Gambia: 'Women and Girls Continue to Be Victims of Gender-Based Violence'

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Hello and a warm welcome to another edition of the Women's Forum; a weekly column that creates the platform for women to tell their stories in relation to their daily struggle, achievements and other issues that help to advance their cause.

In this edition, I bring to the spotlight the issue of gender-based violence, which was a subject of deliberations at a recent press conference organised by Pro-Hope International, The Gambia (PHIN) at the Carita Hall in Kanifing. The media inter-face was meant to showcase the organisation's solidarity and passion in the fight and eradication of all forms of Gender Based Violence (GBV).

Bamidele Nweneka, a social scientist, founded Pro-Hope International with wide experience in community service, having worked for a number of international NGOs. Touched by the conditions of women in virtually all the places she had lived, she mobilised some of her friends, first in Nigeria and later in The Gambia, to explore ways of alleviating some of the myriads of problems bedeviling women.

One particular incident that left an indelible mark on her and sharpened her resolve to intervene on domestic and gender-based violence issues was an ugly incident that occurred in a small town in her native country. Nweneka was woken up one morning by the wailing of a woman who was being beaten by her husband for not going to the farm. The woman's husband locked the door and physically abused this woman. All entreaties by the neighbours for the man to open the door fell on deaf ears. The brutality only stopped after the woman fainted.

What was the woman's offence? She could not go to the farm the previous day because she was sick. When Mrs. Nweneka went to discuss the incident with her, the woman was quick to dismiss the incident as part of a woman's life, especially when she has to depend on her husband for everything. Mrs. Nweneka refused to accept the explanation of this victim of domestic abuse.

In 2005, after relocating to The Gambia with her family, Mrs. Nweneka discovered the same need that gave rise to Pro-Hope International in Nigeria. Every where she could see and feel the appalling state of women - harassed, poorly appreciated, and often the object of several religious and social restrictions, yet made to bear the society's greatest burdens. Domestic violence was as rampant as in many other parts of Africa.

The mission of the organisation is to promote gender sensitivity and sexual and reproductive health and rights of individuals and groups in The Gambia, enabling them to find fulfillment in life.

Matilda Johnson, the board chairperson of PHIN Gambia, said that despite all the good intentions of government in enacting laws against GBV and the efforts of developing partners in their interpretation and dissemination, women and girls continue to be victims of gender-based violence which has devastating effects on their health, productivity, self esteem and mental status.

Gambia's stand

Gambia has ratified regional and international legal instruments, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Additional Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and its two optional protocols, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC), ILO Conventions 182 and 138 and the Palermo Protocol, all of which guarantee the rights and dignity of women and girls.

According Madam Johnson, by ratifying these important legal instruments, The Gambia has placed itself under an obligation to domesticate these international instruments into local law.

In fulfilling these recommendations, Johnson added, The Gambia expedited the harmonisation of the CEDAW and enacted the Women's Act 2010, which provides for the protection of women and girls from all forms of Gender Based Violence in private or public spheres. In addition to clearly defining 'violence' and 'violence against women' in the laws of The Gambia and provisions relating to violence against women mainly found in the Criminal Code,

The Tourism Offences Act 2003, The Children's Act 2005, Trafficking in Persons Act 2007, the Criminal Code Cap 10 Vol. III Laws of The Gambia and the 1997 Constitution of The Gambia, which ensures equal rights for both men and women, all exist to protect women and girls from violence and abuse. Today's press conference, she said, is also another activity to showcase PHIN Gambia's commitment to the fight for the eradication of all forms of GBV.

Johnson noted that PHIN Gambia also recognises that all partners need to work together to address the contributing factors that sustain and nurture GBV in the society. In this sphere, PHIN Gambia has been fully involved across the length and breadth of the country raising public awareness, building capacities and informing the 'marginalised groups' that GBV should not be tolerated but reported. "We should all work together, hand in glove and adopt a holistic approach in the fight for the elimination of GBV and to create the enabling environment for peace in our homes to peace in the World," Johnson urged.

For her part, Isatou E. Gillen-Dibba, the technical advisor of PHIN, said the organisation is a representation of the direction the world is taking towards the elimination of all forms of Sexual and Gender Based Violenceagainst women and girls. "The wheel continues to spin as we now have the first draft Domestic Violence Bill, which will become another national tool in the fight against all forms of violence against women. PHIN would still continue to demonstrate its commitment, solidarity and passion towards the eradication of violence against women and girls," she disclosed.

Gillen-Dibba revealed that the way forward for PHIN is to have a database of the different forms of domestic violence occurring in their midst as well as develop culturally sensitive structures and mechanisms to effectively address issues of domestic violence. She thanked all their partners and stakeholders in this arduous journey in the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence in their society, to ensure a more equitable and sustainable national development.

For comments and questions send email to m2ngum@yahoo.com and remember to readthe column every Thursday!

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