A Conversation on the Political Empowerment of Women in The Gambia
01 August 2022
The Gambia is taking giant strides in its transition from an authoritarian regime towards a system of governance characterised by peaceful and credible elections, a vibrant media landscape, meaningful separation of powers, accountability for crimes of the past, and a commitment to national reconciliation and healing. But there is one area where The Gambia is standing still or even regressing — the proportion of women occupying elected office in the country.
Office of the Resident Coordinator SUMMARY REPORT1 A Conversation on the Political Empowerment of Women in The Gambia 28 June 2022 Tamala Hotel 1. Context The Gambia is taking giant strides in its transition from an authoritarian regime towards a system of governance characterised by peaceful and credible elections, a vibrant media landscape, meaningful separation of powers, accountability for crimes of the past, and a commitment to national reconciliation and healing. But there is one area where The Gambia is standing still or even regressing — the proportion of women occupying elected office in the country.
Women make up more than half of The Gambia’s population and a full 57 percent of its registered electorate. And yet, in the April 2022 legislative elections, only 8 percent of candidates were women. Only 3 of the 19 women who stood were elected and only one of those represented a political party, the other 2 being independent candidates. This is the same number of women who were elected in the legislative elections of 2017, indicating a certain stagnation when it comes to women’s political empowerment in the country. The problem exists not only at the level of the National Assembly but at all echelons of elected office in The Gambia. In fact, the farther down one looks in the political hierarchy, the smaller is the proportion of women who hold office. Only 3 of the 22 Ministers (13.6 percent) in the current Cabinet are women, down from 21 precent in the previous Cabinet. Only 5 women sit in the current 58-seat National Assembly (8.6 percent), down from 10.3 percent in the previous National Assembly. And only 7 percent of Local Counsellors in The Gambia are women, a figure that many are hoping will increase after the May 2023 local elections.
The trajectory of The Gambia’s long-term political and socio-economic development and its ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 will be impacted by the extent to which the entire population is empowered to contribute its ideas and 1 Report compiled by Patrick Mc Carthy, UN Peace & Development Advisor (firstname.lastname@example.org). A Conversation on the Political Empowerment of Women in The Gambia 2 talents to this end. Women have a full and equal role to play in this regard, as underlined by SDG 5 on gender equality, which includes a specific target to “ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decisionmaking in political, economic and public life” (SDG 5, Target 5.5). It was in this context that the Minister of Gender, Children & Social Welfare, Hon. Fatou Kinteh, and the UN Resident Coordinator in The Gambia, Mrs. Seraphine Wakana, led a high-level conversation on the political empowerment of women in The Gambia on 28 June 2022 at Tamala Hotel.
The conversation, which was moderated by Mr. Peter Gomez, the Managing Director of West Coast Radio, comprised three panels addressing the following questions: • What existing policies, strategies and best practices at national and regional levels are fostering women’s leadership & political empowerment? What are the remaining policy gaps and how can we address them? • What are the main impediments preventing women from being elected to political office in The Gambia? • What could be done to increase the number of women holding political office in the country at national and local levels? 2. What existing policies, strategies and best practices at national and regional levels are fostering women’s leadership & political empowerment? What are the remaining policy gaps and how can we address them?
This panel discussion began with presentations by the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Welfare, Hon. Fatou Kinteh, and the ECOWAS Political Advisor in The Gambia, Mr. Claude Condor. At the national level, Minister Kinteh outlined a raft of policies, strategies and laws aimed at promoting not only the political empowerment of women but also their economic and social empowerment. These include the Ministry’s Strategic and Investment Plan (2021- 2025), the government’s Gender and Women Empowerment Policy (2021-2030), the National Strategy and Policy on FGM/C (2021-2030), the National Action Plan on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women Peace and Security (2021-2025), and the Women Enterprise Fund Act (2020). The Minister stressed, however, that while such policies, strategies and laws were testament to the government’s commitment to promoting the role of women in the A Conversation on the Political Empowerment of Women in The Gambia 3 economy, society and politics, there was still a large gap between what has been committed to on paper and what happens in practice.
