Disability Rights in The GambiaIn The Gambia, 7.9% of the population (or just over 208,000 people) suffer from some kind of disability or condition that makes everyday life, work and interaction with society difficult. Health care systems in The Gambia have also taken a significant toll due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that specialist treatment for disabled Gambians has been harder to find


Reports have also shown that health insurance coverage in The Gambia is extremely rare, both for those who are disabled and those who aren’t. Those with disabilities find themselves with less coverage than those without. Just 1.8% of disabled people have health insurance provided for them by their employer, and a mere 0.3% of those with disabilities have purchased private health insurance. 

The unemployment rate disproportionately affects disabled Gambians as well, especially young people. Currently, 68% of disabled Gambians between the ages of 15-24 are unemployed, compared to 50% for those who are not disabled, and half of disabled Gambians are also not in education, employment or training, compared to 34% of those without disabilities. 

Without a proper education or career prospects, people living with disabilities in The Gambia are unlikely to fully integrate into society or earn good wages, landing them at further risk of exclusion and poverty. Recently, there have been various developments that may make life easier for those living with disabilities in The Gambia, both from the Gambian government and from private companies. 

The Gunjur Inclusion Project

The Gunjur Inclusion Project (GIP) was formed in The Gambia in 2011 by its parent company, Disability Africa, and focuses specifically on helping children and young people with disabilities in the country. Based in the south-western coastal town of Gunjur, GIP has had a small, yet growing and meaningful impact on the lives of disabled youngsters in the town and across the country. 

The heart of GIP is in its playschemes, a series of activities targeted specifically at children that allow disabled children who have been previously excluded from childhood interactions to enjoy their childhood. These playschemes have been proven to reduce both the mental and physical isolation of disabled children while allowing them to integrate into society and learn essential social skills. They also guarantee that every child involved has a hot meal, reducing the risk of malnutrition among disabled children, a group that is particularly vulnerable. 

The GIP also has initiated its Finding 500 (F500) program, dedicated to locating disabled Gambian children who are isolated at home and supporting the inclusion of these children into GIP playschemes and local schools. With the F500 initiative, the GIP intends to destroy the stigma surrounding disabled children in education and society and has been working with Gambian teachers to better understand how to protect these vulnerable children. 

The Gambian Disability Bill

In August 2021, the most important piece of disability legislation in Gambian history entered into force following over a decade of support. The Persons with Disabilities Bill provides essential health care and social services for disabled people in The Gambia and was greatly welcomed by the Gambia Federation of the Disabled (GFD), whose chairperson praised the bill for allowing disabled Gambians to hold the government accountable where previously they had neglected the disabled community. 

By upholding the rights of disabled people in The Gambia, the act not only promotes the social inclusion of those who had previously felt isolated from wider society but also supports The Gambia’s international commitment to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The law provides the Gambian government with a crucial instrument that can be used for the advancement of disabled people in Gambian society, guaranteeing them the legal right to education, health care and work. 

– Tom Lowe
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in The GambiaIn lower and middle-income countries, period poverty significantly hinders the improvement of women’s health and economic empowerment. Period poverty refers to the lack of access to menstrual sanitary products, hygienic washing facilities and sexual and reproductive health education. Unfortunately, this problem particularly affects developing countries, where ongoing socioeconomic challenges and cultural stigmas surrounding menstruation worsen the situation.

Impacts of Period Poverty

The World Bank reports that more than 500 million people worldwide face the effects of period poverty. This issue can have severe consequences, as it exposes women to urogenital infections when they use inadequate substitutes like cloth pieces or plantain leaves. Additionally, females may suffer in terms of dignity, societal participation, school attendance, economic independence and mental health.

Period Poverty in the Gambia

In The Gambia, period poverty is widespread, especially in rural areas. The United Nations Sexual and Reproductive Health Agency (UNFPA) conducted a survey in The Gambia’s Lower River Region, which revealed that three out of 10 women manage their menstruation using old cloth strips instead of sanitary products. Consequently, due to the lack of menstrual products and safe hygiene facilities, some girls miss school during their period and lag behind academically compared to their male peers. However, four initiatives in The Gambia are working to eliminate period poverty in The Gambia and empower girls and women economically.

