The vice president and Women's Affairs minister has stressed that Africa must invest heavily in education and training of young people especially in the areas of science, technology and research and innovation if the attainment of its development goals are anything to go by. She argued that these areas remain critical to drive Africa's modernisation and development in all aspects.
Her Excellency Aja Dr. Isatou Njie-Saidy was speaking Thursday at a local hotel in Kololi where she presided over the official opening of a two-day high-level women conference on behalf of First Lady Zineb Yahya Jammeh.
The event on the theme "Pan Africanism and African Renaissance in the context of gender and empowerment of women and youth" is being organised by The Gambia government through the Office of the Vice President and Ministry of Women's Affairs. Under the patronage of First Lady Zineb Jammeh, the event is part of Gambia's celebration of 2014 International Women's Day slated to take place in Brikama tomorrow. Drawing the attention of the conference participants to Africa's potentials and challenges, the veep said: "We must all act with greater speed and a sense of urgency with the equal participation of women to create free trade areas geared towards an African common market, create the five regions as building blocks of the African Union and facilitate the free movement of people and goods."
As a catalyst of change, the VP further stressed that Africans must however eliminate all obstacles to development and progress by uniting as a formidable force in promoting trade and investment within the continent. But she was quick to caution that this could only be possible if people refrain from wars, neocolonialism, terrorism, drugs and other vices that are inimical to the development of Africa and her citizenry. The veep called on Gambians and Africans in general to stand up and put the continent's development back on its socio-cultural, socio-economic and glorious gender perspectives - the equal participation of men and women. She warned that gender inequality is not only inimical to personal development and wellbeing, but also undermines national development. "Reducing or eliminating inequalities in society is critical to improving the socio-economic wellbeing of men, women and girls," she told the high-level conference. She argued further that it is high time that Africans reassess themselves and chart the way forward to regain their dignity and pride through self-reliance, which they have always had in the glorious past.
With respect to Africa regaining her dignity, the VP said the people of The Gambia uphold the principles and vision of their leader (President Jammeh), referring to his Vision 2016 agenda to divorce Gambia from the decades long dependency on imported food. "This initiative has the potential to reduce our dependence on foreign goods especially food items and conserve the much needed foreign exchange among others," she noted.
In the promotion and protection of the rights of women and girls, the VP informed that the government of The Gambia continues to ratify, domesticate and implement international instruments including the AU protocol, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) as well as the AU Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa and the Beijing +20. "In addition, legislative measures are also in place that protects the rights of women and girls which include the Women's Act 2010, the Sexual and Domestic Violence Act 2013 as well as the Children's Act 2005 and Trafficking in Person Act 2007," she indicated.
She described the theme of this year's celebrations as apt taking into consideration the fact that gender and the empowerment of women and youth is faultlessly an important prerequisite for socio-economic development and prosperity for all. "In the same vein, a focus on Pan Africanism and African renaissance gives us an opportunity to reflect on Africa's self-reliance trajectory and the need to demystify and popularise our history and our shared values," she said.
The veep asserted that the government of The Gambia, under President Jammeh (whom she described as a renowned Pan Africanist) has recognised the potential of all including women, boys and girls and has since accorded high priority to gender equality and the empowerment of women.
She used the opportunity to disclose that based on the results of The Gambia Demographic and Health Survey, significant gains were made in reducing the maternal mortality rate nearly to 50% from 730 per 100, 000 to 434 per 100, 000 live births in 2013. "The infant mortality dropped from 92 per 1000 to 34 per 1000 in the last two decades. In the basic and secondary education, gender parity had been attained and in some schools female enrolment surpassed that of boys," she added.
VP Njie-Saidy concluded by thanking President Jammeh, the Women's Affairs Ministry and all those who contributed to the success of the auspicious event. The deputy speaker of the National Assembly, Hon. Fatou Mbaye, also the chairperson of the National Women's Council (NWC), described the theme of both the conference and the IWD celebrations as apt and relevant to the drive towards the advancement of women. "African heads of state and government and all patriotic Africans are more than energised to consolidate on gains registered in all spheres of economic, political and social development to reposition Africa to be united, integrated, prosperous and developed," she said.
The executive director of the Women's Bureau, Binta Jammeh-Sidibeh, said as Pan Africanism is debated 50 years after the OAU was formed, Africans have to equally ask themselves some tough questions about their dream for the next 50 years and the Pan Africanist values that continue to inspire them. Gambian women, she said, had never been in stronger positions until the Second Republic came, which changed the country's political landscape. The president of the National Women Federation (NWF) and the United Nations resident coordinator, Fatoumatta Jah-Mbenga and Ade Mamonyane Lekoetje both commended the government of The Gambia for empowering women.