#Article (Archive)

Open letter on Women’s Political Participation

Mar 22, 2013, 11:47 AM | Article By: Satang NABANEH

I think it is time I add my voice to the debate, to wear the badge of verbal fundamentalism, without the slightest embarrassment. Should have been a long time coming- to unburden myself and do a little carping. 

It is astounding to discover that at the National Assembly only 2 out of the 48 elected members are women plus 3 nominated members, making a total of 5 out of 53 members. Therefore the percentage of elected women members of Parliament is 4.2 per cent and the total percentage of women in Parliament is less than 10 per cent.

If you ask me what the pressing theme of this moment is for The Gambia- for those who feel compelled to be socially relevant, I will say the low participation of women in politics. It’s an answer you should have discerned from the foregoing, but let me spell it out even more succinctly by calling your attention to several events.

In the recent nominations for the Local Government Elections, these are the statistics:

o          Of the 164 nominated candidates, only 11 are women (10 of the women were nominated by the APRC and 1 by NRP)

o          Of the 114 Wards, women candidates are unopposed in 6 wards (Crab Island Ward; Bantanjang Ward; Sibanor Ward; Giboro Ward; Banjulunding Ward and Sanyang Ward) and have male challengers in the other 5 (Tallinding Ward; Bwiam Ward; Farafenni Ward; Banni Ward and Njau Ward).

An outline of the nominations per region:

o          Banjul – 1

o          KMC – 1

o          Brikama – 6

o          LRR- 0

o          NBR- 0

o          CRR (Kuntaur Area Council) - 2

o          CRR (Janjabureh Area Council) – 0

o          URR (Basse) - 0

These figures set my teeth on edge. This is a grave breach made by politicians and the women’s movement (can we even be called that?) in The Gambia on women’s political participation. I cannot imagine anything more ghastly and ghoulish. Do I speak objectively? Of course not. I readily confess my subjectivity in these matters.

To reecho my mentor and friend, Njundu Drammeh that these statistics ‘has reconfirmed, trite though, is that The Gambia is still a man’s country, our political parties are men’s only clubs.’ Indeed, this shows a blatant disregard for the contributions of more than half of the population of The Gambia. As succinctly said by Wole Soyinka ‘if you seek the iconic images of our time, you will find them in the plight of women.’

When so much time has passed and a habit becomes deeply engrained, what forces of persuasion can one muster to undo that mind? There is need to address provocative questions. First, is it evidently too late to appeal to those who have embraced the idea that we do not need a quota system?  I was appalled at a recent validation workshop for a study conducted by UTG Consultancy on ‘Elections and Diversity Management.’ The introduction of the quota system became a debate. One of the consultants had the qualm to say that despite findings he was personally against the quota system. I actually questioned his impartiality if he was so against the concept, whether it will not affect the final input in the report. I was more furious with sentiments expressed by political parties present as well as members of the National Assembly that there is a level playing ground for women to stand for elective positions. The political arena is and still remains largely dominated by men.

The Constitution provides for a non-discrimination clause and further provides under Section 28 that:

(1) Women shall be accorded full and equal dignity of the person with men.

(2) Women shall have the right to equal treatment with men, including equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities.

Sec 15 of the Women’s Act 2010 also provides for temporary measures in favour of women in accelerating de facto quality between men and women.

But are these provisions enough for leveling the playing field?  The statistics go to show the lack of implementation and results of these provisions. It points to the fact that these provisions are not enough.

In addition, despite the country’s numerous international commitments to bridge the gender gap in the formal political arena, the figures remain gloomy. Indeed, the equality of women in public sphere remains greatly challenged including ascendancy into public political leadership positions.

Women and girls continue to face discrimination and violence as a result of the nature of our patriarchal societies. The socio-economic and political structures continue to serve as a barrier to women’s quality participation and representation. Women remain the majority of poor, unskilled and disadvantaged people in The Gambia. 

In light of the foregoing, The Gambia needs to adopt a quota system both for the National Assembly and for political parties. This will ensure that there is fairer representation of women in elective positions including the National Assembly and the Local Area Councils as well as compel political parties to nominate women.

For example, some African countries have attained the 33 per cent threshold for women’s representation in decision making. In particular, Rwanda became the leading country in the region and the world in terms of gender parity, with currently 46 per cent women parliamentary representation. Our neighbouring country Senegal has a legislated candidate quotas system resulting to 43 per cent of women in the National Assembly while 40 per cent in the Senate on a reserved seats type of quota.

Second, what can the women rights organisations do better? There is indeed a lack of cohesion between women’s organisations. They need to make an effort to take specific measures to become a unified voice. Investing and empowering young women might perhaps be a potentially transformative signpost of the future.

In addition, we need to tackle our perception of women’s participation in politics. The argument that women do not want to assume elective positions or participate in politics regardless of the conducive environment, does not hold water. That it goes against African - Gambian or increasingly our culture- as if culture is static, not dynamic and evolving. Gambian women’s treatment as second class citizens is not fair.

We believe it’s time that women say enough is enough. We need to change our modes of thinking, perception and more importantly our human regard .Enough with the subordinate positions, enough with the dancing, singing and cooking. These are the roles assigned and undertaken by majority of women in majority of political parties. There is no way I can reconcile our current social status with the idea of fairness.

We cannot all, and for much longer, evade the call for change. Good governance requires changes that will strengthen the accountability of political leaders to the people, ensure respect for human rights, and strengthen the rule of law.

We need to have more women in Parliament, Local Area Councils and at all decision making levels. A true democracy is characterized by the full and equal participation of women and men in the formulation and implementation of decisions in all spheres of public life. No country can call itself democratic if half of the population is excluded from the decision-making processes.