The Minister called for redoubled and sustained efforts by government and civil society, with support from the international community, to ensure the timely implementation of existing policies to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. Mr. Condor of ECOWAS noted that gender inequality remains a major barrier to human capital development and economic growth in West Africa and that addressing it would contribute to surmounting barriers to sustainable peace, security, stability and development in the ECOWAS region. He said it was time to move “from rhetoric to reality” in uncovering and redressing the entrenched systemic and systematic discrimination and marginalization of women in democratic governance processes and decision-making in the region. Since its formation in 1975, ECOWAS has made considerable efforts in promoting women’s participation in governance and decision-making processes both at the national and regional levels and has developed legal frameworks that recognise the significance of the role of women in governance, electoral processes, conflict prevention and resolution, and peacebuilding.
These frameworks include: • The ECOWAS Revised Treaty (1993), Article 4(g) on the recognition, promotion and protection of human and peoples' rights in accordance with the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. • The ECOWAS Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance (2001), Section VIII on Women, Children and Youth, especially Article 40, which recognises that “the development and promotion of the welfare of women are essential factors for development, progress, and peace in the society” and undertakes “to eliminate all forms of discrimination and harmful and degrading practices against women.” • The ECOWAS Gender Development Centre, which is a multi-purpose regional agency promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment in the ECOWAS region. It works with Member States towards the effective implementation of the ECOWAS Gender Policy with the aim of “transforming West Africa into a fair and safe community in which men and women have equal opportunities to participate, decide, control and take advantage of all development initiatives.” • The ECOWAS Conflict Prevention Framework (2008), one of whose 14 components focuses on “Women, Peace and Security,” aims at facilitating implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325; relevant provisions of the 1993 ECOWAS Revised Treaty, in particular Article 63; and the provisions dedicated to Women and A Conversation on the Political Empowerment of Women in The Gambia 4 Youths in Articles 40, 42 and 43 of the ECOWAS Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance. •
The ECOWAS Gender and Elections Strategic Framework (2015), which is designed to enhance women’s political participation and representation in line with the Protocol Relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security (1999), the Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance, and other relevant international conventions and treaties. • The ECOWAS Parliament Supplementary Act on Equality of Rights between Women and Men for Sustainable Development in the ECOWAS Region (2015), which is a legal instrument that commits all ECOWAS Member states to promote gender equality and equity in all sectors through appropriate policy and legislative formulation and reviews, as well as strategy alignment. • The ECOWAS Department of Political Affairs, Peace and Security (PAPS) Guidelines on Women, Peace and Security (2020), which provides guidance on the empowerment of women to control over their own livesthrough awarenessraising, building self-confidence, expansion of choices, and increased access to and control over resources, as well as actions to transform the structures and institutions that reinforce and perpetuate gender discrimination and inequality.
• The ECOWAS Parliament Regional Strategy to End all Forms of Suppression Against Women (2021), which recommends, inter alia, that the ECOWAS Parliament should (1) develop a regional affirmative action bill or a regional common approach on gender parity that is fair and balanced and (2) ensure that there is at least one woman from every Member State in the Bureau of its Standing Committees in order to ensure that women take part in decision-making processes. • The ECOWAS Vision 2050, which has the inclusion and empowerment of women and youth at its core. During the discussion that followed the presentations by Minister Kinteh and Mr. Condor, many participants underlined that the policies, strategies and best practices that exist at national and regional levels should be largely sufficient to make significant progress on women’s political empowerment in The Gambia but that a lot more needed to be done to move from equality on paper to equality in practice. The former Vice President of The Gambia, Hon. Isatou Touray, went as far as to say that, with the raft of national and regional policies and strategies that the country has developed or signed up to, The Gambia had achieved “formal gender equality” but that the situation on the ground looked a lot different.
The conversation then naturally turned A Conversation on the Political Empowerment of Women in The Gambia 5 to why this was the case and what was stopping women in the Gambia from taking full advantage of the national and regional policies and strategies that aim to empower them to become more active in political life. 3. What are the main impediments preventing women from being elected to political office in The Gambia? This panel discussion began with opening reflections from two of the five women currently serving in the National Assembly — Hon. Fatou Cham and Hon. Amie Colley — and one woman who served in the Previous National Assembly, Hon. Ndey Yassin Secka, all of whom outlined the challenges they faced, and continue to face, as female politicians in The Gambia. During this panel discussion, the following main impediments were identified:
• Existing gender roles disadvantage women: Participants stressed the importance of re-examining and re-shaping the gender roles that Gambians themselves have created that impede women from presenting themselves for political office and that this process must begin in the home and in school. From a very early age, girls are told that boys are leaders, and this narrative and belief system continues into adulthood. Institutions and communities also reinforce this message. Participants stressed that it is time to change these narratives and to encourage girls to become leaders in order to dislodge these gender stereotypes.
