Prioritizing Women’s Rights in The Gambia
The Gambia, a country half the size of New Jersey and located in West Africa, is home to 1 million women. The country has a secular constitution and its legal system uses English common law and some aspects of Sharia Law. Under this legal system, women rarely own property. Moreover, they frequently face obstacles in education access and their prenatal/postpartum care is poor, resulting in high maternal mortality rates. Here is some information about women’s rights in The Gambia and efforts to improve them.
Injustices Gambian Women Face
In terms of education access and financial freedom, women’s rights in The Gambia are not equitable. Only 47% of Gambian women are literate in comparison to 64% of men, so most women are at a disadvantage from the start. Additionally, 26% of Gambian girls marry before they turn 18, which allows minimal time to gain pre-marriage financial independence. In 2009, 80% of women worked in the agriculture sector, but only 30% received cash earnings in comparison to 43% of men. Under the customary practice, instead of owning the land they cultivate, women borrow it from their husbands. The women who own property cannot receive more than one-third of the estate, as Sharia Law permits. This is a challenge because most banks will not grant credit unless the applicant owns land which puts women in a difficult situation.
Level The Law Campaign
In 2018, Gambian Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubacarr Tambadou, attended the Global Citizen Festival in New York to share The Gambia’s commitment to the Level The Law Campaign. Two years prior, Global Citizen started the campaign to outlaw discrimination against females and gender-based violence by 2030. In response to more than 10,000 Global Citizen tweets, Tambadou renewed the commitment to protecting women’s rights in The Gambia, which vows to repeal all laws that promote gender-based violence, prevent equal political participation and hinder reproductive health.
A statement by Tambadou said that UNICEF organized training for Gambian Law Enforcement Agencies on legislation about child marriage. Also, to demonstrate The Gambia’s commitment to include women in justice systems, half of the appointees to the superior Courts of The Gambia are women. Additionally, four of the seven Court of Appeal judges are women, with a woman serving as president. Finally, Gambia is drafting a new Constitution that ensures more gender-responsive legislation.
New Laws for an Equitable Future
Social justice mobility did not start there. The Women’s Act, passed in 2010, protects women’s rights under the Constitution, which includes human rights protection, the right to health, protection against discrimination, marriage consent and special measures supporting women (the government and private institutions must work towards gender equality). It also ensures that girls who are married or have children can stay in school, protecting them from getting expelled. In 2015, the National Assembly amended the Act to include the prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). However, the Act does not regulate certain rights for Muslim women such as child custody, widow inheritance and divorce. These remain subject to Sharia Law.
The Sexual Offenses Act, passed in 2013, amends the procedure of rape trial and other sexual offenses. Meanwhile, the Domestic Violence Act, passed in the same year, protects domestic violence survivors.
Before these laws passed, sexual harassment and Female Genital Mutilation were legal. FGM is a common practice in The Gambia that results in devastating physical and psychological consequences. Fortunately, it is on the decline, although about 75% of women aged 15-49 and 50% of girls under age 15 have undergone it. Although the Women’s Act outlaws discrimination in reproductive health services, women still lack access to vital reproductive resources.
There is a long road ahead to gender equity. Luckily, with more female representation in the public sphere, women’s rights in The Gambia are on the rise. Gambian women bring a new perspective to the table, one that serves in their best interest.
– Rebecca Pomerantz