4 Projects Working to End Period Poverty in The Gambia

  1. UNFPA Women Empowerment and Peacebuilding Initiative – UNFPA implemented this initiative in 2021 and is operating in Basse, in The Gambia’s Upper River Region. It has set up a production facility and trained 15 local women to make reusable sanitary pads, which are provided free to students in schools and to the women working. This project also provides comprehensive health education to students to learn more about their physical health and bodily autonomy. In providing local women with skills and employment opportunities, this UNFPA project provides them with income and decision-making opportunities that will make a great difference in the rural area.  This initiative hopes to provide an environmentally friendly solution to period poverty in The Gambia, as well as to strengthen communities and prevent girls and women from being discriminated against due to menstruation stigma.
  2. The Gambian American Foundation – Founded in 2019, The Gambian American Foundation is an NGO  that aims to advance social and economic development in The Gambia. This is done through providing resources, leadership, donations and expertise on various socio-economic issues within the country. It “envisions a society in which people are empowered at the fullest to achieve all their human development and potentials, for their individual well-being and for the society’s greater good.” One of its projects is campaigning against ‘Menstruation Poverty and its Impact on Girls’ Education and Sexual Health. This project aims to provide 250 schoolgirls with regular access to sanitary products, both at home and at school. The students are also provided with self-esteem-building workshops and information sessions on reproductive health. As an outcome, this project hopes to reduce school absences to improve their academic future and to maintain good reproductive and sexual health.
  3. Project Gambia – Project Gambia is a nonprofit organization, founded in 2007, that works alongside partners both within The Gambia and the U.K. to set up a variety of initiatives in villages, farms and schools to alleviate poverty in a sustainable manner, through volunteer trips, child sponsorship, Christmas donations and project fundraising. In collaboration with The Gambia Teachers’ Union, this nonprofit organization launched the ‘Let’s See Red’ project in 2022. It provides menstrual health education and instructions on manufacturing sanitary products to 40 teachers, who can then educate students in Gambian communities and create long-term access to menstrual products. It is also dispensing packs of reusable sanitary pads to schools. Through this scheme, Project Gambia hopes that women will be able to continue to study and work on their periods, as well as remove cultural stigmas surrounding menstruation through education.
  4. Girls’ Pride – Established by Fatoumatta Kassama in 2017, Girls’ Pride focuses on eliminating period poverty, improving maternal and child health and maintaining girls’ school attendance during menstruation in The Gambia. It aims at improving maternal and child health, maintaining girls’ school attendance during their menstruation periods and creating job opportunities for local women. It manufactures and distributes reusable sanitary pads, offers counseling services and provides training to women and girls to make pads and educate their communities about period hygiene. Kassama grew up in The Gambia, where she faced challenges managing her periods due to cultural taboos and lack of access to products. Inspired to bring about change, she founded Girls’ Pride. The organization manufactures and distributes reusable sanitary pads to schoolgirls, provides counseling services and trains 35 women and girls, alongside 26 school teachers to make pads. These trainees then pass on their knowledge to others in their communities. The Comprehensive Health Education project, funded by the International Development Research Centre, coordinates this training. As a result, students can use the pads for themselves and donate extras to Pad Banks in schools. In addition to production, Girls’ Pride prioritizes education. The organization has educated 623 girls on period hygiene and 923 boys on period shaming and cultural taboos.

Looking Ahead

These programs and organizations are doing vital and inspiring work to address period poverty in The Gambia. Due to ongoing efforts, menstruating individuals in The Gambia can look forward to higher school attendance, greater dignity, improved physical and mental health, and better economic mobility.

– Eleanor Moseley
Photo: Flickr

Although The Gambia has a small coastline of 80km, its fishing sector is responsible for roughly 12% of the country’s total GDP. In March 2022, the Minister of Fisheries announced that the fishing sector created at least 300,000 jobs in the country, emphasizing the sector’s potential to aid in poverty reduction and economic growth. The country’s waters are populated with diverse species of fish that are sourced throughout the year. However, oysters have become especially important for The Gambia’s social and economic development.

