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).
Vice president Aja Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy
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.
As we celebrate International Women's Day, may I kindly remind you that over the years, the government of The Gambia has systematically registered progress in the reduction of violence against women and girls. Women are now, more than ever before been able to seek justice whenever they fall victims of violence.
In conclusion, the national celebration this year will, therefore, focus on ending violence against women and girls. The government would continue to put in place or design appropriate legislative instruments and programmes to address all forms of violence against all in society including women and girls.
Government efforts in this direction are made manifest by the several treaties conventions signed and ratified by government. This government has adopted several instruments to address the criminal acts of violence, which include: the charter of the United Nations 1945, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1984, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women 1979, Convention on the Rights of children 1989, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa 2003 among others.
While wishing all a happy celebration in advance I thank you all and may Allah the Almighty bless us all men and women, young and old.
UN secretary general Ban ki-moon
One year ago, I launched a campaign calling on people and governments the world over to unite to end violence against women and girls. The campaign will run through 2015, the target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The link with the goals is clear. We must stop the habitual and socially ingrained violence that mars lives, destroys health, perpetuates poverty and prevents us from achieving women's equality and empowerment.
Violence against women is also linked to the spread of HIV/AIDS. In some countries, as many as one in three women will be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Women and girls are also systematically and deliberately subject to rape and sexual violence in war.
Violence against women stands in direct contradiction to the promise of the United Nations Charter to "promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom." The consequences go beyond the visible and immediate. Death, injury, medical costs and lost employment are but the tip of an iceberg. The impact on women and girls, their families, their communities and their societies in terms of shattered lives and livelihood is beyond calculation. Far too often, crimes go unpunished, and perpetrators walk free. No country, no culture, no woman, young or old, is immune.
Increasingly, men, too, are speaking out against this stain on our society. Global examples include the White Ribbon Campaign and the V-Day campaign's "V-Men" counterpart. And at community workshops, men are teaching other men that there is another way and that "real men don't hit women." Changing mind sets and the habits of generations is not easy. It must involve all of us - individuals, organisations and governments. We must work together to state loud and clear, at the highest level, that violence against women will not be tolerated, in any form, in any context, in any circumstance.
We need economic and social policies that support women's empowerment. We need programmes and budgets that promote non-violence. We need a positive image of women in the media. We need laws that say violence is a crime, that hold perpetrators accountable and are enforced.
The "Unite to end violence against women" campaign encourages men and women to join hands to oppose violence against women. Only by acting together can we create more equal and peaceful societies. Let us all, on this International Women's Day, resolve to make a difference.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton
On a trip to China eleven years ago, I met with women activists who told me about their efforts to advance conditions for women in their country. They offered a vivid portrait of the challenges women faced: employment discrimination, inadequate health care, domestic violence, antiquated laws that hindered women's progress.
I met some of those women again a few weeks ago, during my first trip to Asia as Secretary of State. This time, I heard about the progress that has been made in the past decade. But even with some important steps forward, these Chinese women left no doubt that obstacles and inequities still remain, much as they do in many parts of the world.
I've heard stories like theirs on every continent, as women seek opportunities to participate fully in the political, economic and cultural lives of their countries. And on March 8, as we celebrate International Women's Day, we have a chance to take stock of both the progress we've made and the challenges that remain--and to think about the vital role that women must play in helping to solve the complex global challenges of the 21st century.
Today, more women are leading governments, businesses, and non-governmental organizations than in previous generations. But that good news has a flip side. Women still comprise the majority of the world's poor, unfed and unschooled. They are still subjected to rape as a tactic of war and exploited by traffickers globally in a billion dollar criminal business.
Honor killings, maiming, female genital mutilation, and other violent and degrading practices that target women are still tolerated in too many places today. Just a few months ago, a young girl in Afghanistan was on her way to school when a group of men threw acid in her face, permanently damaging her eyes, because they objected to her seeking an education. Their attempt to terrorize the girl and her family failed. She said, "My parents told me to keep coming to school even if I am killed."
