Working Towards PAGE Backwards
“Working Towards PAGE Backwards”
The goals of the Government’s Gender Policy are “to eliminate all forms of inequality between women and men and to create an enabling environment for the promotion of women’s participation in all spheres of life.”(source:http:// www.statehouse.gm/women1.htm).
With the Programme for Accelerated Growth and Employment (PAGE), the Gambian government’s stated goal is to accelerate the implementation of the government’s commitments to development.
However, there is need for the Department of State for Communication and Information Technology -DOCIT to orientate its line institutions such as the national broadcaster, Gambia Radio and Television Services to synchronize its practices with the government policies, especially the unequal access to the national media. It is contradictory for the policies to be calling for the empowerment of women, while public personalities use the national media to say things that will impede the implementation of the policies without giving similar access to women to share their part of the discourse.
PAGE launched in December 2011 is being used by government officials to advocate for effective implementation of the development agenda of the government. Various important issues have been recognized in the document. These include social protection, child protection, disability, gender equality and women’s empowerment.
It could be recalled that the Gambia has ratified several international conventions, regional protocols and has made attempts to incorporate them into national laws such as the Children’s Act 2005 and the Women’s Act 2010 to promote gender equality and empowerment.
It is common for government institutions to set up task forces or advisory bodies to facilitate the implementation of government policies especially ones dealing with social change. Such committees are usually dominated by men who do not believe in gender equality and equal gender representation in the public sphere. Patriarchs against gender equality and gender justice have infiltrated many of such committees and task forces that are supposed to facilitate the implementation of national plans. An example of the resistance created by some patriarchs concerns the issue of Female Genital Mutilation –FGM.
The Imam of State House Mosque is against NGOs working on the campaign to stop FGM, to promote Family Planning and to advance many other issues being addressed to complement the government’s efforts in the implementation of its Policies and laws protecting the rights and wellbeing of women. His misogynic sermons are also broadcast over the national radio and television services, contradicting the policies of the government, yet he sits on the committee on Violence Against Women under the Women’s Bureau. Such contradictions need to be addressed, because they slow down progress but cannot inhibit it. Despite all the resistance to the campaign against FGM, the masses have been responding positively to the campaign to protect girls from FGM as illustrated by the public declarations in 2007, 2009 and 2011.
The government attributes achievements in gender equality to the efforts of women’s rights organizations, especially in the campaign to eradicate Female Genital Mutilation, in its own document on the Situation of Gambian Women published in the State House website. Yet, Women’s rights activists working in this area are denied equal access to the national radio and television as provided to the Imam of State House.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Women’s Bureau have to double up their efforts in the protection of vulnerable girls who cannot speak for themselves to say no to FGM. The context has already been set. The Gambia government in 2006 ratified Article 5 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa which calls for legislative measures. Communities are dropping the knife and calling for a law against FGM. What is now needed is to accelerate the process of protection of girls against FGM. Government should respond with a specific law against FGM as has been done with early and forced marriages laws.
To accelerate the gains, it is recommended that the government scrutinizes its own institutions and partners who are brought in to address women’s issues. The national broadcaster should be aware of what government policies are to promote them through dissemination of information, education and enlightenment of the populace so that the country will not be working ‘towards PAGE backwards’.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.