5 Facts About the Female-Led Oyster Sector in The Gambia

  1. Women run The Gambia’s oyster trade: Oyster fishing in The Gambia is a day-long process that involves collecting oysters from mangrove roots, preparing them on land and then transporting and selling them in the Gambian capital of Banjul. The TRY Oyster Women’s Association (TRY OWA) completely oversees oyster harvesting in the country’s Tanbi region. Approximately 500 Tanbi-area women belong to the TRY OWA, which was founded in 2007 by Fatou Janha Mboob, a Gambian social worker. A nonprofit collective, the organization works to improve the lives of The Gambia’s female oyster pickers by spearheading “environmental and social initiatives” and providing “training in financial management, food hygiene and water safety.”
  2. Increased flooding and The Gambia’s oyster trade: Climate change has contributed to increased flooding in The Gambia. Frequent flooding can lead to sewage entering the mangroves where the oysters are harvested. In turn, this can destroy the wetland ecosystem, damage the roots of mangrove plants and result in spoiled, unsaleable oysters. In an initiative to protect the wetland forests, the TRY OWA has partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to plant over 50,000 mangrove seedlings to counteract the effects of deforestation and extreme climate change. In 2012, the UNDP awarded Mboob the Equator Prize for her leadership in such initiatives.
  3. Marie Sambou’s award: In 2019, the Global Youth Innovation Network Gambia acknowledged the work of Marie Sambou, a Gambian oyster harvester, by granting her the Young Business Innovation of the Year award. The award included a gift of 35,000 dalasis, equivalent to about $580, which she pledged to spend on a new fiber boat for oyster fishing.
  4. Food insecurity: An estimated 80% or more of the world’s fish supplies have deteriorated due to overfishing and extreme population growth. As of 2021, The Gambia had experienced a 5%-8% increase in food insecurity. Severe droughts, flooding and misuse of natural resources have impacted fishing in The Gambia and contributed to the rise in food insecurity. Additionally, illegal fishing activities by bigger nations on Gambian waters are depleting the fish supplies that many Gambians rely on for sustenance and survival, thereby heightening the threat of poverty. For instance, TRY OWA oyster harvesters may make up to £30 on successful days. However, when tides are too high, they may not be able to harvest any oysters at all. A short 4-month harvesting season further limits economic opportunity, making income a “primary concern” and forcing many to “supplement their earnings with subsistence farming.”
  5. Support from FISH4ACP: An initiative of the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), FISH4ACP works to improve the global fish value chain while promoting sustainable aquaculture. FISH4ACP and the Gambian government have partnered to expand the country’s mangrove oyster harvesting sector. The agreement aims to improve the lives of the sector’s women workers, increase local access to nutritious, low-cost food, implement improved production methods and advance sustainable development over the next decade. Furthermore, it incorporates pilot schemes for the development and sale of new products, like jewelry and animal feed, that will make practical use of oyster shell byproducts.

Looking Ahead

The oyster sector in The Gambia, led by a dedicated group of women, has emerged as a powerful force for social and economic development in the country. Through the efforts of organizations like the TRY OWA and partnerships with entities such as the United Nations Development Programme and FISH4ACP, there are signs of progress with regard to protecting the wetland ecosystem and enhancing the livelihoods of female oyster harvesters. By supporting the oyster sector, The Gambia is paving the way for a more sustainable and prosperous future for its coastal communities.

Jennifer Preece
Photo: Flickr

Youth employment in GambiaTekki Fii translates to “Make it in The Gambia.” In collaboration with The Gambian government, The Tekki Fii Project recently completed a project to boost employment opportunities for Gambian youth. Funding for the project came from the European Union’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, the International Trade Center, a German organization called Deutsche Gesellschaft and a Portuguese organization called Instituto Marqués de Valle Flòr. Furthermore, the project also collaborated with an agency within the Belgian government called Enable and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs in the Government of The Gambia.

Migration and the Impact on Youth Employment in The Gambia

The latest statistics available from The Gambia Bureau of Statistics (GBoS) indicate that the youth unemployment rate increased to 41.5% in 2018. A lack of employment opportunities for young people in The Gambia has led to increases in crime as well as the rate of migration. This makes the work of initiatives such as Tekki Fii critical to improving the well-being of Gambians across the country.

While Tekki Fii aimed to provide skills training for entrepreneurship in areas such as agriculture and tourism, the overall goal was to bring future opportunities for youth employment in The Gambia and raise awareness about economic opportunities. The Instituto Marqués de Valle Flòr (IMVF) also emphasized the importance of focusing on women and children as part of the initiative. Additionally, the IMVF targeted domestic economic development programs as a means to tackle high rates of youth migration.

The IMVF also concentrated on the accessibility of skills development for returning migrants, some of whom were denied asylum in other countries. The target geographical locations were the Central River, North Bank, Lower River and Upper River regions of The Gambia.

