VP opens confab on harmful traditional Practices
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Aja Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy, vice president and secretary of state for Women's Affairs, yesterday, presided over the opening of a three-day international conference on harmful traditional practices, at the conference room of the Sheraton Hotel in Brufut.
The three-day session, organised by WASSU-Gambia Kaafo and University Autonomous of Barcelona in Spain, is part of series of activities marking the International Women's Day celebrations. The conference will accord participants the opportunity to learn, review and update the achievements registered in The Gambia and draw useful lessons and good practices from countries and organisations that have successfully implemented projects concerning FGM in Africa and Europe, through the promotion of a holistic approach. This will involve the work of international organisations, non-governmental organisations, government and UN agencies, all of whom work tirelessly to curtail harmful traditional practices.
This interactive forum brought together participants from around Africa and the rest of the world - doctors, nurses, religious leaders and traditional practitioners, and CSOs of the host country, The Gambia. During the three-day interactive session, participants will cover areas such as the role of international organisations in the prevention of harmful tradition practices and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as well as the role of government in eradicating harmful traditional practices.
Highlighting the overview of the conference, Professor Adriana Kaplan of University Autonomous of Barcelona, said although the fight against FGM/C has been long, there are success stories to be shared around the globe, "from the shores of this West African coastline to the eastern part of Africa and countries in the northern hemisphere". This successes, according to her, have definitely made an impact, although the problem has not been solved.
According to Prof. Kaplana, FGM has caused a negative social impact in Europe because it contravenes legal, medical and cultural principles, creating profound professional dilemmas and at the same time stigmatises the population that suffers from it, thus reinforcing prejudice and stereotype.
Prof. Adriana made references relating to Al-Bukhari, on the authority of Muslim al-Nu'man Ibn Basheer, which according to her state that 'the believers are like one body, when any of its organs has a complaint, the rest of the body responds with sleeplessness and fever'. "Such a social structure that resembles one body cannot discard a single cell, male or female, let alone a single member. The prophet has amplified the nature of this bond in a number of statements that bring it before us absolutely clear," she noted. Declaring the conference open, Aja Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy thanked the sponsors of the forum who, according to her, are very much instrumental in the fight against all forms of harmful traditional and cultural practices (including FGM) against women and girls.
According to VP Njie-Saidy, it is The Gambia's intention to re-dress this issue, through sensitisation and other ways of addressing this global problem and concern. She said that they have now realised that it is indeed a deep-rooted traditional practice that has been passed on from one generation to another, adding that The Gambia is one of the twenty-eight countries in Africa where the practice still exists.
Dr Njie-Saidy made reference to the UNICEF cluster survey or MICS 2007, which shows a prevalence of almost 78%. This figure, she noted, indicates that a lot more work needs to be done in the area of eradication of FGM. "We believe that a legislation to ban FGM may be difficult to implement, but instead public media education, backed by facts and figures based on empirical data may create an understanding and enabling environment through health related studies, to confirm its health implications, which have been documented over the period," she said.
Photo, art exhibition/film show
Later on in the day, Vice President Njie-Saidy proceeded to the offices of the United Nations in The Gambia, at Cape Point in Bakau, where she presided over the opening of a Photo and Art Exhibition/Film show, organized by the United Nations country office in collaboration with the government.
In her statement, VP Njie-Saidy said International Women's Day celebration is a campaign celebrated annually around the globe to recognize women's achievements without regard to national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political considerations. "This makes it an opportunity to reflect on women's challenges, create new partnerships and mobilize for meaningful change," she said.
As the UN System joins government in celebrating the week and hosting this highly exemplary event, Dr Njie-Saidy noted, there is a need for an art and photo exhibition and a film show to demonstrate the need to "unite to end violence against women." "It is high time," VP Njie-Saidy went on, " to acknowledge the different manifestations of violence against women as it ranges from physical and mental abuse to domestic violence, rape and sexual violence", adding that there are various forms of violence that are perpetuated against women and girls in the name of customs, traditions and culture - such as female genital mutilation, early and forced marriage - yet a number of them go unnoticed and under-reported.
Giving the statistics of violence, Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy said, recent studies have revealed that out of the 867 million adults who cannot read today, 64 per cent are women. Also of the approximately 113 million children aged 6-11 years who do not attend school, the majority are girls, while 60 per cent of youth not attending school are girls. Moreover, said, women generally dominate the part of the population that is low-paid, have low status and undertake part-time or contract work that offers limited opportunities for financial security. "Even for similar kind of work, women are paid 20-30 per cent less than men," she added.
Making a reference to statements made by the UN secretary general, Aja Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy said: "Achieving gender equality and empowering women is a goal in itself. It is a prerequisite for attaining the Millennium Development Goals. When women are empowered and engaged, all of society benefits. Only in this way can we successfully take on the enormous challenges confronting our world-from conflict resolution and peace building to fighting AIDS and reaching the Millennium Development goals."
She added that through government efforts, more women are holding higher positions, a clear example of this is that the 2nd highest position in the country, the vice presidency, is held by a woman; 33 per cent of the secretaries of state are women, thus surpassing the number recommended by the UNDP Gender Empowerment Model of 30 per cent. Also the speaker of the National Assembly and the secretary general are women.
Notwithstanding these achievements, challenges still exist because women still do not have enough access to credit, land, healthcare and training in new technologies, to name but a few. She finally called upon the entire nation to empower women and unite to end violence against them "so that the world will be a better and safer place for ourselves and our children.
On her part, Chinwe Dike, UN resident coordinator, expressed gratitude to His Excellency and the government of The Gambia for hosting activities in various parts of the country to mark this year's commemoration. According to the UN Resident Coordinator, the theme of this year's celebration could not have come at a more appropriate time, "when women and girls bear the brunt of the economic turmoil and social unrest rippling through the world today".
The UN boss went on to note that during the last six decades, the UN has played a central role in achieving progress in the field of gender equality, by establishing an internationally agreed policy framework that guides the efforts of governments and other actors. "However," she said, "despite the UN programs that have contributed to the advancement of women and the crucial achievements and immense efforts recorded by governments, women still suffer discrimination and we remain a long way from achieving the goal of gender equality and solving the closely related problems of widespread violence against women."
He therefore called on the government, civil society, women's organizations, young people, and individuals, among others, to join forces with the UN in addressing the global pandemic of violence against women and girls. Janet Sallah-Njie, president of Female Lawyers's Association in The Gambia (FLAG), remarked that violence against women and girls is the most pervasive, yet the least recognized human rights abuse in the world. It is also a profound health problem, sapping women's energy, compromising their physical health, and eroding their self-esteem.
On the realities of gender violence in The Gambia, she said one of the most common forms of violence against women is abuse by their husbands or other intimate male partners. However, she said, FLAG has established linkages with other civil society organizations to facilitate and render legal assistance to women who are victims of violence. Isha Fofana of Gallery Mama Africa and Mariam Khan of Documentary Film Initiative also delivered speeches at the launch.
Author: By Musa Ndow & Yunus S Saliu