Gambia: International Women’s Day Celebrated

On Sunday 8 March, 2009, the world celebrated the International Women’s Day.

It is a day that offers the world the opportunity to reflect on the status of women, with the objectives of highlighting their contributions, achievements as well as their limitations in terms of promotion of gender equality and empowerment at all levels.

In marking this very important day, very important messages have been delivered by prominent people. The Daily Observer herein reproduces the messages from The Gambia’s vice president, Aja Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy; the US secretary of state, Hilary Clinton; the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon; and the Female Lawyers’ Association of The Gambia (FLAG).

Goodwill message on the occasion of the International Women’s Day, March 7th 2009, by H.E. the vice president and Secretary of State for Women’s Affairs, Dr. Ajaratou Isatou Njie-Saidy.

Theme: “Women and men united to end violence against women and girls”

Fellow Gambians, Women’s Day is celebrated in many countries around the world. You will recall that this day is celebrated, every year on the 8th of March with the objective of highlighting the achievements and challenges in the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women at the national and global level. In The Gambia, plans are on the way to celebrate this day, International Women’s Day in April 2009, by the Women’s Bureau, National Women’s Council and the Department of State for Women’s Affairs.

This day is when women are recognised for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, economic or political. It is an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women.

The global event has grown from strength to strength and has become an event which brings women and all other stakeholders together to promote and advocate for more cohesive and coordinated interventions towards effectively addressing the critical needs of women in the social, political and economic processes. Each year a relevant theme is identified that is deemed most appreciate. This year’s theme is: “Women and men united to end violence against women and girls”.

Violence against women and girls is any act of gender-based violence that result in, or likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women and girls including threats such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.

In The Gambia, we cannot overemphasise the relevance and timeliness of this year’s theme on ending violence against women and girls which focus is given by the UN and the AU and their development partners. This theme was the subject of an ADFVI forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from the 19th to 21st November 2008, jointly organized by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the African Union and the African Development Bank.

In the Gambia, violence against women and girls is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, as manifested by current gender relations that are marked by socio-cultural norms of male domination over the discrimination against women. This continued domination and discrimination has prevented the full advancement of women and in one of the crucial social mechanism by which women are forced into sub-ordinate position compared to men.

Violence against women and girls is complex and diverse in its manifestations, with far-reaching and long-lasting consequences and costs and impoverishes women, their families, communities and the state. It is also a violation of the essential basic human rights of an individual to safety, security and physical integrity.

In The Gambia there is no available date on violence against women and girls, but the majority of Gambian women have been either beaten, coerced into sex otherwise abused in a life time. Here in The Gambia violence is pervasive, and as a result many women continue to suffer in the home and in the community with devastating effects.

The kind of violence prevalent in this country, although not exclusive to it includes: domestic violence, sexual violence including rape, early marriages, harmful traditional practices and widow inheritance. Amidst all these violations, women are more at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS than men, while feminisation of poverty is perpetuated and gender equality remains unattainable, yet the culture of silence prevails especially amongst women victims.

Many of the victims of rape and other sexual violence are deeply traumatized. Families and communities often reject women and girls who have been raped and sexually assaulted, and usually strip them of their social standing. In many cases, women who survive rape attacks are subsequently disowned by their husbands, leaving them even more vulnerable to future attacks because they lack the economic, social and physical protection.

Women and girls subjected to violence are more likely to suffer physical, mental and reproductive health problems. Incidence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV/AIDs is high among victims of violence. Women and girls also suffer from serious behavioural and psychological problems, sexual dysfunction and relationship problems, low self-esteem, depression, suicidal thoughts, deliberate self-harm, and alcohol and substance abuse. Their chances of acquiring skills for socio-economic mobility and independence are therefore severely compromised.

All too often the physical and mental health services necessary for victims of violence – women and girls to help them resume normal lives are not available, especially in rural areas. Perpetrators of rape and sexual violence often go unpunished. Few women are able to seek justice against the perpetrators.

It is common knowledge to all Gambians that testifying against alleged perpetrators is often difficult for victims due to the social stigma attached to women is often difficult for victims due to the social stigma alleged perpetrators is often difficult for victims due to the social stigma attachment to women and girls who speak out against their abuses. In this country many women choose not to testify because they do not want to bring further ‘shame’ to themselves and their family. Witnesses may also fear repercussions from the perpetrators.

If the culture of silence amongst victims of violence ends, government will hold perpetrators accountable to their actions, for the government of The Gambia; under the able leadership of HE the President Professor Dr Alhagie Yahya AJJ Jammeh has never relaxed its vigilance in protecting the dignity and welfare of women and girls. When perpetrators of violence are not held accountable, it not only encourages further abuses, but also gives the message that violence is acceptable and normal. This government will not condone this practice and will do all it can to prevent it. We will be fire preventers and not fire fighters.

Cognisant of the prevalence of violence against women and girls, and its horrendous effects on their fundamental rights and freedoms, and physical and mental health, the government of The Gambia has adopted several legal instruments to address the criminal acts.

To harness comprehensive and systematic actions to prevent and protect women and girls against violence, the following questions should be addressed:-

    1. What effective strategies should be adopted to promote and implement the rule of law against perpetrators of violence and all other forms of gender based violence?

    2. How government should put an end to impunity and ensure accountability with regard to violence?

    3. How the national financial policy should be expanded to include provisions for comprehensive support to victims of violence?

    4. What are some examples of best practices whereby gender sensitive approaches have been used to include women and girls in the design; approaches have been used to include women and girls in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of violence?

    5. What mechanism can be adopted to advocate and mobilise popular support to revive and promote community-based outrage and public outcry against such acts of violence? The government has a major responsibility to protect its citizens against all forms of violence. Effective actions to present violence, especially against women and children, required a comprehensive national approach, which should include preventive measures, punitive consequences for perpetrators and protection of the victims and their human rights.


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