The International Trade Center (ITC) worked with the Tekki Fii Project as part of its Youth Employment Project. Both initiatives operated from 2017 to 2022. The Youth Employment Project began in 2017 in The Gambia to work with Gambian youths and returning migrants. While it focused on long-standing industries such as agriculture, the ITC also supported newer sectors such as digital services.

Successes of the Initiative

Overall, the Tekki Fii project helped to decrease poverty and boost youth employment in The Gambia. The program created more than 9,500 employment opportunities and provided training for almost 7,500 individuals. After five years of work, the closing ceremony for the program under the ITC took place on November 18, 2022, in Banjul.

Following Tekki Fii, The Gambia will now implement the New National Employment Policy and Action Plan from 2022 to 2026. The national plan continues similar initiatives of the Tekki Fii Project such as skill development for entrepreneurship and businesses, opportunities for women and youth and the creation of 150,000 jobs by the end of the plan.

The Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs affirms the goals of the National Employment Policy and Action Plan with its National Development Plan. The plan proposes eight broad priorities such as the stabilization of the economy and building infrastructure. The plan also emphasizes seven more specific steps that contribute to the eight priorities including environmental sustainability and digitalization.

Youth employment in Gambia improved due to worldwide collaborators such as the European Union and the International Trade Center. More Gambian youth will continue to realize the country’s potential through the government’s new development and employment plans.

– Kaylee Messick
Photo: Flickr

women's education in the gambiaAcross the developing world, millions of women and girls in poverty receive little to no education. Women learn to cook, clean and care for children. Men, in contrast, often receive an education from a young age. With this advantage, men can work toward opportunities beyond the reach of their female counterparts. When girls have access to education, they can forward the benefits to their community. One educated girl can impact generations. This is why women’s education in The Gambia is important.

In The Gambia, a small West African country, girls face problems common in developing countries. The average family lives on a daily income of $1, but education after grade six costs $100 per year. Families frequently invest their small income in educating boys, whom they think will support them in adulthood. As a result, women struggle to find opportunities beyond domestic labor.

In addition to these limitations on women’s education in The Gambia, other barriers include cultural biases and teenage marriage. The culmination of these obstacles prevents nearly 50% of the Gambian population from accessing education and economic empowerment. Consequently, the lack of women’s education in Gambia hurts the country’s development.

Why Does Education Matter?

For women living in poverty, including those in The Gambia, very few opportunities wait for them. These girls face the expectation from a young age that they will grow up to become mothers and homemakers. Early on, girls learn about domestic skills and how to raise children. Men, on the other hand, have the opportunity to dive into their education and accelerate their careers.

The education of women in developing countries is absolutely critical to their personal growth. When young girls receive the same opportunities as boys, they learn essential skills that go far beyond the classroom. Health classes teach young women about the spread of illnesses and the importance of nutrition. Math lessons provide analytical skills that they can apply to household finances. Language courses allow them to communicate better with others and read the news.

For women in The Gambia, these skills would allow them to improve their own quality of life. In a nation that often undervalues gender equality, women’s education in The Gambia is a critical first step to leveling the playing field.

Women’s Education and Economic Development

The smallest country in mainland Africa, The Gambia faces limited economic development. The current regime has harmed business freedom and has contributed to the weakening labor force. With a population of around 2.1 million, the country has a limited workforce. Most jobs center on agriculture and crop exports. However, excluding women from the workforce cuts the number of potential workers in half.

Additionally, since the nation’s economy depends on crops, The Gambia’s GDP fluctuates with farmers’ production. This means that in dry seasons, when people struggle to water their crops, the economy struggles as well. In fact, the Gambian economy recently contracted by 10% as a result of erratic rainfall, according to The World Bank.

Including women in the workforce would increase the available amount of labor, which would help in cultivating crops. Additionally, more labor would allow other sectors of the economy to grow, creating a more diverse and stable economic system. If women received an education, making them more employable, more businesses would develop and the economy would grow exponentially.

Education Brings Hope

Over the past several years, efforts around the globe have worked toward improving women’s education in The Gambia. Women in The Gambia are now achieving higher levels of education, and experts predict this trend will continue. Many charities and NGOs are raising money and bringing awareness for this cause. Some are even increasing education through international programs. One of these NGOs is Janga Yakarr, which uses exchange programs in the United States to increase women’s education in The Gambia.

