Mr. President, the position and role of women in any national development crusade cannot be disregarded. This is indeed premised on the shared responsibility both men and women have regarding their complementary contributions to the general welfare and development of society.
It must be borne in mind that, our collective or common desire to live in a better society, will be an illusion without the contributions of all and sundry. It is for this fact that, we cannot under any circumstance give a blind eye to what women have to offer. According to Madeleine K. Albright , in a research on “Development without democracy is improbable: Democracy without women is impossible”, over the last few decades, women have made significant strides in girls’ education, maternal health and labor force participation – and in politics as well. In the past 20 years, women have doubled their global numbers in parliaments, from 11 to 22 percent. Seventeen percent of ministers globally are women; and in 2015 there were 18 women as heads of state or government; and women’s participation in politics is socially transformative. Research shows that women in politics raise issues that others overlook, pass bills that others oppose, invest in projects others dismiss and seek to end abuses that others ignore. The world through the UN and other international bodies equally recognize the crucial role of women in peace-building and conflict resolution.
Mr. President, history taught us that women were instrumental in contributing to the political and socio-economic advancement of our dear country. In the area of political participation, we salute the likes of Hannah Mahoney, who became the first woman civil servant as early as 1910 and also the first woman councilor for Bathurst Town Council in 1933. We equally salute Lady Hannah Jawara who was the first woman to contest in a parliamentary election for Soldier Town Ward in 1960. Still in the area of political participation, Hannah Foster, another prominent woman in the colonial era, was in fact one of the founders of the Gambia Democratic Party (GDP) led by Rev. John Colley Faye. Madam Foster was not only among the founders of the party but was also instrumental in financing the country’s first political party. In the People’s Progressive Party, prominent women like Aja Fatounding Jatta were equally instrumental in the financial upkeep of the Party. To effectively participate in the decision-makings of these political parties, women wings were created with some as representatives in the central committees. It is important to note that, these and other women were engaged in businesses especially in the Albert Market, which was considered a financial hub for the economic empowerment and emancipation of Gambian women at the time. This is a clear indication that, women have been key players in providing technical, financial and moral supports to the political parties that eventually fought for the country’s independence.
In pursuant of their desire to partake in law-making Mr. President, late Nyimasata Sanneh Bojang became the first woman to win a seat in parliament for Kombo North constituency in 1982 up to 1992. Prior to this, in 1972, Ya Fatou Sonko equally contested the parliamentary seat in Kombo East. Efforts to extend franchise to women was speed up by the PPP government, and in its desire to empower and involve women in law-making, the government in 1968 made a constitutional amendment which gave the president the power to nominate four members which included a woman by the name Lucretia Joof. We cannot also forget the influential role of Mrs Amie Sillah Sarr in the People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism, formed in 1986 as an opposition political party to challenge the then ruling PPP.
It must also be noted that, women continued to contribute their quota up to the change of government which brought you to power. Two women have served as speakers of the National Assembly; others held different ministerial positions while some found in the security services and other government sectors, significantly playing their quota to national development.
Mr. President, it is factual and indeed incontrovertible that women have been in the fore-front in creating the ‘New Gambia’. They were among the foot soldiers who significantly contributed to the first democratic change of government ever witnessed and recorded in the archives of Gambian politics. From the nomination of candidates to the campaign period and of course the historic December 1 D-DAY, they remain resolute in ensuring a credible free, fair, transparent, peaceful and democratic election. 2016 has been the year of change which The Gambia was not an exception. This was the year when the country had its first woman to boldly show interest in running for the highest office of the land. Of course, we cannot overlook the efforts of Fatoumatta Jallow-Tambajang, Aji Yam Secka etc in ensuring that for the first time, a coalition of seven political parties came together to democratically oust a dictatorship and restore hope and sanity in the Gambia.
Mr. President, the recently concluded National Assembly election witnessed the participation of 18 women candidate that contested, but only three were elected. This is indeed not the type of Gambia we envisage. This would certainly be one of the poorest records in terms of women participation in law-making. In accordance with section 88(1)(b), you shall nominate five members to be added to the 53 elected members. In exercising this power Mr. President, I call on you to nominate five women to fill the nominated positions. Among these nominated members should include one who will represent persons living with disabilities that have undoubtedly been marginalized in society. Among the five as well, one or two should represent the youths as 60% of our population are said to be within this demographic structure. The rest would include the Speaker and Deputy Speaker who shall be elected by parliamentarians in accordance with section 93(1). These five women added to the three, will at least help in closing the gender gap and ensuring the effective participation of women in decision-making and the processes of governance as a whole.
Mr. President, please nominate five women in parliament!
Yours in the service of the nation
A sovereign and a concern Gambian citizen