• Women are more engaged in politics that men, but mainly in supporting roles: Participants pointed out that women represent a full 57 percent of the registered electorate in The Gambia and so are more engaged in politics than men. But they play mostly supporting roles, e.g., as voters and party organisers and mobilisers. Often, when a woman and a man want to run for the same political party, the woman is asked to step aside to make room for the man. Many participants pointed out that this needs to change since women are now ready, willing and able to take on more leadership roles.
• There is no quota system enshrined in law: Participants pointed to the results achieved in other countries in West Africa and farther afield that had introduced laws requiring a minimum proportion of women to be represented in elected offices and lamented the fact that such laws did not yet exist in The Gambia, despite their inclusion in the draft Constitution and despite recent attempts to pass a Gender Bill in the National Assembly. One participant pointed out that is such a quota system were enshrined in Gambian law, a political party that A Conversation on the Political Empowerment of Women in The Gambia 6 presented too few female candidates would be rejected and the lesson would be learned that the time for excluding women has passed.
• Fear prevents women from running for office: Fear prevents women from running for elected office in The Gambia — fear of acceptance by their husbands, their husbands’ family, and their own family, all of whom must be asked permission before running for office. Women also fear the opposition they will face from men and women in their communities with traditional views about gender roles, as well as men and women within their own parties who do not wish them to succeed if it means they themselves cannot. The opposition faced by women running for office takes many forms, but two widely cited examples are character assassination and cyber bullying, often of a sexual nature. Faced with such virulent opposition that can have a serious negative affect on their personal lives and self-esteem, many women — including those who are well qualified and equipped to represent their communities — choose not to run for or accept public office.
• Elections are expensive: The high cost of running for public office in The Gambia deters women from presenting themselves as candidates.2 Political parties in The Gambia do not receive any support from the State. Candidates running for election also receive relatively little financial support from their respective parties and are expected to finance much of their campaigns using their own funds or financial support from family and friends. Independent candidates have no party structures at all to fall back on. The absence of campaign financing laws, coupled with the prevalence of vote-buying (direct and indirect), means that candidates must spend large amounts of their own money to have any chance of being elected. Since women in The Gambia tend to be relatively financially disadvantaged compared to men, most female aspiring candidates are not able to raise the capital required to run a successful campaign. Participants pointed out that the economic empowerment of women is key to their political empowerment.
• The right women are not always chosen to run: The few women who political parties do choose to run for office are often not the most active women in their communities, which decreases their chances of being elected. Participants stressed the importance of empowering the most active women in their communities to present themselves as candidates in order to increase the proportion of female candidates who are elected. Asking women to vote for women just because they are women is not the solution. Women, like men, will 2 The Cost of Parliamentary Politics in The Gambia. Westminster Foundation for Democracy. October 2020 - www.wfd.org/sites/default/files/2022-01/Cost-of-Parliamentary-Politics-… A Conversation on the Political Empowerment of Women in The Gambia 7 vote for the person they think will best represent them and their community. The solution is empowering women to do just that.
• There are not enough role models: While The Gambia does have a small number of exceptional female politician role models — including the former Vice President, current and former female members of Cabinet and the National Assembly, and female Mayors Local Counsellors — their relative scarcity limits the inspiration that young women receive to consider following in their footsteps. Nevertheless, participants stressed that the mentorship role that established female politicians play towards such aspiring young women is incredibly important in encouraging and equipping young women to run for public office. 4. What could be done to increase the number of women holding political office in the country at national and local levels? This panel discussion began with opening statements by the Co-Chair of the Inter-Party Committee (IPC), Hon. Halifa Sallah, the Co-Chair of the IPC Women’s Branch, Ms. Fatou Sallah Jobe, the Co-Chair of the IPC Youth Branch, Mr. Bakary Ceesay, and the President of the CSO Gender Platform, Ms. Tobaski Njie Sarr. The following recommendations emerged from the discussion. • Men and women must come together to change the landscape of women's participation in politics in The Gambia. More than 50 percent of the population cannot continue to be reflected by less than 14 percent of Cabinet, less than 9 percent of the National Assembly only 7 percent of Local Councillors.
