By Omar Bah
A Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2021 which seeks to reserve 16 National Assembly seats for women, has been validated by the Civil Society Gender Platform and other stakeholders on Saturday.
The validation workshop held at the Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara International Conference Center and funded by IRI and UNFPA was witnessed by numerous elected women and male leaders and CSOs.
The perceived progressive bill has clauses that seek to increase the composition of the National Assembly to cater for reserved seats for women and persons living with disabilities, and also seeks to impose an obligation on all political parties to promote gender equality in the selection of candidates to contest parliamentary election.
It seeks for 16 women representatives at the parliament representing at least 22% of the Gambia’s parliament and also increases the total number of lawmakers from 58 to 71. The bill also seeks to reduce members nominated by the president to only two.
It seeks to provide for 53 elected NAMs unchanged from the current legislation; 14 seats reserved for women; 2 elected from each administrative area; 2 elected members by the disability society with one of those elected being a woman.
The ultimate aim of the bill is to ensure, as a minimum, women would have thirty percent representation, as a starting point, which would, hopefully, progressively increase to equal representation at the level of the parliament.
Women constitute only 17.39% of the country’s cabinet, with 4 women out of 23 cabinet positions while 6 women out of 58% are currently at the National Assembly.
The six Gambian women in parliament include three elected members; Fatoumata Jawara of Talingding; Fatoumatta [Touma] Njai of Banjul South, Kaddy Camara of Foni Bondali, and the Speaker Mariam Jack-Denton, Ndey Yassin Secka from the Disability Society, and Ya-Kumba Jaiteh, all nominated members.
But the woman who knows the bill all well as the consultant, Janet Sallah Njie, blamed the low representation of women in key positions on cultural biases that favour men.
She urged delegates who attended the validation process to ensure its eventual introduction into the National Assembly on “a non-partisan basis”.
“I solicit the support of all well-meaning persons, interested in the best interest of women to back the bill,” she said.
She acknowledged the fact that the vice president, the Speaker of the National Assembly, and two Supreme Court Judges are women.
The NAM for Banjul South, Fatoumatta [Touma] Njie said the idea of introducing the bill started with a conversation in December between her and IRI.
She expressed hope that the bill will be implemented by next April’s National Assembly elections.
“That can be possible with determination and support of you ladies and gentlemen but more so my colleague National Assembly members,” she said.
A representative from the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, Lala Jaiteh said the two-page bill set to be tabled at the National Assembly will have the maximum support of her ministry.
According to statistics 46% of Gambian women get married before 18 years, 8.6% before 16 while 42.4% are victims of FGM.
Ms. Jaiteh said, “some of the greatest challenges to the attainment of fundamental rights and freedom of women are deeply rooted in the foundation of tradition”.
“If women are not taken care of, development will be slow. I have no doubt that this bill will be voted yes to enable women’s proportionate representation in the National Assembly and political party institutions. The ministry of women renews its commitment to fight against injustice and empower women and girls,” she said.