Gambia: Religious Insensitivity & Gender Bias State Policies

19 April 2021

The Gambia has from time immemorial observed the months of Holy Ramadan and Lenten Seasons. Able citizens observed their religious duties unhindered and did so without requesting for special earthly rewards. Men doing hard manual tasks namely farming, digging, shoveling gravel and sand would not dodge their work activities but rather considered it extra penance to be rewarded by the Creator. Farmers and gardeners tilled the soil regardless the month of Ramadan. Employers and employees in urban areas amicably allowed for service to God and to man. The State did not interfere and did not impose nephrotic or discriminatory policies in favour of one religion against another. Reference is made here to The Constitution of The Gambia Chapter IVS. 33(1) (2) (3) (4)

'All persons shall be equal before the law'.

'Subject to the provisions of subsection (5), no law shall make any provision which is discriminatory either of itself of in its effect'.

'Subject to the provisions of subsection (5), no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner by any person acting by virtue of any law or in the performance of the functions of any public office or any public authority'

'In this section, the expression "discrimination" means affording different treatment to different persons attributable wholly or mainly to their respective descriptions by race, colour, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status whereby persons of one such description are subjected to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of another such description are not made subject, or are accorded privilege or advantages which are not accorded to persons of another such description.'.

On Tuesday 13th April 2021the Personnel Management Office under the authority of Permanent Secretary L F. Jarawa published a directive PMD153/02/Part V/ (88) 'Reduction of Official Working Hours for Female Staff in Honour of Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan' and this was copied to the Hon. Secretary General and Head of Civil Service. This document departs from historical Gambian practices, contradicted Chapter IV S.33 (2) and tends to drive a now familiar wedge between religions. Further, the document was ill thought of and poorly written in grammar that would irritate 'Shakespeare'. The document leaves a bitter taste to many who are asking 'Where is the government of 'All Gambians?' This is wrong and damaging; Christians who have just completed the Lenten Season were not given time off. The directive given by Mr. L F. Jawara is grossly out of place and betrays trust to sectors of its citizenry. Nowadays, signs of blatant partisanship are rampant and can be classified as a 'care-free attitude' 'ma teye' at the expense of a minority group in 'Our Gambia.'

Let us be mindful that The Gambia is Not an Islamic State: it is a country that comprises Muslims, Christians and people of no faith, who are rightfully Citizens and must not be intentionally sidelined. The patronizing and open discriminatory move by the Secretary General to order female Civil Servants to close at 2pm during the month of Ramadan is absolutely uncalled for. It is sheer bias and administrative blunder. The Christians observed Lent without any such directives; the female Christians were not given options in an official memo allowing them to go home and prepare meals to break their fast with. Why was it not deemed fitting to initiate this practice during the Lenten season? The Christians in this nation have never requested, nor are they requesting for special privileges; they fast and hope for divine blessings not a Secretary General's rewards of a 'Reduction of Official Working Hours for Female Staff'. Gambian Muslims have observed many Ramadans without the need for a Secretary General to come up with such a divisive and patronizing directive. It is clear that government has displayed a bias tainted by religious interference. Government must heed the warning not to 'sow the seeds of religious discord'

Further, this letter,PMD153/02/Part V/ (88), reinforces toxic stereotypes that a woman's role is to cook for their men. The Constitution of the Gambia Chapter IV, 28 (1) Rights of Women states thus: 'Women shall be accorded full and equal dignity of the person with men'.The Secretary General's directives could have been gender neutral and simply addressed to both genders. Women of the Gambia have progressed and should not be confined to the kitchen. Domestic work including cooking, washing and cleaning are the responsibilities of both men and women especially women that are the bread winners of many homes. Where are the Gender Activists Groups? And Women Institutions that strived so hard to bring recognition and raise the level of Gambia's women. It is apparent that little thought was made to the fact that many specialized professions are carried out by Gambian women namely: Nursing and Midwifery, Teaching and Secretarial duties. If all these professional women opt for the reduced working hours I wonder who would take charge of the maternity wards, classrooms and offices. Government should rather be seen playing a leading role to close the gender disparity. Please do not reinforce the toxic stereotypes the Gambia is trying to get rid of in contemporary times.

Government's thought for this early release is not commendable because of both its religious and gender insensitivity. It would have been more beneficial for Government to assess the working hours lost due to a combination of prayers, lunches, funerals, naming ceremonies and other social events. It is time to work. The Republic is under attack and all good citizens must defend the core values of this nation as enshrined in our national anthem. The forces of darkness must be defeated for a Peaceful Gambia to emerge.

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