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Rural Women’s Day: What has road network got to do with Women’s Rights?

Oct 21, 2011, 2:11 PM | Article By: Amie Bojang-Sissoho - Programme Coordinator, IEC - GAMCOTRAP

Travelling to one of the remote areas of the Gambia, Wuli East with a GAMCOTRAP team to undertake training supported by UNFPA, turned out to be a journey of reflection. 

In an attempt to get on the best available road we drove from Basse to Fatoto ferry crossing just to realize that the ferry has not been in service for a month; the hand pulled ferry was stocked in the middle of the river. 

We drove back for another 45 minutes to cross from Basse to Wuli.  We arrived just in time for the ferry to quickly cross over to the other side of the river bank.   A two-hour journey started to go to Briffu in Wuli East. 

The sun was very hot and unbearable, but there was no option.  There were few trees to provide shade even though it was the beginning of October and the rains have contributed to the green environment.  The grass is green, but the maize is turning brown, drying up in preparation to be   harvested.   Then I thought of how the farmers are going to transport their produce to market points like Basse, the commercial centre of the Upper River Region. After working hard under heavy rains, frightening lightning and thunder storm, if they had good roads they would not even have to travel to the market; entrepreneurs would come for it.  The driver will not hesitate because of the hidden cost to maintain their vehicles, the chain of empowerment will be stronger and can contribute to the reduction of extreme poverty and hunger. This is the Goal 1 or aim of the MDGs.

After an hour’s drive and the team got half way through to its journey, a sad scene emerged.  A young boy about 8 years old stopped the donkey cart he was riding.  On the cart lies a woman and an old woman sat in front of her and covered her stomach from public view.  As our vehicle drove slowly pass them, it could be noticed that the woman was in pain.  One of our friends in the vehicle recognised the old woman because he came from the same village, Sutukoba.  The woman was being taken to the nearest health centre in Baja Kunda, miles away.  This struck me to ask, what has road networks got to do with women’s rights?

I thought indeed it has everything to do with women’s rights.  Good road network will facilitate quicker and timely access to referral centres for proper health care delivery.  Delay in accessing health care service can affect reproductive health rights of women; it will affect safe delivery, prolonged bleeding that can lead to other complications and possibly death.  Poor  road conditions  can complicate delivery; just imaging a pregnant woman in labour on a donkey cart being shaken from left to right front and back for at least an hour or more before she could get help. Such a situation is not contributing to the reduction of child mortality nor improved maternal health as specified in MDG Goals 4 and 5. 

I began to question, Are we all guilty? Those in authority are guilty for not providing good road networks in rural areas.  Even where the funds are not available to construct the ideal roads, the minimum that can be done is to take a tractor or any other facility to level the road. What are the Area Councils doing with the tax payers’ money? Oh they would not see the need for it because they do not travel there often to know, see or understand the condition of the road.

I am concerned because I travelled on this very road in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009 and again in 2011 but every time I returned I only complained to myself that the road has still not been fixed.  How can one believe in the empowerment of women yet very little or nothing is being done about this poor road condition?  As an advocate of women’s empowerment and to fulfill the calling of my profession I thought the only thing I can do is to inform those in positions of power and authority through this article that we all owe it to the women as regards their right to health and economic empowerment to construct the minimum standard of road networks in rural Gambia. As we celebrate World Rural Women Day, let us remember the linkage between road networks and the women’s right to health, economic empowerment thus contribute to Goal 3 of the Millennium Development Goals - Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women.