Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: International Women’s Day is celebrated in many countries around the world. It is a month when women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic, or political. It has been observed annually in March since 1987. With no small measure of irony, African women globally and on the domestic front, particularly Gambian women in politics, focus on attention this month, albeit in a conflicting feeling, having a mixed feeling, negatively and positively.
In a media release dated 24 March, the National Executive Committee of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has expelled Honorable Fatoumatta Touma Njai, a bonafide party member and a sitting National Assembly member, for Banjul South under the PPP ticket “for gross violation of the Constitution, principle, norms, and decision of the Party.”According to a media release. Furthermore, Honorable Touma Njai, on her Facebook page, wrote in response to her expulsion, described the letter as ” utter nonsense and rubbish,” adding “I take it as such. I stand by my communications to the public via my press conference on 1 March 2021, as proclaimed after the agreement of all the Regional chairpersons of the party”.
She further added, “I maintain the SG position and the Party Leader pending free and fair elections. The corrupt practices have been further emphasized by the high court ruling of 1 March. For me, as always demonstrated, accountability and transparency is always utmost. I published this just for the public’s information, but it is of no importance to me as my position remains the same. We do not recognize MR Jallow as a leader, and as such, this letter is of no significance and no value,” Honorable Njai concluded.
Fatoumatta: Since those early years, International Women’s History month has assumed a new global dimension for women in developed and developing countries. The growing international women’s movement, which has been strengthened by four global United Nations women’s conferences, has helped make the commemoration a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas.
With no small measure of irony, the other Gambian woman came to focus on attention this women’s history month, albeit in positive ways on, a celebrity and a world heavyweight activist Ms. Jaha Dukureh formally joined the People’s Democratic Organization Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) party.
Jaha is a Gambian women’s rights activist and anti-female genital mutilation campaigner. She is the founder and executive director of Safe Hands for Girl. In April 2016, she was named to the 2016 Time 100 list of most influential people. Dukureh was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in February 2018, has won the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal, and is a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for Africa.
Fatoumatta: These two prominent Gambian women in politics featuring women’s month in the Gambia newsstands have exercise participation of political power that cannot be disputed in empowering women in politics. Honorable Touma Njai has exhibited her political ambition to be a political party leader in a class society of a male-dominated patriarchal society and breaking the cycle of gender political exclusion in political party development. She alleged corruption and discrimination cases after she unearthed anomalies in her party’s internal democracy.
The other woman Jaha Dukureh joining PDOIS party in becoming a member has inspires women and girls nationwide and sends hope to young girls. She also gives women hope for the future in politics. Touma Njai and Jaha are a fire to dream from far: Those who have doubts like these women can be transformative and visionary leaders. They are leaders whose nature represents the woman.
Even more shocking is society’s callous indifference towards women in politics. There has been a tacit resignation where one would have expected outrage over the expulsion of a party member considering the principles of freedom of association and freedom of expression enshrined in the constitution. It suggests that it is not an uncommon fate for hard-working public officers of high ethical and moral probity. Furthermore, in the worst form of confirmation bias, some social media have suggested that political parties’ specific disciplinary measures appear to be draconian and inimical to democratic norms. If expulsion were an option, who would political parties expel? How would this change the style of Gambian politics? Would it have any effect on the actual policy? Where is the equal protection clause to Political Party? Political parties usually shape the behavior of their members by adopting internal party rules for conflict resolution. Arguably, the most draconian law is expulsion from the party. Because this sanction has little effect on a person who threatens not to leave the party or accept expulsion anyway, internal party rules are ineffective in producing democratic cohesion when members are willing to be members rather than submit to party discipline.
Fatoumatta: However, when one considers societies that nurture their women, those that elevate them to their rightful place beside men realize a correlation with stable, progressive countries. For instance, it is a fact that during the first and second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, governments led by women had systematically and significantly better outcomes. This is because they showed more remarkable prescience, locking down earlier and suffering half as many deaths on average as those led by men. The analysis of 194 countries, published by the Centre for Economic Policy Research and the World Economic Forum, suggests the difference is real and “may be explained by the proactive and coordinated policy responses” adopted by female leaders.
What makes women better global leaders? Supriya Garikipati, a developmental economist at Liverpool University, says, “women leaders react more quickly and decisively in the face of potential fatalities” and that “though they are more willing to take risks in the domain of the economy, they are risk-averse concerning lives.” A more straightforward explanation is that women are not afraid to roll up their sleeves to get to work and lead by example.
Consider the case of President Samia Suluhu Hassan of Tanzania. As an NGO leader, before she joined politics, she made several road trips from Tanzania to Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and South Africa. This was because, rather than take a plane trip, which she was entitled to, she chose to lead by example, traveling in the same buses as her delegation that could not afford costly plane tickets. Alternatively, consider the example of Sheila Keino, Malawi Country Director of African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership. More often than not, she will be found in the countryside donning gumboots and overalls in the place of heels and business suits, as she demonstrates practically how fertilizer should be distributed and used.
Fatoumatta: These examples demonstrate that what women need is not gratuitous positions on the lower end of the totem pole. Instead, they need a fair chance at the same opportunities available to men. Moreover, that when an opportunity opens doors to women, their hard work and grit propel them to the head of the room. It debunks the myth that women at the top only get there by cunning and conniving their way. Alternatively, they must have extended sexual favors to earn their place at the table certainly dispels the misogynist view that sexually objectifies women and is perhaps responsible for the violence meted on them.
African society can do a lot to aid the ascension of women to leadership. It can start by rebuffing the toxic masculinity that defends the perpetrators of violence against women. Such behavior should be so stigmatized as to become instinctively abhorrent to would-be offenders. There can be no tolerance of violence or safe spaces literally and figuratively for abusers.
Second, women themselves should see affirmative action as a means to an end but not an end in itself. Samia Suluhu Hassan joined politics on the strength of special parliamentary seats for women. She used this as a stepping-stone to a broader constituency office, fighting alongside male competitors. She is now president of Tanzania. Sheila Keino has this month been recognized as one of “Women in leadership, achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world.” She deserves the merit!
Public service is a thankless job, there are too much hatred and witcraft, and only God can help one impact and uphold integrity! These two Gambian women politicians had a long stellar career as activists and politicians and rose through sheer hard work and determination.
Fatoumatta: To impact politics, as a woman, you break the chains, defeat the demons and bring real change, you will be hated, excoriated, maligned, blackmailed, and you will even face all kinds of threats to your life. Politics and public service is a pressure cooker, but if God calls you, you reach a point where you are as a woman in the labor ward – you got to bring forth life. No shame, no ego, and no reputation to protect.
Fatoumatta: Your focus is on delivering the baby! Such are few, but they exist in the Gambia and elsewhere. May God preserve Gambian women in politics and public service, and may the devil never have the last laugh!
Alagi Yorro Jallow