This is the name of a movement and a Facebook group, but it is also a question I and many others are asking: Do Gambian women’s lives matter? A strange question to ask, you might think, but considering the high rate of maternal deaths in The Gambia the question is truly relevant. After the public demonstration a few weeks ago, where so many women, and also some men, marched to raise awareness of the vulnerable lives of the Gambian women, I joined the Facebook group to show my sympathy and to keep myself updated on the facts. It is a very strange thing that there needs to be a Facebook group that is showing the brutal truth of so many women’s fate. Nearly every day, a photo of a young and beautiful lady is posted with some information about her destiny. It saddens me deeply!
With this introduction, I wish to go to the root of the problem – men. In a patriachal society, the rules and norms are created to rule over females’ lives. The problem is that the focus is on the ruling, the controlling, and not so much about caring. Traditionally, females are there to serve and bear children. Females are dispensable, if one dies, there will always be another who can take her place. Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? The issue needs to be presented sharply to make you react and begin to ponder. As a female, this is how I see the problem when I find that not much is done to handle the problems women have in their lives.
Having a lot of children is still considered as a blessing, something of a prestige. Every child should be considered as a gift, but every pregnancy comes with a price. We need to consider how much we are prepared to sacrifice for having more children. Is there a plan behind how many children a woman wishes to have? Does she have a say in this matter? Does she have any protection against unwanted pregnancies? If so, can she afford them? If there is a clinic where women can get some extra care for their own issues – are the women well met there? Do they get the help they need?
As you can see; there are so many issues to stress, and I have only started the list. As long as we have a wide gap between men and women, it is hard to find the right means to help and lift female issues. Too many things are still considered as taboo and too embarrassing or even shameful to mention out loud. Not enough women have high education and work in areas where they can help and lift up the problems that needed to be solved. Men are normally not aware of the many problems women have, and especially because women don’t speak about them in the open. As long as we keep on walking this path of darkness, there will be no development in these areas.
The controlling system I mentioned begins with controling a female’s sexuality. FGM is against the law in The Gambia but we all know that it still exists, if hidden. The cutting of young girl’s genitals leads to lifelong suffering. It begins with the humiliation of someone forcing you to show your private part. The women who perform the cutting don’t have access to desinfected tools, many times the cutting is done with the same knife or razor blade that they use on all the girls. Diseases spread easily, infections heal slowly – if ever – and as these are placed in an area where it is warm and humid, it will take even longer for the wound to heal.
When the girl gets her menstruation, some of them die because the hole that was left is so small so the menstrual blood cannot leave the body. When the girl gets pregnant, and is about to deliver the baby, both she and the baby can die because the woman’s lower body can’t expand enough to give room for the baby to come out. Imagine the suffering, the fear, the pain and the sorrow afterwards! For what? For controlling something that should be a responsibility for both sexes, not only for girls. Banning premarital sex has never helped, just think back at your own youth.
Too many parents fear sex education in schools. They believe that this will only encourage the youths to become promiscuous. So many youths are promiscuous anyway, as they have been since the beginning of humanity, so why not teach them how to be safe and how to protect themselves from STIs (sexually transmitted infections)? Banning something, and making it taboo to speak about, only makes it more exciting and shameful at the same time. If a boy has been infected with an STI he hesitates to go to a doctor to get help. Perhaps he doesn’t understand how serious the infection is, and what it can cause both for him and his sexual partner, so he will keep on infecting others. These infections can for example lead to sterility for himself or his partner.
Educate your boys that they have just as much responsibility when it comes to sex as girls. We can’t allow the ”law of the jungle” to prevail, we need to educate the boys that girls are not their prey. The strange thing is, and has been since forever as it seems, that it seems to be okay that boys are sexually active, but girls must live in chastity until they get married. Why the double norms? Ok, I understand the aspect that if a girl gets pregnant, she needs to know who is the father of the child. How come that it is still so easy for a boy to slip away from his responsibility, and to blame the girl only? Why is no one shaming him? How come it is okay for boys to ”get some experience” on the sexual front before they get married? It is even expected of them. They use the girls as sex exercise tools.
It is obvious that banning, shaming and forbidding sexual activity is not working. We must find other tools in our struggle for equality. Equality is not only a matter of more women out in the work force, or more men changing diapers or wiping babies’ noses. Equality is also about allowing females the same rights as men to live a full life. What is a full life? A life where you have choices, where you can have an education for as long as you want without fearing to be married away to someone just because the father doesn’t want to pay for the girl’s education anymore. A full life is when a girl or woman doesn’t have to feel like a prey, when she feels secure and protected by men instead of considered as a sex object.
A full life is when a woman is pregnant, she doesn’t have to worry about not getting adequate care of her own health as well as her baby’s. The clinics and hospitals must have fully equipped maternity wards, and the aftercare should not be neglected. Pregnant women should never have to fear losing either their own lives or their babies when they are giving birth. We can’t keep on neglecting so many women dying every year because of complications during pregnancy or childbirth. Let us make an effort together to change the lives of our Gambian women. Let all the Gambian females, young and old, feel that they matter.