By Fatou Dahaba
International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8 every year — to commemorate women’s global social, economic, cultural, and political achievements in all facets of society worldwide.
The day is also marked as a call to action for the acceleration of gender parity and to celebrate the achievements and plight of women in diverse sectors worldwide, including the Gambia.
The theme for this year’s commemoration is “Embrace Equity.” This special Alkamba Times edition explores the achievements and battles of Gambian women in the informal sector, where women’s efforts lead national advances from agriculture to community development.
Isatou Jadama is a 29-year-old horticulturist from Jumansara village in the Upper Badibu district of the North Bank Region of the Gambia. Isatou grows vegetables, such as tomatoes, garden eggs, cabbages, pepper, bitter tomatoes, onions, and okra, to deliver her family’s needs.
She goes to the market in Farafenni to sell her products. Farafenni is one of the most significant towns in the Northern part of the country and is known for its business hub and transit between Senegal and the Gambia. The town also offers a weekly market day locally called “Lumo.”
The Jumansara woman also targets this weekly market day to increase her sales — mostly from just-harvested garden products.
According to Isatou, she does all her garden works with a limited workforce, citing the need for modern machinery to perform such functions. The 29-year-old also transitioned from organic manure to chemical fertilizer due to challenges in sustaining the former.
“I intend to continue with organic farming because that is what I learned from the Gambia Songhai initiative in Chamen. It is good for our health as well,” she said.
Isatou added, “my biggest challenge is accessing the market. Our village has no vehicle to transport me and my goods to Farafenni. I pay too much for that. Another thing is the lack of a cold storage facility to keep my harvests, which leads to large post-harvest losses.”
Mary Sambou is another woman actively involved in oyster farming. The good news from Mary could be that she could buy a piece of land all by herself from her daily labor.
For many fresh graduating high school girls, the focus is to explore opportunities to obtain conventional work or be enrolled in tertiary education. Still, in the case of the woman from Lamin village, West Coast Region, oyster farming was her priority upon completing high school.
She has ventured into this activity for more than ten years, yielding results that inspire many others of her type. Mary bought a processing machine costing around D50,000 which she uses to process oyster shells for chicken feed serving as another source of revenue.
“From the business, I support my husband and my child. So I also contribute to the family’s needs. The business is lucrative because it does not require much expenditure, and if you are wise, you can save a lot,” Mary told TAT.
Oyster farming in The Gambia is mainly dominated by women who harvest, process, and market the oysters to the community and local hotels.
The yearly production of mangrove oysters in The Gambia is estimated at 7000 tonnes in shells, according to the analysis conducted by FISH4ACP with the Institute of Social Research and Development (ISRAD).
In the fashion industry, we found Zainab Jatta, a tailor who craves and design her products with a unique virtue in satisfying her customers.
Zainab has a tailoring shop in Sinchu Alagie, Kombo North, where she transforms raw materials into clothing, such as shorts, skirts, shirts, dresses, and bags.
Miss Jatta says her business pays her siblings’ school fees and provides for the family’s needs.
The self-employed lady has trained about five other young people in tailoring and design who have started their businesses. “That is my quota towards national development,” she said.
“When I graduated from school, I was looking for jobs all over to be hired, not knowing I can create opportunities and hire people, and today I have three staff working for me that are on monthly salary.”
At the Serekunda market in the Kanifing Municipality, Sirra Ceesay is making ends meet via fish trading. She wakes up at 5 am daily to get fish at the landing site in Tanji village, about 25 kilometers from her home.
From this business, the single mother of three puts food on the table for her family and takes care of her children’s education, health, and other needs.
“The business is not easy nowadays because fish is costly and not everyone can afford it, but I thank God for the little sales I make where we eat from, pay house rent, pay water and electricity and school fee for my three children,” she said.
A famous song called “Gambia Musolu,” dedicated to Gambian Women, composed by Gambia’s cultural ambassador and the king of “Kora,” Jaliba Kuyateh, pays homage to the Gambian women in recognition of the outstanding work they do towards the development of the country.
However, women like Isatou, Mary, Sirra, and Zainab deserve to be celebrated every day to complement their hard work and determination in what they do.