That young girl's courage and resolve should serve as an inspiration to all of us--women and men--to continue to work as hard as we can to ensure that girls and women are accorded the rights and opportunities they deserve. Global problems are too big and too complex to be solved without the full participation of women. Strengthening women's rights is not only a continuing moral obligation--it is also a necessity as we face a global economic crisis, the spread of terrorism and nuclear weapons, regional conflicts that threaten families and communities, and climate change and the dangers it presents to the world's health and security.
These challenges demand everything we've got. We will not solve them through half measures. And yet too often, on these issues and many more, half the world is left behind. Especially in the midst of this financial crisis, we must remember what a growing body of research tells us: Supporting women is a high-yield investment, resulting in stronger economies, more vibrant civil societies, healthier communities, and greater peace and stability. And investing in women is a way to support future generations; women spend much more of their incomes on food, medicine and schooling for children.
Even in developed nations, the full economic power of women is far from being realized. Women in many countries continue to earn much less than men for doing the same jobs--a gap that President Obama took a step toward closing in the United States this year, when he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which strengthens women's ability to challenge unequal pay.
Women need to be given the chance to work for fair wages, access credit and launch businesses. They deserve equity in the political sphere, with equal access at the voting booth and the freedom to petition their government and run for office. They have a right to health care for themselves and their families, and a right to send their children to school--their sons and their daughters. And they have a vital role to play in establishing peace and stability worldwide. In regions torn apart by war, it is often the women who find a way to reach across differences and discover common ground.
As I travel around the world in my new role, I will keep in mind the women I've already met on every continent--women who have struggled against extraordinary odds to change laws so they can own property, have rights in marriage, go to school, support their families--even serve as peacekeepers.
And I will be a vocal advocate--working with my counterparts in other nations, as well as non-governmental organizations, businesses and individuals--to keep pressing forward on these issues, so that the world will move closer to finally realizing the full promise of women and girls.
Female lawyers association of The Gambia
Annually, International Women's Day is observed and celebrated around the world on the 8th of March, by individuals, governments and women's organisations. This day highlights the growth and achievements of women in the developed and developing world. Events are held to honour women's various advancements but at the same time, it serves as a reminder to all, of how much more needs to be done to improve and maintain women's equality in all aspects of life and the need to continue being vigilant towards the same goal.
This day also brings into focus the need to better all aspects of a woman's life in society, be it economical, political or social. The government of the republic of The Gambia as well as domestic and international non-governmental organisations have to be commended for the efforts and work carried on in the promotion and protection of women in our societies.
International Women's Day started at birth as a socialist movement across the United States and Europe in the 1990s. By the mid 1990s, it became a global phenomenon, and it continues to grow and be recognised not only by the women, but by the men too. However, the reality is that on a global scale, women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and women's education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men.
We cannot forget that women have achieved and improved themselves over the years. Women are going to universities, women can work and still have and raise a family, and women are astronauts, engineers, prime ministers, politicians and even presidents. Africa has been the first to see a woman president. Leading countries such as the United States have had women leading political campaigns for presidency. Our very own Secretary of State for Women's Affairs is the vice president of the republic of The Gambia.
The aim of FLAG is to make women more aware of their rights that have already been afforded to them by disseminating information, through advocacy and advice. FLAG is proud to b associated with the ongoing national efforts to domesticate the two major international bills of Rights on Women's Rights (CEDAW and the African Protocol) that have been signed by our government.
This year, the United Nation has identified this article's title as the main running theme for International Women's Day.
The United Nations defines violence against women as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life." Violence against women takes many forms, from the overt to the subtle. WHO has adopted the following definitions of violence:
Physical violence means a woman has been slapped, or had something thrown at her; pushed shoved, or had hair pulled; hit with a fist or something else that could hurt; choked or burnt; threatened with or had a weapon used against her. Sexual violence means a woman has been physically forced to have sexual intercourse; had sexual intercourse because she was afraid of what her partner might do; or forced to do something sexual she found degrading or humiliating.
