should be given the same opportunities for education and training as men. Also all stereotypes and misconceptions that inhibit access to education for women must be eliminated.
Section 28-This section prohibits the withdrawal of the girl-child from school on the sole ground that she is pregnant. Indeed such a girl-child should be supported to ensure minimal disruption to her schooling and not withdrawn from school completely. Withdrawal from school serves no useful purpose.
Section 34-This section guarantees the right of all women to get married.
Section 35-This section makes it a requirement for the consent of the man and woman to be sought before marriage is concluded. The section further states that where a marriage is entered without the full consent of the parties, such a marriage is voidable. In other words either the man or the woman can stop or dissolve the marriage at any time. The law deems a girl under the age of 18 as a child. A child is deemed incapable of giving full consent to a marriage as he/she is deemed to be incapable of fully appreciating the institution of marriage and the broader issues it raises.
It is evident that the Gambia has an adequate legal framework for the protection and promotion of the rights of women. It is also evident that significant work remains in fully implementing the progressive provisions contained in the Women’s Act of 2010. This requires collective effort on the part of all stakeholders including the Religious Leaders, Alkalos and local chiefs to deal with some of the misconceptions and stereotypes inhibiting women’s rights in the Gambia. Indeed interacting with this audience of religious and opinion leaders reinforces my view that there is promise for the future. To achieve that promise, we need to look at women’s rights in an objective manner especially in the areas of female genital mutilation-cutting and early or child marriage. The often personal undertone in dealing with such issues often deprive us of the opportunity to consider factual and informed findings on the health and social ramifications of some of these practices. I am however optimistic that, with timely and effective utilisation of this sensitization forum as religious and opinion leaders some of these obstacles and challenges can be effectively addressed.
Barrister Malick H.B. Jallow Esq.