• The Inter-Party Committee has a crucial role to play in encouraging change: The IPC is an invaluable platform for promoting constructive and cordial political dialogue between all 18 of The Gambia’s officially registered political parties, especially during electoral periods. It demonstrated its effectiveness in helping to ensure a peaceful and credible presidential election in December 2021, especially by addressing the issue of hate speech. It has also demonstrated its commitment to promoting women’s participation and leadership in politics by creating dedicated branches for women and youth. The IPC is also working on developing a Political Party Inclusion Policy that seeks to promote internal party reforms to ensure the strengthened representation of women, young people, and persons with disabilities.
• But real change can only come from the political parties themselves: The InterParty Committee can only go so far, however. Real positive change to women’s participation in politics in The Gambia will only come when political parties begin A Conversation on the Political Empowerment of Women in The Gambia 8 to change their behaviour, e.g., by appointing more women to senior leadership roles within the parties, by ensuring that the party committees that select candidates are gender balanced, by selecting more, qualified and viable, female candidates to run for election, and by putting the full support of the party behind each woman’s candidacy. 5. Proposed next steps The conversation drew to a close with the Minister for Gender, Children & Social Welfare and UN Resident Coordinator presenting ideas on next steps that could be taken to advance the political empowerment of women in The Gambia. The following actions suggest themselves based on the sum of the discussions that took place.
1. Conduct a national survey on the reasons for the low representation of women in political decision making and use the findings to develop and implement a comprehensive advocacy / sensitisation programme designed to increase female representation in politics at all levels.
2. Build the capacity of female members of the National Assembly and Area Councils (e.g., through training and study tours) in order to provide them with the skills they need to act as mentors to and role models for aspiring female politicians.
3. Since the empowerment of women should begin when they are girls, the primary and secondary school curricula and teacher training materials should be reviewed and updated to ensure that the message is clearly conveyed to children — both girls and boys — throughout their education that girls, just like boys, can be leaders too. This would help to counteract, in the medium- to long-term, interpretations of gender roles that undervalue women’s leadership potential.
4. Introduce a legal quota of women’s representation in elected office. Whether this is achieved through a new Constitution or a stand-alone Act of the National Assembly, such affirmative action would ensure that a certain percentage of women would be represented in public office and would increase the number of role models for young women and girls to emulate, thus creating a virtuous cycle.
5. Pending the introduction of a quota system, all political parties should formally adopt the inclusion policy developed by the Inter-Party Committee through which they commit themselves to a minimum level of participation by women, youth and persons with disabilities in senior party leadership roles and among the candidates they present for election. A Conversation on the Political Empowerment of Women in The Gambia 9
6. A strategy should be developed to detect and address character assassination, cyber bullying and other malicious speech directed against any candidate for elected office, be they female or male. The measures included in such a strategy should be applied equally to protect and provide redress to male and female injured parties. Further research should also be carried out to identify the full range of impediments that prevent women from running for elected office.
7. Pass a campaign financing law and stop vote buying. Both of these measures would help to regulate and reduce the cost of running for elected office in The Gambia and would contribute to levelling the playing field for male and female candidates for political office.
8. Encourage and empower female local community activists to consider running for office. In order to maximise the chances that women who run for office have a good chance of being elected, it is important to encourage the right women to run, i.e., those women who are already actively engaged and well known in their communities. Such women should be provided with mentorship and encouragement from established female politicians, as well as practical skills training on developing a political platform, public speaking, campaign financing, etc. Annexes 1.
