By Lamin Janneh
The constitutional amendment bill sponsored by the Banjul NAM Touma Njie has more to it than what we see. It is empowerment but can also be viewed as a tool for abuse of women through their numbers. I will endeavor to address this matter with an open mind while I try to be very objective, practical, and realistic to the best of my ability.
Women’s empowerment and promoting women’s rights have emerged as a part of a major global movement and are continuing to break new ground in recent years. Days like International Women’s Empowerment Day are also gaining momentum. But despite a great deal of progress, women and girls continue to face discrimination and violence in every part of the world. Women empowerment if effectively executed has a direct correlation to enhancing and propelling prosperity and sustainable development.
This is an undisputed fact. The Gambia has ratified several regional and international protocols and conventions that seek to enhance women’s participation, protection, and development in political, social, and leadership roles across all sectors of development. In the case of the Gambia, it is time we do some critical stocktaking to figure out the root causes of why we are poorer today than ever before. In the center of this assignment, women issues must dig deeper to identify why Gambian women are where they are despite so many projects and programs directed to them for economic and social benefits, they are marginalized.
Now to Touman Njie bill. What went wrong? Why did the bill suffered an early death? Is giving 14 seats to women equates to prosperity for women? Touma may have a good intent to sponsor this bill. I do not doubt that. The intent of the bill is very positive but its timing is something that has contributed to the failure of the bill. One fundamental factor affecting us as far as the national assembly is concerned is the politicization of every issue in parliament.
This is across the board. Many point fingers at the UDP NAMs but in fact, those pointing fingers are even more politically toxic in that parliament than the UDP NAMs. In the presence of this rigid division, there is no way that this bill will cross the bridge. The second reason is that the attempt of the president to fire Yakumba Jaiteh which was later contested in court has convinced many that the Bill if succeeded will easily give the NPP and the president control over the parliament, thus enabling executive interference. The constitutional amendment which allows national assembly members to switch their affiliation is another loophole in the constitution that many NAMs have used to permeate from one party to another while they retain their parliamentary seats.
In my view, the bill suffered a lack of progress fundamentally on these grounds. They are all valid points. Now, will 14 seats in parliament enhance the status of women in the Gambia? This is an emphatic NO! Let’s look at this one by one in a few practical cases. The TRRC has revealed several right violations but of particular importance is the abuse meted out on women and girls.
The victim center has launched and championed the road to justice for victims at local and international levels. Women victims have been crying and seeking help, what has been the role of Gambian women in key leadership roles to support? What has for example the ministry of women and children have done to support the victim center? Has the minister ever visited them or shown some form of solidarity to her fellow women victims? Has Touma Njie engaged them or any of the women pushing the bill? How about the vice president? How about the speaker of parliament? We have seen women farmers cry foul for the Chinese invasion of their gardens in Kombo south, their main source of income and food, essentially their livelihoods? Where were these women in leadership who could do something? Where was Touma Njie, where was the vice president? Where was the speaker, where was the minister of women affairs? where was the agriculture minister? Where were these women in leadership positions when the Gambia women’s lives matter was protesting for the increase in maternal mortality in the country? Where were these women when operation 5 years paraded disables at the Denton bridge by falsely presenting them to the public in the middle of a protest? When the women in Brikama market were crying for lack of space and all the frustrations they were facing, where were these women in leadership positions? We have to be practical and honest with ourselves. We should stop cheating the poor in the name of helping them. The elitism should be revisited as it has not helped our women.
The average Gambian woman is suffering, allocating 14 seats for them will not in any way address their 57 years of suffering. It will promote the elites and endanger the poor woman poor and poorer. Concern Gambian.
The fight which broke between the bill sponsor Touma Njie and the vice president is enough to justify my points that, there is more to the bill than Absenteeism. The sponsors should put their house in order and fight as a solid entity.