Janga Yakarr, which directly translates to “education, hope,” is a charitable organization founded by sisters Alexandra and Erica Chalmers in 2011. After learning about the lack of opportunities for women in The Gambia due to limited education, they decided to help. The sisters arranged a shipment of desks, chairs, whiteboards, chemistry equipment and educational materials to The Gambia. This effort meant to help children in The Gambia complete their education.

An Educational Exchange

The Chalmers became inspired by how their school supplies supported young girls and the relationships they formed with these students, who lived nearly 4000 miles away. From this point on, the Chalmers sisters wanted to enhance the relationship between students in the U.S. and in The Gambia. They now create an educational connection between the two countries.

To do so, they started the nonprofit Janga Yakurr in partnership with grassroots organization Starfish International. The organization’s aim is to raise money for women’s education in The Gambia. Additionally, it aims to foster relationships between U.S. high schoolers and students in The Gambia, as well as run exchange programs between the schools.

Alexandra Chalmers told The Borgen Project, “Looking at the struggle that many women go through in The Gambia in order to feel empowered, it opened our eyes to how much we take for granted in the United States. Our own education has provided us with so much opportunity to pursue, and we wanted to share that with these girls as well.”

The Future of Women’s Education in The Gambia

Over the past several years, many organizations like Janga Yakurr have helped make progress on women’s education in West Africa. This is important not just for women but for these countries as a whole. When young girls receive the same opportunities as young boys, they can get higher-paying jobs. From there, the labor force will continue to grow, which will improve economic stability.

Additionally, as women are more highly educated, they may help fight for women’s equality. They can use their education to fight for equal representation, for example, and to reduce female circumcision and domestic abuse. With a higher level of education, many women and girls may also gain respect and equality in other facets of life.

Education fuels empowerment. For women in poverty, they likely cannot feel empowered without education and financial support. However, women’s education in The Gambia will provide ample opportunity for them to thrive and for the whole economy to prosper.

Daniela Canales
Photo: Flickr

The International Development Association
The International Development Association (IDA) is one of five institutions that work together to form the World Bank. The IDA’s main goal is to reduce global poverty by working alongside the world’s poorest countries. To accomplish this goal, the IDA issues grants and loans to development programs in impoverished countries. These development programs try to spur economic growth and improve living standards. Currently, the IDA involves itself in a plethora of projects around the world. In the fiscal year 2018, the IDA began 206 new operations.

How the IDA Works

The IDA has managed to raise $369 billion since 1960 to aid underdeveloped regions and it invested all of the money into various development projects. The IDA was able to accomplish this through communication with partner countries and contributions from wealthier nations.

Donor governments meet with receiving countries to discuss funding and a repayment plan and ensure that the development project is feasible and will be successful. The IDA releases reports from these meetings, which publicly allows anyone to learn about the organization’s future projects. The IDA also frequently consults think tanks and civil society organizations to receive feedback on their work. On top of all of this, the IDA reviews a country’s economy and recent history to determine whether it is eligible for a development project. After completing each of these steps, the IDA can determine how to allocate resources appropriately and effectively.

The International Development Association’s Work in Action

The International Development Association continues to change the lives of millions every year. In 2019, farmers in Ethiopia reaped the benefits of the Second Agricultural Growth Project (AGPII). The AGPII aims to improve agricultural efficiency and productivity in Ethiopia by teaching farmers about agriculture, improving irrigation systems and providing fertilizer. The AGPII also helps farmers access new markets which help raise their incomes. Thanks to the AGPII, one farmer increased her potato production by 400 percent and another was successful enough that they could start a family.

Improvements like the ones in Ethiopia are the norm for IDA projects and not rare. For example, in Madagascar, the IDA funded a program titled the productive cash-for-work program (ACTP) in 2015. Since then, many economically vulnerable communities have been able to improve their lives and take advantage of new economic opportunities. The ACTP provides money and training to impoverished people in exchange for work. The program has helped 31,250 households so far and has aided in the creation of small businesses.

IDA funding has had similar effects in other countries. From 2013-2018 new roads in Afghanistan helped create over two million new jobs. In the Gambia, an agricultural project doubled rice yields between 2014 and 2018. Meanwhile, in Kenya, three million people benefited from infrastructure improvements. Overall, between the fiscal year 2011 and 2018, IDA projects led to the building and repairing of more than 140,000 kilometers of roads, the gaining of clean water access for 86 million people and the immunization of 274 million children.