List of participants 2. Programme Office of the Resident Coordinator PARTICIPANTS Conversation on Women’s Leadership and Political Empowerment 28 June 2022 Tamala Hotel ORGANISATION NAME FUNCTIONAL TITLE 1. Ministry of Gender, Children & Social Welfare 1. Hon. Ms. Fatou Kinteh Minister 2. Ms. Ndey Marie Njie Permanent Secretary 3. Ms. Mariyann G. Jabang Director, Directorate of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment 2. National Assembly 4. Hon. Ms. Fatou Cham National Assembly Member 5. Hon. Ms. Amie Colley National Assembly Member 6. Hon. Ms. Ndey Yassin Secka Former National Assembly Member 3. Inter-Party Committee (IPC) 7. Hon. Mr. Musa Amul Nyassi Co-Chair 8. Hon. Mr. Halifa A. Sallah Co-Chair 9. Mr. Ba S. Jabbi Acting Secretary 10. Ms. Faatu Sallah-Jobe Co-Chair, Women’s Branch 11. Ms. Fatou Jallow Co-Chair, Women’s Branch 12. Mr. Bakary Ceesay Co-Chair, Youth Branch 13. Mr. Yankuba Sanneh Co-Chair, Youth Branch 4. Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP) 14. Hon. Dr. (Ms.) Isatou Touray Executive Director (and former Vice President of The Gambia) 5. Gender Platform 15. Ms. Tobaski Njie Sarr President 6. West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) 16. Ms. Salama Njie National Coordinator 7. ECOWAS 17. Mr. Claude Kondor Political Advisor 8. Embassy of Nigeria 18. Ms. Temidayo Balogun Second Secretary 19. Mr. Oluwutosin Adebayo Second Secretary 9. Embassy of Senegal 20. H.E Mr. Bassirou Sene Ambassador 10. Embassy of Sierra Leone 21. H. E. Ms. Lucretia M. Shereef High Commissioner 11. Embassy of the USA 22. Ms. Susan Solomon Public Affairs Officer Conversation on Women’s Leadership and Political Empowerment ORGANISATION NAME FUNCTIONAL TITLE 12. UN Resident Coordinator’s Office 23. Ms. Seraphine Wakana UN Resident Coordinator 24. Mr. Patrick McCarthy Peace & Development Advisor 25. Mr. Abdoulie Badjie Communication & Advocacy Officer 26. Ms. Ndella Faye Colley Head of PBF Secretariat 27. Mr. Mamadou Salieu Bah M&E Officer, PBF Secretariat 13. UNDP 28. Ms. Aissata De Resident Representative 29. Mr. Thomas Kimaru Governance Officer 14. UNFPA 30. Ms. Joy Micheal Gender Specialist 31. Ms. Fatima Sonko PBF Programme Manager Office of the Resident Coordinator AGENDA Conversation on Women’s Leadership and Political Empowerment 28 June 2022 Tamala Hotel 08:00 Buffet Breakfast A buffet breakfast will be available in the Tamala breakfast room any time from 8am. Participants are requested to come early enough to have breakfast before the commencement of discussions promptly at 9am in the Kalimba Hall. 09:00 WELCOME REMARKS Ms. Seraphine Wakana, UN Resident Coordinator 09:10 ROUND OF INTRODUCTIONS 09:30 PANEL DISCUSSION 1 What existing policies, strategies and best practices at national and regional levels are fostering women’s leadership & political empowerment? What are the remaining policy gaps and how can we address them? Moderator: Mr. Peter Gomez Panellists: Ø Honorable Fatou Kinteh, Minister of Gender, Children & Social Welfare Ø Mr. Claude Condor, Political Advisor, ECOWAS 10:00 Open discussion 11:00 Refreshments 11:30 PANEL DISCUSSION 2 What are the main impediments preventing women from being elected to political office in The Gambia? Moderator: Mr. Peter Gomez Panellists: Ø Hon. Fatou Cham, National Assembly Member Ø Hon. Amie Colley, National Assembly Member Ø Hon. Ya Kumba Jaiteh, Former National Assembly Member 12:30 Open Discussion 13:00 Lunch 14:30 PANEL DISCUSSION 3 What could be done to increase the number of women holding political office in the country at national and local levels? Moderator: Mr. Peter Gomez Panellists: Ø Inter-Party Committee (IPC) Co-Chair Ø Women’s Branch of the IPC Co-Chair Ø Youth Branch of the IPC Co-Chair Ø The Gender Platform 15:15 Open discussion 16:00 Refreshments 16:30 PROPOSED NEXT STEPS AND CONCLUDING REMARKS Ø Ms. Seraphine Wakana, UN Resident Coordinator Ø Honorable Fatou Kinteh, Minister of Gender, Children & Social Welfare 17:00 Cocktail Reception and interaction with the media