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Monday, June 24, 2024
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Leading ladies

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With Aisha Jallow

This is a cut from a report made by UN Women, and it gives you a background to this essay.

”From the local to the global level, women’s leadership and political participation are restricted. Women are underrepresented as voters, as well as in leading positions, whether in elected office, the civil service, the private sector or academia. This occurs despite their proven abilities as leaders and agents of change, and their right to participate equally in democratic governance.

Women face several obstacles to participating in political life. Structural barriers through discriminatory laws and institutions still limit women’s options to run for office. Capacity gaps mean women are less likely than men to have the education, contacts and resources needed to become effective leaders.

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Women in every part of the world continue to be largely marginalized from the political sphere, often as a result of discriminatory laws, practices, attitudes and gender stereotypes, low levels of education, lack of access to health care and the disproportionate effect of poverty on women.

Individual women have overcome these obstacles with great acclaim, and often to the benefit of society at large. But for women as a whole, the playing field needs to be level, opening opportunities for all.”

Tomorrow, there will be elections and the tension is high for the presumtive seat-warmers in the National Assembly. Why are so few of them female? Gambian women wanted to push through a bill saying that at least 30% of the candidates should be female. The bill failed, but this time 19% of the candidates are women, and that is great, of course. 19% is a beginning, but it is not enough, so I want to look at the issue from different angles. I wish to begin with the failed bill and ask why it failed. Have we got an honest reason, or have we heard a lot of mumbo-jumbo pretending to sound like a reason? I tend to lean on the latter, because nowadays even the most backward-looking men are a bit careful to air their opinions in open.

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I have heard of a sexist joke that asks:

”Why do women have smaller feet than men? Because it is easier for the women to stand by the stove and cook.”

Haha, funny (or not) but still we have too many men who believe the right place for a woman is at home and nowhere else.

This is the old-fashioned way of thinking, but times have changed and all we can do is to accept that fact and do the best of it. Studies made, around the world, show that female students tend to take their studies more seriously than male, and that begins in the early ages. This is very clear at the school where I am teaching, and I know that my collegues here in Sweden and elsewhere share the same view. Boys mature slower than girls, so their focus is on the play and chatting with the mates.

In a patriarchal society, boys are taught that they have a more important position than girls. Boys are supposed to be the leaders and the providers. They get away with silliness because ”boys are boys”, but the same rules don’t apply on the girls. We never hear anyone say ”girls are girls”, smile a little and think that they will grow out of their silly actions sooner or later. In an equal society, the same rules apply for both boys and girls, both genders should be allowed to both be silly and play without one being judged. As long as we don’t have the same expectations on both genders, we allow one of them believe that they rule the world just because they are equipped differently than the others.

Giving so much freedom to someone, and restraining the other is affecting both genders negatively. The males are taught that their opinions always count, no matter how silly they are, and the females are taught to not raise either their voices or opinions. Is it a coincidence that we are created differently? Did our Creator not think this through properly and then it was too late to do anything about it? Behind the Creation lays a great wisdom, and I wish that we could at least use a tiny bit of the same kind of wisdom so our world would become a better place. The old African proverb  “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family (nation)” was a pioneer in its time for realizing the importance of women’s education when men predominated education opportunities.

Unfortunately these opportunities are still not available for all girls in The Gambia. Too many girls are forced to leave school and the reasons are many. Poverty is one main reason and this leads to increased poverty so the wheel will never stop spinning until we force it to. The force must come from our politicians, who are able to lead the way, but as long as there is not enough political will to change the conditions for so many girls and women, it is a struggle that will be long. Is there a fear that the women are smarter and better equipped to be leaders than many of our men? I believe there is, because men of all times have tried their level best to suppress women with various methods. Unfortunately there are also women who voice the same opinions as backward-looking men. Why? Some don’t understand the longterm consequences for other women, and others perhaps envy those who are smart and ambitious.

Most mothers wish the best for their daughters, and they wish them to have better chances in life than the mothers had. Others try to hold their daughters back and tell them that they must accept their role as females. Too many girls in The Gambia are forced to get married far too young because their parents can’t afford to clothe and feed them. The wheel of poverty turns on and on as long as we allow that. Still not all parents in The Gambia understand the value and the necessity of a proper education. To change this, the government must signal to all citizens how high they value the Gambian teachers, that all schools will be well and equally equipped and that going to school must be mandatory to benefit the country and allow the children to grow up to adults who contribute to their country.

As long as we expect our females to accept their traditional role, it is hard to get a change. Young females, who are fertile, struggle with being torn between their home, their children and their job. There are no kindergartens with educated staff who can tend to the children from the age of one and up to pre—school. Women who wish to work outside the home must have understanding and willing family members who take care of the children instead. A female politician must also be able to cope with constant questioning and online bullying. It seems as there are higher demands on female leaders, than on male, and unfortunately that is making many highly qualified women to avoid a political career.

It is not enough to wish that more women should be given the chance to become politicians, or any other kind of leaders, we must give them the correct prerequisites to become leading ladies.

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