The International Development Association is crucial to global poverty reduction. The IDA has created a system to ensure that the world’s poorest countries receive an appropriate amount of funding and support for future social and economic development. The results speak for themselves as the IDA has changed many people’s lives for the better.

– Nick Umlauf
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Girls’ Education in The Gambia
In the most densely populated country in West Africa, girls face significant barriers to education. But despite obstacles like traditional gender norms and the vicious poverty cycle that followed British colonialism, The Gambia has made impressive strides in making education more accessible for girls.

Here are the top 10 facts about girls’ education in The Gambia.

Top Ten Facts About Girls’ Education in The Gambia

  1. Primary schools have achieved gender parity. Hopes for girls’ education in The Gambia are high, especially for the youngest girls. Since 2007, there has been an equal number of Gambian boys and girls enrolled in primary school. A significant portion of this success can be attributed to the Education for All initiative, which was implemented by UNESCO in 2004.
  2. Primary school completion remains a hurdle. While the primary school enrollment gap has disappeared, primary school completion is a different picture. For every 100 boys that complete their basic education, only 74 girls do the same. From 2009 to 2012, the girls’ primary school completion rate dropped from 82 percent to 70 percent. Additionally, out of the girls that do complete basic education, few will go on to secondary school.
  3. Secondary school enrollment is unequal across genders. In The Gambia, the net secondary school enrollment rate is low to begin with, and girls only constitute approximately 30 percent of all students enrolled in secondary or vocational schools.
  4. Social expectations place pressure on girls. The traditional family structure values a girl’s role in domestic labor, from cooking and cleaning to caring for younger siblings. Especially as girls get older, there is an added opportunity cost to attending school: girls are unable to complete the plethora of tasks thrown at them––and they are unable to earn immediate income for their families.
  5. Girls in rural areas face unique obstacles. The Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) for girls living in urban areas was 73 percent, while the GER for girls in rural areas was 63 percent, as of 1999. But in one region farthest from the capital, girls’ GER was only 44 percent.
  6. School fees have been eliminated. In September 2013, the Global Partnership for Education partnered with the World Bank and The Gambian government to eliminate school fees for primary school. For families who could previously not afford to send their daughters to school, primary school became accessible. In September 2014, this was extended to upper basic and secondary schools as well.
  7. Scholarships for girls are available. Before school fees were abolished, Gambian government scholarships specifically for girls were available to encourage poor families to send their daughters to school. This government scholarship program increased girls’ school enrollment by nine percent. Still, many indirect costs, such as textbooks and uniforms, still place a disproportionate burden on poor families. But these top 10 facts about girls’ education in The Gambia reflect that the Gambian government is making girls’ education a priority: they now provide merit-based scholarships to alleviate these indirect costs.
  8. Mothers’ Clubs encourage girls. Across The Gambia, 90 Mothers’ Clubs are raising money and awareness for girls’ education. UNICEF provides labor-saving machines: less time working means more time for school. UNICEF also provides seed money for the women to embark on income-generating projects to support their local schools and alleviate the aforementioned indirect costs of girls’ education.
  9. Menstrual hygiene at school is improving. Historically, menstruation has forced girls to take time off from school, making it difficult to keep up with coursework. To address this, the Education for All initiative began providing free sanitary pads at schools. Studies showed that this initiative significantly increased girls’ self-confidence and school attendance rates. After sanitary pads were supplied, girls’ attendance increased from 68 percent up to nearly 90 percent.
  10. Take Our Daughters to Work inspires young girls. An initiative called “Take Our Daughters to Work” pairs young Gambian girls with female mentors. For one week, girls shadow their mentors at work, build important professional connections, and get a glimpse of what their futures can look like.

These top 10 facts about girls’ education in The Gambia show that despite social barriers, focused government initiatives and a dedicated community have the potential to change the status quo.

– Ivana Bozic
Photo: Flickr

Migration from The Gambia
Migration from The Gambia, a nation located in West Africa, has become extremely common due to widespread poverty and the belief that Europe offers more opportunities for success. Thousands of Gambians have begun the difficult journey across Africa to Libya, where they hope to cross the Mediterranean and enter Europe. Families sometimes believe so strongly that Europe is the solution for their children that they spend the last of their money to sponsor the trip.

