The executive director of African Centre for Democracy and Human Right Studies (ACDHRS) has said that women perspectives are vital for national development.
Hannah Forster was speaking Tuesday at the Paradise Suites Hotel in Kololi during the opening ceremony of a one-day validation workshop on the research report on gender analysis of political party manifestoes organised by ACDHRS with financial support from its partners.
The ACDHRS and partners are implementing a project "Promoting Gender Equality through Participation and Representation of Women in National Governance and Development in The Gambia'.
The project is geared towards the fulfilment of Article 9 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, to which Gambia is a state party. The Article calls on States Parties to ensure the right of women to participate in the political and decision making process.
To better understand the reasons for women's low participation and representation in the governance processes, the service of a consultant was hired to conduct a gender analysis of political party manifestoes, women's political empowerment, participation and representation in decision making processes highlighting the achievements, opportunities and challenges in The Gambia.
Forster said that although there has been major achievements in term of women's participation and representation in national development in The Gambia, however, there is room for improvement. She noted that the project represents the need for promoting gender quality and equity into national governance, as well as the desire of women to hold the rightful position in politicalshare in order to address the issues that are affecting them and help theirvoices heard.
"Currently as we all know in National Assembly of The Gambia consisting of 53 members, only 7.55% are women -three elected and one appointed with the other 92% equally to 49 men. It is obvious that the 49 men at the house will have their own agenda and will also want their voices to be heard, while the agenda and political matters of women are clearly under-represented and are not given the due attention they deserve," she remarked.
The ACDHRS executive director averred that gender equality and women empowerment are high on the national agenda of The Gambia with adoption of legislation such as the Gender and Women Empowerment Policy, and Women Act of 2010, among others, while commending the government of The Gambia for including and ensuring that gender equality remains the matter of high importance in the national legislation.
She stated that with the implementation of the report, they hope that women being given equal opportunity to participate in decision making will become a reality, stressing that democracy is about fair representation of all interest groups in the society.
She pointed out that the low representation of women is indeed a violation of their right to participate and to have a say in their own development. "Participation of women is essential to sustaining democracy and their absence can cause negative impact on the government. If women are empowered they can play their role to their best and there is a need for a holistic approach," she added.
She also stressed the need to address the high illiteracy rate among women, and empower them, to enable them take their rightful position in national issues. She finally thanked all the participants for attending the validation forum.
For his part, Malick Jeng of the US Embassy on behalf of Ambassador Pamela Ann White thanked ACDHRS and partners for holding the validation forum.He assured them that Ambassador White is committed to gender parity, adding that The Gambia has made significant progress in girls' education.
In her official opening statement, Ndey Njie, the former National Assembly member for Lower Saloum described the forum as very important and timely, and expressed hope that the outcome will be very rich. While admitting that progress has been made, she said there is still room for improvement when it comes to women participation and representation in decision making in The Gambia.
According to her, the constitution has stipulated it very clearly that every citizen of the full age has the right to participate in politics including women. She also pointed out that the Women Act 2010 clearly spelt it out that women have the right to participate in decision making.
According to the report findings presented by John Charles Njie, participation in Local Government Authority elections out of the 28 female candidates who stood for the election in 2007, 15 (57%) of them were elected. The increased participation of women in the LGAs notwithstanding this represents only 13.44% female representation as compared to 86.55% of males.
The report also indicated that the major factor for women non-participation is the non-selection of female candidates by the political parties, and also party political manifestoes are more outward than inward looking and describe actions that have been taken or will be taken to push the women's agenda forward.
The report therefore recommends that girls go to school and stay in school to acquire the required qualifications, develop and maintain database of viable potential female leaders and build their capacity through mentoring and training, and reviewing party political manifestoes and the internal organisation of political parties so that there are measurable and concrete indicators for increasing women's participation in the decision-making processes at the party level and in the electoral processes at all level.