A one-day consultative forum on social protection in The Gambia opened Tuesday at the Laico Atlantic Hotel in Banjul. The forum is jointly organised by The Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Presided over by the minister of Trade, Industry, Regional Integration and Employment, Kebba Touray, the forum brought together both local and international participants to discuss social protection issues and to chart the way forward.
The main goal of the forum is to provide a platform for policymakers, researchers, national and international development partners and civil society to exchange ideas, knowledge, experiences and views on social protection system in The Gambia and worldwide. It also aims at exploring future directions for designing and implementing inclusive and integrated social protection systems in The Gambia.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Minister Touray said that the statistics of The Gambia indicates that poverty headcounts reduced from 58% to 48% of the population over the past decade adding that this represents more than 815,000 people. He noted that this high figure is partly due to the inter-generational transfer of poverty and the livelihood shocks that people suffered over prolonged periods of time. He stated that the majority of these are women in female-headed households, widows, orphans, destitute children, internally displaced people, the unemployed, persons with disabilities and the elderly.
According to him, in order to tackle this problem, the government under the dynamic leadership of President Jammeh has been implementing the Poverty Reduction Strategies and is now realising the Programme for Accelerated Growth and Employment (PAGE) with a long-term objective of reducing poverty by 15% point by 2015 and also improving the wellbeing of Gambians through Pro-Poor growth and generation of Significant employment. He said this commitment is driven by the government's long-term strategy of Vision 2020, which is being executed through a series of mid-term development plans.
The Trade minister told the gathering that since November 2010, the government of The Gambia in collaboration with its social partners, namely, employers and workers organisations have been working to establish the Gambia Decent Work Country Programme (DWCP) to promote opportunities for decent work for women and men in the country. He added that the process was facilitated by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) through its country office in Nigeria.
Minister also remarked that employment and social protection are two critical avenues towards achieving pro-poor growth and the MDGS, while productive employment and decent work are the main routes out of poverty.
Aisha Djwara, the UNICEF representative in The Gambia, on behalf of the UN Resident coordinator in The Gambia, said social protection is not new, but what is new is the drive to develop a comprehensive framework and strategy for the targeting and implementation of social protection support interventions.
She said although much has been achieved by the government and developing partners in responding to disasters, the increasing scale of their occurrences presents a risk that is better managed by working together more and building the capacity of individuals and groups on disaster preparedness, responses, mitigation, recovery and resilience. She applauded the Gambia government for recognising social protection issues and for repeatedly spelling them out in successive medium-term plans.