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U.S. Embassy Honor Gambian Woman

May 30, 2008, 5:58 AM | Article By: By Sarata J-Dibba

"The empowerment of women is irrevocably tied to the safety, security, and prosperity of the world. The enfranchisement of women can no longer be a simple aspiration", said US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in the inauguration of international women of courage, and quoted by the American ambassador Barry wells. The recent award to Dr Isatou Touray, the executive director of Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices  (GAMCOTRAP ) as 'woman of courage' by the American Embassy is a real joy for all women in The Gambia because this serves as a signal to women that the struggle and women's contribution to national development has been recognized not only by the Gambian government but also by the international community. This award is timely and is not a surprise for that matter, because women like Dr Touray deserve such recognition as she is always in the forefront in fighting for the rights of women.

 During the award ceremony, the American ambassador to The Gambia, Barry Wells, has said that in 2007 the Department of State established the Secretary of State's international Women of Courage Award. Through this annual award, he added, the United States honors the courage of extraordinary women worldwide who have played transformative roles in their societies. " Each year, U.S. Embassies around the world are invited to nominate women from their respective countries. In 2007 the US.Embassy in Banjul nominated Hannah Forster, Executive Director of the African Center on Democracy and Human Rights Studies.  Ambassador Wells described women as essential agents in bringing about change and an often overlooked resource in the preservation of human security, in overcoming transnational dangers, and in managing threats arising from tyranny, trafficking, poverty, and disease.

Wells further went on to say that the achievement of the United States' mission of advancing democracy, prosperity, and security worldwide, was not possible without the empowerment of women. " If women cannot participate in the political process, there can be no real democracy, if they are deprived of economic opportunity, development is crippled, and if women are not educated, they cannot pass knowledge to their children, and there is no true security for the next generation.

Ambassador Wells however agreed that poverty is more rampant when women lack education and economic opportunity, and justice is thwarted when women are denied the right to play a political role in their nations.  He added, "And in today's modern world, no country can achieve lasting success, stability, and security, if half of its population is sitting on the sidelines. On that note we are encouraged by the leadership of women of The Gambia at all levels in the governance of the nation."

 Finally, Ambassador Wells urged the international community to make sure that they hear the voices of women and account for their concerns whenever they seek to establish or to keep the peace.  "If we do that, we are actually making the job of keeping the peace easier," he emphasized.

In receiving the award Dr Touray expressed appreciation and highlighted the work they do in GAMCOTRAP which she said is grounded in grassroots activism, working with communities in trying to understand the issues inimical to their health and well being.

GAMCOTRAP, she noted, is a Women's Rights NGO, which promotes women's social, political, economic and cultural rights and specifically focuses on sexual and reproductive health rights. The organization creates awareness on Traditional Practices and aims at the preservation of beneficial practices as well as the elimination of harmful traditional practices that are inimical to the well being of women and children, particularly the girl-child.


"GAMCOTRAP focuses on the following objectives:

1. To carry out research into traditional practices that affect the sexual and reproductive health of women and girl children in The Gambia.

2. To identify and promote traditional practices which improve the status of girl-children and women.

3. To create awareness on the effects of harmful traditional practices on the health of girl-children and women, in particular FGM, nutritional taboos, child/early marriages and wife inheritance etc'.

 Dr Touray added that in pursuit of their mandate, GAMCOTRAP was able to work closely with target groups in communities that are critical to its advocacy on Women and children's rights in The Gambia. " I am pleased to inform you that GAMCOTRAP in collaboration with the Government of the Gambia through its community sensitization program have achieved some positive change through its advocacy work. Among these are the signing and ratification of the international conventions namely the CRC, CEDAW, The African Protocol on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol)'. She however applauded the government of The Gambia for the positive stand they have taken in providing formal equality for women.  Touray also urged the NAMS to pass the Women's Bill which is currently under review and call on the Government of The Gambia to initiate the promulgation of a law banning Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

"Rights education in the communities has brought in changes in some communities. You can only demand your rights when you know what rights you have, and can only execute the rights when you know for what purpose. As I speak today 18 Sheroines have understood the relevant articles in all the international women's rights conventions to have reached the decision to stop Female Genital Mutilation. Their decision to stop has saved many girl children from experiencing the effects of FGM, thus improving the maternal and child mortality rates of Gambia's health index. "Rights can only have meaning when people are able to uphold them close to home and their practices," she disclosed.

Dr Touray however pointed out that 40 more circumcisers would be joining the former ones to celebrate yet another declaration by communities to continue to protect their children from FGM.

Dr Touray finally accepted the award with honour to GAMCOTRAP, all its members and the Community Based Facilitators who have been engaged in the struggle for promoting women's and children's rights, and also appreciated the support and assistance rendered by the Local Government Structures who work closely with them to facilitate positive change.

"This honour gives us the courage and commitment to continue the work we are doing. The sacrifice is worth it because of the difference it makes in the life of the poor, vulnerable and powerless people we serve.

We are committed in the work we do because there are people who believe in the cause we stand for, and who provide the support needed to continue engaging constructively with the communities we serve. "This initiative is one of such recognition made in our honour," she concluded.