The Gambia today joins the rest of the world in recognising and celebrating International Women's Day. Every year, the 8th of March presents an opportunity for all of us to reflect on the gender inequalities of the past and bring into perspective the gender struggles and accomplishments of today. It is a day when women all around the world are acknowledged and celebrated regardless of their ethnic, cultural, political or social differences.
International Women's Day is also a time to look back in history and marvel at the circumstances and struggles that both men and women have endured to make this day possible for all of us to celebrate. Born at a period of great social upheaval and crisis, International Women's day inherited a tradition of demonstrations and political activism in its early days. The idea of this day began to form at the turn of the century. In 1909, following a declaration by the Socialist Party, the United States of America observed its first National Women's Day in respect of garment workers who protested against the stringent working conditions. In August 1910, inspired partly by the American Socialist Movement, an International Conference was held in Copenhagen to honour the movement for women's right to equality and build support for accomplishing global suffrage for women. In 1911, following the Copenhagen initiative, International Women's Day was recognised for the first time in many European Countries. This occasion brought together more than one million women who rallied for the right to vote, the right to hold public office, the right to equal treatment at work and most importantly, to end all forms of discrimination against women. In 1975, the United Nations began celebrating 8th of March as International Women's Day. A couple of years later in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring a United Nations Day for Women's Right and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States in accordance with their historical and national traditions.
Since the early years, International Women's Day had progressively gained momentum and has assumed a new universal dimension for women all around the world. In contrast to the formative years when the day was marred with demonstrations and unrest, today we look back at the progress made and celebrate the acts of courage, wisdom and determination portrayed by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in history. It is also a day to look into the future and pave the way forward for the younger generation of women. The new millennium has certainly witnessed a significant change of attitude in both women and society's perspective about equality. With more women in high political offices and boardrooms, many of the younger generation feel that women have finally cemented their place in the workplace and the battle has already been won. The sad truth is that women are still not remunerated on an equal basis as their male counterparts and are still not equal in numbers in business or politics. Moreover, issues such as access to education, justice, health, violence against women amongst other concerns still exists today. We need to pave the way forward for the younger generation by arming them with ample knowledge and instilling a sense of responsibility to enable them to make use of the untapped opportunities that await them in the future.
Each year, a general theme is identified to mark the occasion of International Women's Day. Various Governments, Organisations and Women's groups may however choose different themes to reflect global or local gender issues. At FLAG, we embrace the United Nations International Women's Day theme "EMPOWERING RURAL WOMEN - END HUNGER AND POVERTY".
Rural women are active agents of economic and social change. In The Gambia, about 65% of the agricultural labour force are women in which the majority of these women reside in rural areas. These women are producers, consumers, carers and most importantly they play a pivotal role in the food and agricultural production of the country.
As we may recall, In September 2000, at the United Nations Millennium Summit, Heads of States and Government representatives agreed to a ground breaking set of time bound and measurable goals and targets known as the Millennium Development Goals. Eight broad objectives were targeted with the aim of combating poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women. Of the eights targets, Goal 1 aims to halve extreme poverty and hunger and Goal 3 calls for empowering women and promoting gender equality. The Government of The Gambia has pledged to meet the Millennium Developments Goals by the year 2015.
In this vein, the Government of the Gambia must be arecognised for its relentless efforts towards supporting agricultural activities of rural women and empowering women in general. It must also be noted that many rural women are benefiting from the Livestock Horticultural Development Project which is a central part of the Gambia Government's Programme for Accelerated Growth and Employment (PAGE). The PAGE also covers women's access to water, productive technologies, good quality seeds, fertilisers and pesticides, all geared towards improving agricultural productivity, food security and sustainable livelihoods. Under the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme, (CAADP), all African countries, including The Gambia, have committed to developing national frameworks to show how they will develope agriculture in their countries. They also made a commitment to allocate a minimum of ten per cent of the national budget on agriculture. As at last year The Gambia had attained only six per cent and aspiring to attain the required minimum.
