President Adama Barrow’s recent Cabinet reshuffle has stirred both controversy and excitement across the political spectrum. The critics of the President are quick to accuse him of gender insensitivity while the supporters described his appointments as bold and decisive. In all this political drama, some people fail to understand that President Barrow has constitutional right to make political appointments and can fire anyone he deem fit for the supreme interest of the country.
The critics who called President Barrow’s decision as undemocratic and insensitive to the plights of women failed to remind themselves that President Barrow’s first Vice President appointee and the current speaker of the National Assembly are females. These positions are the most powerful and influential in the country.
Some of these critics played a gender card to dismiss and vilify President Barrow’s appointments to the extent of hailing former Dictator Yahya Jammeh as equal opportunity employer. Among the latest bizarre criticisms of President Barrow is the claim that he ignored gender parity in comparison to former President Yahya Jammeh who they believe have empowered women through appointment in high profile cabinet positions despite Jammeh’s sexual harassment, abuse and other human rights violations he committed against women and young vulnerable girls. These critics claimed that “Yahya Jammeh, in contrast filled 60% of political positions with women in cabinets”, compare to few ministers in President Barrow’s cabinet. The critics went further to state that President Barrow’s appointments are not only anti-democratic but also not representative of all Gambians. Such statement is divisive and it did not offer any intent to unite our diverse people.
It was a known fact that Dictator Jammeh’s employment of some the most powerful women in his government was not based on genuine qualifications and supreme interest of the country but based on exploitation of these women. Countless women were raped by Jammeh and his henchmen before they are offered any employment opportunity. Even college educated women and high school girls were not spared by Jammeh and his cronies. Jammeh’s moral decadence has resulted to many marriage homes and families being shattered but the critics called such dark period of our history as an era of “women empowerment in The Gambia“. Some of the criticism of President Barrow’s appointment were so bizarre that they called his recent appointments “male-dominated government/Cabinet in decades, anti-female and anti-diversity.”
The fundamental question these critics must all ask themselves is: Do we need women with genuine qualifications and moral values in high profile political positions or do we need to use gender card for political expediency and appoint those who are completely insensitive to plights of women across the country?
From every available factual evidence, majority of women in Jammeh’s cabinet never made any positive influence to improve the status of women and girl child in the country if we are to use gender as a yardstick for these women to be sympathetic to the plights of women. The Gambia women were worst off in December 2016 than 1994 when Jammeh and his gangs of semi-illiterate soldiers illegally overthrew people’s choice of government.
The Gambia had a female Vice President who for 22 years has given blind eye to not only economic mismanagement but also human rights violations such as sexual exploitation committed by the former President Jammeh. The former Vice President Isatou Njie-Saidy was the worst political appointee who contributed to the worsening socioeconomic conditions Gambian women are facing today. During the tenure of Vice President Isatou Njie-Saidy, 14 Gambian students were gunned down, nine inmates were summarily executed illegally in the broad day light and countless citizens disappeared in thin air. Mrs Njie-Saidy not only defended the decisions to carry out these atrocities but went further to convince Gambian people that it was within the constitutional responsibility for former President Jammeh to execute those decisions. Any reasonable person would assume that former Vice President Isatou Njie-Saidy as a female would have played a significant role to avoid human rights violations in the country during her tenure but she never did. In fact the former Vice President was not alone in given blind eye to plights of women. Some of the women Ministers were involved in activities that encouraged sexual and political exploitation of Gambian women and young vulnerable girls. This was evidenced when a state female minister of education in collaboration with Jammeh’s statehouse organized annual beauty pageant in the name of false scholarship award to deceive unsuspecting young vulnerable girls for sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse . Another state female minister also made a propaganda documentary to showcase development achievements of former President Jammeh to deceive Gambian people in order to gain recognition and political appointment. This is not to say that men have not helped these women to exploit our fellow citizens. Men were the worst offenders and perpetrators of violent crimes. Some women helped men to commit crimes against women. These are all factual evidences that Gambian people have witnessed during 22 years of military dictatorship. None out of 60 % female cabinet ministers have ever expressed concern about human rights violations against women. Women suffered more during Jammeh’s regime because of the simple reason that when men are illegally killed, exiled, disappeared or imprisoned, females became breadwinners. The emotional stress, physical and financial hardship these women went through are unbelievably sorrowful and hard to imagine. Are critics of President Barrow not aware of these horrific crimes and devastating consequences on Gambian women when they hailed Jammeh as champion of women empowerment? Therefore it is misleading and outrageous to hail former President Jammeh as champion of women empowerment.
It is true that we have few outstanding and remarkable females like Ann Theressa Ndong Jatta, Satang Jorbateh and former Vice President Fatoumata Tambajang Jallow who all served with dignity and moral values in Jammeh’s regime. It is also true that we need diversity in workforce but we must select genuine citizens with good moral values and characters that would help to advance every Gambian irrespective of gender, religious belief and tribal affiliations. Women of substance never use gender card for political expediency but they depend on their qualifications, character and selfless desire to improve lives of ordinary citizens. These are women we would not hear on radio or TV shouting their lungs out to be recognized for political expediency. Dr. Isatou Touray and Aja Yama Secka are such classic women who work tirelessly for the plights of women in The Gambia. President Barrow should look into and appoint more women like Dr. Isatou Touray who have first hand experience of improving the lives and human rights of Gambian women.
The empowerment of women and girls is constitutional responsibility of our government. This must be based on sound economic, health and security policies which will improves and protect the lives of Gambian women. The new administration can achieve these objectives based on merits through encouragement of women entrepreneurs, small business owners, scholarship opportunities and leaderships. Policy on Women’s Health in particular would help to alleviate infant and maternal mortality. Currently The Gambia’s maternal mortality ratio stand at 706 deaths per 100,000 live births. This is unacceptable number of women who lost their lives during pregnancy and child birth. Women with good education, exemplary character, class and grace should be encouraged in political leadership and high profile positions to serve as a role model for young girls across the country. This is what our country needs because the moral superiority of our country depends not only on men but also on women with excellent moral understanding and character. This is because a woman is the first school every human being must pass through and they are the best teacher with greatest influence on every single child.
Therefore, as citizens we must all hail, motivate and encourage women of substance who are silently protecting and improving the lives of vulnerable citizens across political spectrum but must not use women for political expediency as Dictator Jammeh has done for the past 22 years. Jammeh was a chief executive who exploited women for his political interest using gender card.