Journey to Europe

Many migrants are not successful with this journey, however, and get stuck in Libyan prisons, where they often face gruelling conditions. Women are also particularly vulnerable, some of whom have been kidnapped and sold while attempting to reach Europe. Migrants who return to The Gambia because they are unable to get to Europe, perhaps due to detention in Libya, are often looked down upon by other Gambians, who believe that they simply did not try hard enough.

In response to the growing dangers associated with migration, several organizations are working to decrease migration from The Gambia and help Gambians who tried to migrate resettle in their country. In The Gambia, Youths Against Irregular Migration (YAIM) and Returnees From The Backway (RFTB) were formed, while international organizations including the European Union’s Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) developed programs for this cause.

Youths Against Irregular Migration (YAIM)

YAIM was created in 2017 by Gambian youths detained in a Libyan prison. One of the founders, Ndow, told IRIN News, “We were treated like slaves; we didn’t take a bath for months, so we tried to escape and they beat us seriously.” After this experience, Ndow, along with Sallah, Tunkara and Keita decided that once they got out of the prison they would share their stories and try to prevent other Gambians from attempting to migrate.

YAIM is also working to help Gambians find opportunities in The Gambia, rather than looking to Europe. They advocate for looking for local opportunities, although they recognize this persepcitve requires a significant change in the mindsets of many Gambians, as Europe has been idealized for so long.

YAIM spreads their message through social media, roadshows and airwaves. They finished their second “youth caravan” in the summer of 2018, both of which were sponsored by the German Embassy in Banjul. Thirty YAIM members traveled as a part of the caravan to two different regions in The Gambia, and spoke in public, high-traffic areas. YAIM recognizes the importance of its work and hopes that their efforts will make a difference in reducing migration from The Gambia.

Returnees From The Backway (RFTB)

Like YAIM, RFTB was founded in a Libyan detention center. This group focuses on helping migrants who have returned to The Gambia transition back into society by reducing the stigma associated with returning to the nation. RFTB spreads their message through tea ritual sessions, known as attaya, which are often attended by Gambian men.

Ultimately, RFTB wants to provide agricultural training to returnees and use the land given to them by the Kerewan local government to set up a farm run by returned migrants. If this project is successful, RFTB would like to expand and set up farms across the nation.

European Union’s Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF)

At an international level, the European Union established the Trust Fund for Africa in 2015 to help manage the flow of migrants from Africa into Europe. As a part of this Trust Fund, the Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) — which currently has 11 million Euros in funding — wants to help young people in Africa gain entrepreneurial skills to help create jobs and expand markets.

In The Gambia, YEP plans to help over 7,000 youths complete technical or vocational training, support the return of migrants from Europe, encourage the creation of modern manufacturing jobs and services, and raise awareness amongst young populations about the importance of skills training. Their goal is to decrease migration from The Gambia by invigorating the Gambian economy and showing youths that they do not need to leave.

International Organization for Migration (IOM)

IOM launched their Migrant Protection and Reintegration program in November of 2017. This program will offer reintegration packages to migrants that will help them rebuild their lives in The Gambia. Like the other three organizations, they are attempting to change the mindset of Gambians, encouraging them to view The Gambia as a place with opportunity and potential.

One of the specific projects the IOM is supporting is the founding of a large-scale chicken raising business in Parkour that will provide employment to returnees and help them regain their social standing and earn an income. Similar to the RFTB’s plan to create a migrant-run farm, this initiative will empower returnees and perhaps inspire others to consider returning if they know there are opportunities.

Advocacy and Prosperity

These local and international organizations are taking an important step by focusing on the improvement of The Gambia and discouraging people from embarking on a journey that is often unsafe and sometimes fatal.

Once more people understand the realities of migrating and develop more faith in their country, migration from The Gambia will hopefully begin to decline, increasing safety and prosperity.

– Sara Olk

Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in The GambiaIn addition to its status as the smallest country in mainland Africa, The Gambia boasts impressive improvements in educational gender parity over the past twenty years. While structural barriers to education that affect girls disproportionately still exist, significant strides have been made to make education accessible to the girls across the country.

Primary schools have achieved gender parity

The Gambian school system consists of a basic education of nine years, broken into six years of primary school and three years of upper basic education.