Emotional violence does not yet have a widely accepted definition, but includes, for example, being humiliated or belittled; being scared or intimidated purposefully. Intimate-partner violence (also called "domestic" violence" ) means a woman has encountered any of the above types of violence, at the hands of an intimate partner or ex-partner; this is one of the most common and universal forms of violence experienced by women.
In a 10-country study on women's health and domestic violence conducted by WHO:
* Between 15% and 71% of women reported physical or sexual violence by a husband or partner.
* Many women said that their first sexual experience was not consensual. (24% in rural Peru, 28% in Tanzania, 30% in rural Bangladesh, and 40% in South Africa).
* Between 4% and 12% of women reported being physically abused during pregnancy.
* About 5,000 women are murdered by family members in the name of honour each year worldwide.
* Trafficking of women and girls for forced labour and sex is widespread and often affects the most vulnerable.
* Forced marriages and child marriages violate the human rights of women and girls, but they are widely practiced in many countries in Asia, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.
Worldwide, up to one in five women and one in 10 men report experiencing sexual abuse as children. Children who experience sexual abuse are much more likely to encounter other forms of abuse later in life.
Consequences of such violence
The effects of violent acts against women are wide. It is a major obstacle to development. Violence against women in particular hinders progress in achieving development targets. Despite the growing recognition of violence against women as a public health and human rights concern, and of the obstacle it poses for development, this type of violence continues to have an unjustifiably low priority on the international development agenda and in planning, programming and budgeting.
Until recently, most governments have considered violence against women (particularly "domestic" violence by a husband or other intimate partner) to be a relatively minor social problem. Today, due in large part to be efforts of women's organisations and the evidence provided by research, violence against women is recognised as a global concern.
Such violence is intimately associated with complex social conditions such as poverty, lack of education, gender inequality, child mortality, maternal ill-health and human immuno deficiency virus/acquired immuno deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS).
FLAG urges men and women to unite
In The Gambia, there is a need for more evaluation to assess the effectiveness of violence prevention measures. Recently in The Gambia, brutal murders have taken place against women, the acts themselves conducted by the very men of their society, whom the women have bestowed themselves to, for love, care and protection.
FLAG has found that women in The Gambia, for cultural, religious or traditional reasons, are less included to report domestic violence or other types of violence against them. FLAG believes where men and women unite, their targets can afford many options for addressing violence against women.
Various studies have shown that poverty and hunger provide opportunity to ally with violence against women. Therefore, more evaluation is needed to assess the effectiveness of violence prevention measures; interventions with promising results include increasing education and opportunities for women and girls, improving their self-esteem and negotiating skills, and reducing gender inequities in communities is needed. Flag believes that advocacy for victims, better awareness of violence and its consequences among health workers, and wider knowledge of available resources for abused women (including legal assistance, housing and child care), can lessen the consequences of violence.
FLAG urges men and women, individually and in groups/ organisations, to collaborate to reduce violence against women throughout the nation. We must identify the scope and types of violence in different settings and acknowledge, first and foremost, that the magnitude and nature of the problem is global and not only prominent in our society. We must work on developing guidance principles for health professionals, welfare offices, police officers and other security personnel to prevent and strengthen the health sectors responses to violence and the security forces preventive responses and measures.
FLAG undertakes to continue to disseminate information on a national level and support the already placed national efforts to advance women's rights and prevent violence. FLAG will also continue to collaborate with the international agencies and organisations set up and running for years to deter violence against women globally.
As an association, Flag will not relent until it sees the passage and enactment of the women's bill into law, and other legislative initiatives geared towards the enhancement of the welfare and legal status of women and children. With unity between men and women and by supporting FLAG and other NGOs, we shall be ensured that the present and future generation will feel safe and equal and thereby the whole nation shall be rewarded with a better future.