Women the world over have been and are continually been exploited in varied forms and levels by politicians, employers, societies, families and male counterparts. The first generation of women who braced social scorn to spotlight their deplorable conditions and exploitations were branded “feminists” denoting negative stigma. Despite the barriers, resistance, and hatred thrown at them to thwart the efforts to reclaim their rightful rights and opportunities, they matched on. Thanks to them today feminism and gender are now viewed in a positive plane even by some of their fervent exploiters.
As a result, I am compelled and inspired by those unsung brave women fighters to showcase some of the systematic forms of exploitation that Gambian women endure every second of their lives. Their stories are hateful, painful, sensitive and nerve-racking. Albeit each experience is unique, they all echo the same graphic dehumanisation and trauma meted by the exploitation. My position is anyone guilty of exploiting or harassing women in any form or another should be held responsible and made to pay a dear price.
I will start my case with the household set in our Gambian society. Many girl-children and women are nurtured into a tormenting culture of silence or “not to kiss and tell”. We, at an early age, are taught to believe that it is wrong to confide even in your mum about how one is exploited by another family member such as a cousin, an uncle or even a brother. Such acts of bravery are deemed as a betrayal and ushering in shame in the family. Consequently, such unfortunate victims trapped in “an honour” protective family will continue to suffer in silence until such a time circumstances blow her situation into the limelight. Suffice it to say such a woman will grow into feeling incomplete, guilty, angry, distrusting and low self-esteem. Her sex drive will also be greatly affected.
Another environment in which women are exploited more in the Gambia is their workplace by their employers, managers and male colleagues. It is not common to see or hear a female employee complaining about her manager’s and/or employer’s continuous sexual advances, and demeaning caricature in her place of work. Some will be given an ultimatum to either warm the bed of her boss or risk losing her job. A weaker female staff with limited options might succumb to the exploitation to secure her job while another of a different opportunity will opt to move on to other places only to realise the green isn’t greener on that side. Others will be forced to choose between an opportunity to further develop themselves either by scholarship or promotion and remaining stagnant and miserable in her current position/ situation. This is the most common form of sexual exploitation of women in the Gambia. The same is experienced by females in the length and breadth of the civil service as well as all the security services. However, it is more serious and degrading in the security service where senior and commanding officer constantly prey on their young and vulnerable junior female officers. They will tell you obey and complain. Unlike the civil sector were female staffs has more options, the security female officer has nothing to protect her from her superiors. You are not only demoted, but constantly picked on and punished unnecessarily just because she chose not to spread her legs. Some senior will confined you to barracks and charged you with dubious counts just to twist your arm into submission. Where all efforts failed, you will be dismissed as an unfit and incompetent officer. Those who give in against their wills get promoted very often, thus making the others accept the exploitation as a ticket for financial freedom.
Similarly, at the national and governmental level, politicians particularly some ministers and the President himself exploit Gambian women. Yes, even though the Jammeh government is noted for its gross violation of basic and fundamental rights of Gambians, it can be credited for availing Gambian women equal opportunities to employment, education and access to finance. This is visible on the number of Gambian women holding high profile positions in his government for instance the vice-presidency. It is rumoured that President Jammeh makes sexual advances on some of his female ministers and caricature others. Most of the security female and civilian officers working at the State House had been molested by President Jammeh. Some of his ministers are also notorious womanizers. They prey and exploit young and vulnerable women and girl. Some even end up getting pregnant and dumped as most if not all of the Gambian sex offenders are married.
Gambian women also get sexually exploited under the pretext of religion; Islam. Some of these predators twist and turn the teachings of Islam to justify their exploitation of women. A classic example is when a woman has no sexual desire but forced to have with her husband who will claim it is his religious right that his wife has sex with him even after physically abusing her during the day. They bully you to submission.
Whatever the form or platform, exploitation of the woman is wrong, unacceptable and shameful.