Apart from Government initiatives relating to Agricultural and rural women, several Civil Society organisation have made significant inroads in addressing the plight of rural women and their agricultural productivity. One such initiative is ActionAid International The Gambia's (AAITG) campaign on rural women's access to land and ability to develope and manage this vital resource on a sustainable basis with a strong emphasis on environmental protection. AAITG in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture is also working on diversification of agricultural productivity for women by encouraging other agricultural activities like poultry farming, fish processing, and value added activities like groundnut processing for oil and paste, both for consumption and marketing. The Women's access and ownership to land Campaign originated from the National Women Farmers' Association (NAWFA), a civil society association constituted by 48,000 rural women from 1074 villages in the Gambia..
However, challenges still exist as rural women face severe problems attributed to gender based stereotypes and discrimination that deny them equitable access to credit, assets, services and opportunities. This year's theme is pertinent and well -timed. As we are fast approaching the deadline for the MDGs, it is evident that more needs to be done in order to realistically meet the set targets.
In order to empower rural women and end hunger and poverty, the country collectively has to address the challenges that still prevail and ensure that certain measures such as the following are implemented.
â-è Education: this is vital in ensuring rural women's general well-being and productivity. This could take the form of non - formal learning, technical and vocational training and agriculture extension services.
â-è Resources: Access to productive resources, assets and services is also crucial. Land ownership is key to empowerment therefore rural women should be given the opportunity to own land in their right.
â-è Social Protection: Access to justice and adequate social protection is central in ensuring a safe and enabling environment for economic growth.
â-è Participation: Access to equal participation in the decision making process ensures that the needs and concerns of rural women are projected in local government policies.
The Women's Act 2010 indeed embodies the above measures in its provisions. The following sections in the Act provide that:
6. "Every woman shall be protected against any form of physical, sexual, psychological, or economic harm, suffering or violence whether occurring in public or private life".
7. "Every woman is entitled to equality and justice before the law and to equal protection of the law".
11. "Every woman whether by means of inheritance or otherwise has the right to acquire and own movable and immovable property and to administer, manage and dispose of the property freely without restrictions".
26. "Every woman has the right to basic education and training for self development".
In particular Part VIII of the Act specifically focuses on rural women and its effective implementation will go a long way in ensuring that the Theme for this year is adequately and effectively realised in The Gambia. Part VIII provides thus
"PART VIII - RURAL WOMEN
33. (1) Every Government agency, organ, body, authority, public or private institution or enterprise, individual or community shall-
(a) take into account the particular problems faced by rural women and the significant roles which rural women play in the economic survival of their families, including their work in the informal non-monetized sectors of the economy; and
(b) ensure the application of the provisions of this Act to women in rural areas.
(2) Every Government agency, organ, body, authority, public institution or private enterprise, individual or community shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas in order to ensure, on a basis of equality between men and women, that they participate in and benefit from rural development projects and, in particular, shall ensure that rural women have the right to-
(a) participate in the conceptualization, elabo-ration and implementation of development projects at all levels;
(b) benefit directly from social security programmes;
(c) obtain all types of training and education, formal and non-formal, including those relating to functional literacy, as well as, the benefit of all community and extension services, in order to increase their technical proficiency;
(d) organize self-help groups and co-opera-tives in order to obtain access to economic opportunities through employment or self employment;
(e) have access to agricultural credit and loans, marketing facilities, appropriate technology and equal treatment in land and agrarian reform, as well as, in land resettlement schemes.
Hence, it appears that there is an existing legal framework that protects; safeguards and most importantly provide the much needed machinery for the empowerment of women in The Gambia.
The theme this year is a call to action. It encourages governments, organisations and active groups to focus their attention and efforts in empowering rural women to end hunger and poverty. The objective of International Women's Day 2012 is to ensure that every event held in honour of this day will involve thoughts and deliberations on empowering rural women and ending hunger and poverty.
At FLAG, we will continue in our efforts in ensuring that fundamental rights of women and children are duly observed and enforced in The Gambia. We also pledge to partner with Government and other civil society organisations in the realisation of the theme of this year's theme.
BY FEMALE LAWYERS ASSOCIATION GAMBIA