My Dearest Sister,
Few days ago the world celebrated with you International Women’s Day, a day set aside by the UN to celebrate you and all other women for your worthiness, endurance, strength, elastic capacity and capability and efforts in making this world a better place.
My dearest sister, I guess the Day is also a recognition of the giant strides women are making on the world stage, the little battles being won at the home front, the cracks in the glass ceiling, the intermittent foray into the male dominated higher echelon. Great oaks from little acorn grow.
My dearest sister, while we celebrate and recognise, myriad questions have been racing in my head. Is this forward march you and other woman are embarking on unencumbered, free from male chauvinism, sexism and patronage? Is the welfare, domestic, household efforts of women recognised as significant contributor to the GDP? Is child care work that you do recognised as “work” or employment? Are we reflecting enough, as a society and people, on the countless challenges women and young ladies like you are forced to confront in the homes and communities, the indescribable suffering of motherhood and your fight for dignity, respect, acceptance as equal in rights to men? Looking back, can we proudly say we have a more equitable society, one in which men and women have equal worth, in practice?
My dearest sister, for many years now The Gambia has been commemorating this Day. We celebrate and rejoice. We converge at one regional headquarters and make speeches, often in English language which a great number of the rural women do not understand. We spend a lot of money on the festivity, a razzmatass which mocks the poverty of the rural woman. In the morning after the event the rural woman trudges on in her poor condition, back to the monotonous, strenuous, back breaking 24 hour work plan she is scripted to play. What if that money is spent on a service which could be life changing? What if that fund is invested in projects which empower or strengthen the agency of women? What if that money is used as a revolving fund? May be, just may be……
My dearest sister, I think women’s issues aren’t events, to be celebrated annually with pomp and ceremony. We need to have a sobre reflection on this practice. For most of the women, everyday is a struggle for recognition, for rights, for survival, for respect. An existential battle for dignity, and, for most of the women in the rural areas, a battle to have labour saving devices, land they can call their own, active participation in decision making at all levels, storage facilities and markets for their produce and an empowered agency.
My dearest sister, while it is true that women hold half the sky of The Gambia, it is still a man’s country. Men head most of our elected, administrative, financial, economic and security institutions. At the chambers of decision making, men are over represented. At the gates of our traditions and culture stand men as sentries, armed to the teeth, daggers drawn and poised for battle.
Men remain the gatekeepers and custodians and in the main the interpreters of our religious scriptures. Patriarchy, culture which puts women at the lower rungs of the ladder, male chauvinism, sexism, quid pro quo sexual harassment, traditional beliefs which engender the degradation of the female and her subservience are still contending issues, ever pushing her down the totem pole. Once in a while few women will break through and out, will “liberate” themselves, will defy the odds, will be iconoclastic. The lampooning they get nonetheless.
My dearest sister, The Gambia has put in placr policies and legal instruments to supposedly advance the cause of women and girls. But in truth these are observed more in their non-implementation and non-enforcement, scarecrows which birds of prey have made their perch. Laws are necessary but not sufficient conditions. Political action, backed by resources and active commitment, is needed. Lip service and tokenism have done more disservice . Women need to be wary of the subtle “divide and rule” stratagem of men and the sonorous sound bites they produce to confuse the united front. Each woman should be the other’s prop and protector, united in purpose and vision, and singing from the same book.
My dearest sister, this country should know that its development cannot be any swifter than the progress of women, inextricably linked. So…… What national reflection have we been doing? How agitated are we about the conditions of our women, rural and urban? How embarassed are we to effect meaningful changes in the socio-economic and political conditions of our women? Are we really and truly perturbed and therefore galvanized to take action? Are we ready to stand up for women, to challenge stereotypes, misogyny, sexism, patronage, masculinity and domination?
My dearest sister, I don’t need to look into the crystal ball to predict the future for our women. The composition of our current National Assembly, the eventual make up of the Local Government Authorities and men’s ardent desire to control women’s sexuality speak volume. Both the war and the battle are just beginning. But whatever, you can count on me. And there are others too who will die to protect your honour and dignity.