Hopes for girls’ education in Gambia are high, especially for the youngest ones. Since 2007, there has been an equal number of Gambian boys and girls enrolled in primary school. A significant portion of this success can be attributed to the Education for All initiative, led by UNESCO and implemented in 2004. The initiative aimed to achieve gender parity in primary school enrollment, and it obviously succeeded.

While the primary school enrollment gap has disappeared, primary school completion is a different picture. For every 100 boys that complete their basic education, only 74 girls do the same. Additionally, out of the girls that do complete basic education, only few will go to the secondary school. The secondary school enrollment rate for girls is very low, as girls constitute less than half of all secondary school students. From the social expectations placed on girls to the financial burdens of education, the structural barriers that prevent girls from continuing with their education are complex and numerous.

Social expectations of girls

In deciding whether or not to send their female children to school, families consider the opportunity cost. Girls in school cannot perform the domestic labor traditionally expected of them, which means they cannot provide immediate income for their families. Other direct costs, such as textbooks and uniforms, often present way to big of a burden on poor families.

This economic burden has long kept girls out of schools. As of September 2013, however, the Global Partnership for Education partnered with the World Bank and the Gambian Government to eliminate school fees for primary school. For families who could previously not afford to send their daughters to school, the primary school became accessible. As of September 2014, this was extended to upper basic and secondary schools as well. Before school fees were abolished, there were also scholarships specifically for girls available to encourage poor families to send their daughters to school.

Improvement of hygiene in schools

When feminine hygiene is inaccessible, girls are unable to attend school consistently. Historically, women period has forced girls to take time off school, making it difficult to keep up with coursework. To address this, the Education for All initiative began providing free sanitary pads at schools. A study done by The Gambia’s Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MoBSE) showed that this initiative significantly increased girls’ self-confidence and school attendance rates. After sanitary pads were supplied, girls’ attendance increased from 68 percent up to nearly 90 percent.

Community supports girls education

Dedicated Gambian mothers are standing up for their girls. Across The Gambia, numerous Mothers Clubs are raising money and awareness for girls’ education. UNICEF has provided them with labor-saving machines, such as milling machines, which lessen the female labor burden. Less time working means more time for school. UNICEF also provides some seed money for the women to embark on income-generating projects, which support their local schools and alleviate the indirect and direct costs of girls’ education.

An engaged community, driven by mothers and mobilized by foreign aid, is challenging the status quo to shape a brighter future for Gambian girls. Girls’ education in The Gambia has become a national priority. While social expectations for girls still impose barriers to education, the Gambian government, aided by UNICEF and UNESCO, has made education significantly more accessible to girls in this little country.

– Ivana Bozic

Photo: Google

Last month, the African nation of The Gambia swore in its first-ever democratically elected president, Adama Barrow. The incumbent president took power after a month-long constitutional crisis in which former president Yahya Jammeh rejected election results and refused to leave his seat.

Initially, Jammeh accepted the 2016 election results until Dec. 10, when he declared his rejection of Barrow and refusal to cede power in The Gambia. The announcement incited political uproar within The Gambia. The uproar was so intense that Barrow, fearing for his safety, fled to Senegal.

Barrow was eventually sworn in at the Gambian embassy in Dakar, Senegal, and returned to The Gambia with a number of West African troops. On the same day Barrow was sworn in, military forces from Senegal, Nigeria, and Ghana attempted to restore power in The Gambia through military intervention.

The power shift was celebrated in the Gambian capital of Banjul where the conflict had generated fear for the security of many citizens’ lives amongst the turmoil.

Jammeh, who ruled the nation for over 22 years, was exiled to Equatorial Guinea after he finally stepped down in late January.

This shift of power in The Gambia may symbolize the strengthening infrastructure of politics within the African continent. Other nations’ decisions to rally behind the election results and defend Barrow’s ascent to power in The Gambia is recognition of a standard for good governance.

While the events in The Gambia do not signify themselves a wholehearted embracement of democracy, they certainly set a precedent for alliance and administration across the continent.

With rulers like Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe or Pierre Nkurunziza in Burundi, both who have held power in their respective nations for over a decade, it is clear that there has been a continual problem with leaders who refuse to step down following the results of democratic elections.

There is still a long way to go as it seems the Economic Community of West African States enforces election results selectively. However, the shift of power in The Gambia signifies a positive development in the political dichotomy prevalent on the African continent.

Jaime Viens

Photo: Flickr