One Solution: Gender Inequality in The Gambia
written by Tijan Kuyateh, 2022 Youth Champion
Situation of Girls' Education in The Gambia
There are a host of crosscutting issues confronting women and girls in the Gambia—ranging from child marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM), child labor, sexual abuse and financial dependency. This intersectionality of inequalities facing women and girls is worse within the disadvantaged and underserved communities in rural Gambia. It has been about a decade now since the Gambia Government introduced free education for girls nationwide. This was a milestone in promoting gender equality and mainstreaming. However, in the rural Gambia, not much has changed. A good number of girls are not taken to school. This predisposes them to Early or Child Marriage that put them at the risk of many sexual and reproductive health problems including sexual and domestic violence, maternal mortality among others.
While some girls in their early adolescent stage are withdrawn from school for marriage, others do not ever get the opportunity to go to school. Many of these girls eventually face a lot of social and psychological problems in their marriages but will never be able to divorce because they lack the standard of education to be gainfully employed so they lack financial independence, thus trapped in the cycle of poverty and voicelessness.
My public engagement activity
Manduar Open Field Day with the theme Girls’ Education—solution to the intersectionality of inequalities women and girls face in The Gambia was scheduled and held on the 22nd of July 2022 at Manduar Village in Kiang West, Lower River Region of the Gambia. The activity was marked by public lecture on girls’ education, quiz and prize giving, drama, and spelling bee competition specifically for girls as a sign of empowerment – that, girls are smart enough to be left alone to pursue their educational goals from primary to post-secondary level and become equal contributors with men and boys in our society.
For more information I recommend reading the Gambia Education Sector Strategic Plan (ESSP 2016 – 2030), Borgen Project: Top 10 facts about Girls’ education in The Gambia, Unicef and Child Fund-The Gambia country reports.
Impact of my Public Engagement
This was the first time such an event was held in Manduar to highlight the importance of educating girls but also to identify, acknowledge and commit to strive in bringing down the gender-based inequalities impeding the growth and development of women and girls in the little inland village of Kiang West. The event was attended by members of the village development committee, school authorities, parents and students.
During the public lecture, the guest speaker, Ms. Binta Bah, who is a female youth representative at the National Youth Parliament, also a teacher and entrepreneur, explained the imperatives of educating girls. She pointed out for example, that during the recently concluded National Assembly elections which she was monitoring, none of the aspiring candidates in their campaigns pledged to strive for the women’s bill which has been laying down at the Parliament. She said:
“[…] if we had had a female candidate, maybe she will be concerned and will go at length to fight to bring that bill to life because that bill is everything for our empowerment, development and advancement as women and girls”.
It was indeed fascinating for many parents to see how incredible their girl child was doing especially during the spelling bee completion. During the spelling bee, which was a really tough battle as all the girls were really competing well, parents could be seen, out of excitement and delight, running to their girls hugging them and some even giving them gifts on the stage including cash. Personally, I saw this scene as a special moment that revealed so many things that were hidden to many parents about their children. Many parents in the village are mostly concerned with their farming and sometimes even having their children to boycott school and school activities to give them a helping hand at the rice fields. But with what transpired at the event, these parents will be more than willing to support their girls in the pursuance of their educational goals.
In a random interview with a parent whose child was competing, she confessed to having withdrawn an older girl child from school because of lack of money to support her. “I will not repeat the same mistake with this other one because what I saw today shows me that my girl has the potential to become anything she wants, be it a doctor, nurse, lawyer or teacher. I will support her with everything I have. I was withdrawn from school when I was young to become a nanny. Those that I nannied today do not even care about me, but I know it will not be the same if it were my own children” she narrates. Another mother giving her feedback states:
“My daughter is a very shy girl. To see her come in front of this crowd and express herself and win a prize is indeed a great source of delight for me. I pledge to support her in her education to any level she wants to go, and I pledge to not disturb her with marriage”.
Another interesting thing I discovered during this public engagement was that such outdoor educational activities are not frequent at the school despite the benefits it could do to the self-esteem of the children. A grade-2 student Fatou Jammeh was really passionate about singing and dancing but because of her lack of crowd confidence, she was crying during her act; a testimony of what has been missing and what this sort of public engagement for girls can do to their esteem. The village development chair and other educationists all underscored the importance of such outside classroom educational activities as it helps to build the confidence, spirit and esteem of girls to become assertive, empowered and bold.
“Nova Scotia-Gambia Association’s ultimate goal is to empower African children and youth with education so they can teach their friends and loved ones how to live healthy lives. Together they work to build vibrant communities with bright futures.” NSGA