Your Excellency, The First Lady of the Republic of The Gambia, Mrs. Zineb Yahya Jammeh,
The Deputy Speaker of The National Assembly,
Honourable Secretaries of State,
Members of The National Assembly,
The UN Resident Coordinator,
Members of The Diplomatic and Consular Corps,
Permanent Secretary, Office of The Vice President,
Women and Young Girls of the Gambia,
All Other Protocols, Respectfully observed,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am extremely pleased to be here on this historic occasion to launch the first National policy for the women of the Gambia. This day will go down in the annals of history as one of the most important days in the history of Gambian women. This a momentous day and a day of joy and hope for Gambian women. The consultation process started in 1996. Even though the validation process was long, we are happy to note that it has culminated into the launching of the National Policy document. We look forward to receive the programme of action and specific activities and costing budget related to this policy.

Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, as we are all aware, and as I reiterated in the preface to the policy, in The Gambia, gender considerations are becoming vital in policy making and implementation.  Considering these developments, the National Policy for Advancement of Gambian women which has now been approved by Cabinet and the National Assembly, will be used as the policy document that will mainstream gender issues into the national machinery. Despite its title, this policy document is a document that deals with gender issues in a holistic manner. The rational behind the focus on women is to highlight the gender disparities in terms of access to education, employment, health services, land, productive resources, technology, and in the decision-making process.

Gambian women, according to our national statistics, comprise 49.9% of the Gambian population with 50.1% males (1993, Central Statistics Population Figures). As you are aware, the majority of Gambian women are rural based and are engaged in agricultural production. As agriculturists they produce the bulk of the food for local consumption.

In spite of their important role as producers, there is still an adherence to the traditional roles that women play, which in return has made them a disenfranchised and marginalized group of people in the society. The priority given to male children in our society has ensured a male dominance in the decision-making process. To redress this situation, it is important that our national policy on gender places emphasis on the girl-child and women.

The challenge for policy makers and interventionists alike, is an ideological change that would recognise that the lives of women cannot be changed without changes in gender relations, and in the sexual division of labour that tie down most women and restrict their participation in the public sphere. For the national policy on the advancement of women, mainstreaming gender issues is crucial for women as it moves them into a more inclusive and equal society.

All the international conferences on women, the last one being the Beijing conference on women, has had an impact on gender relations in the Gambia. With the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies, the Gambia government answered the clarion call of the United Nations by an act of parliament known as The National Women's Council Act of 1980 which, set-up the National Women's Council and the National Women's Bureau. These two institutions will be playing a central role in the gender mainstreaming exercise of the National Policy for the Advancement of Gambian Women.

The policy does not only call for a redress of the inequality in gender relations, but it also calls for international and sectoral responses within the national machinery. The challenge of the Beijing Conference and the Beijing Platform for Action together with The Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), The African Platform for Action and other international conventions have been taken into consideration in this policy document. It is against this background that the policy is drawn upon.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, we are aware of the fact that The Gambia has both National and International obligations to fulfill, thus the need to account for its achievements in the advancement of gender equality.

As a result of this obligation, The Gambia, together with its development partners, have made significant strides in addressing women's needs and concerns. This is exemplified by the establishment of the National Women's Bureau and Council, the implementation of the Women in Development Project, the setting up of a Committee on Post Beijing activities, the Strategy for Poverty Alleviation implementation of various sectoral programmes and projects.

The policy goals are two fold:

  • To catalyze all possible courses of action necessary to eliminate all forms of inequality between women and men.

  • To create and strengthen an enabling environment for the promotion of women's participation and contribution to all aspects of life for equal opportunities and access to existing initiatives aimed at promoting the advancement of women and the girl-child and to guarantee the human rights and security of women and the girl-child.

For these goals to be reached, a number of objectives have to be achieved. Notably, to ensure that specific and sectoral policies are gender sensitive and that planning and budgeting systems take into account women's needs and concerns and their contribution to sustainable development. There is also need to ensure that gender analysis, M & E and impact assessment frameworks and research are put in place so that the impact of policy, programmes and projects for women are determined through specific strategies.

Strategies for implementation of these goals and objectives will be both a multi-sectoral and a coordinating approach including government, NGOs, Civil Society and the international community.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, the policy on women is timely and relevant within the context of our VISION 2020 which is aimed at transforming The Gambia into a self-reliant, middle income and developed nation. Thus the importance of the active participation of women in the realization of the vision cannot be over-emphasized. It is based on the recognition that security and economic empowerment for women through the elimination of poverty and promotion of sustainable livelihood is a critical requirement for the achievement of sustainable development. The policy recognises the need for support of women's issues from all members of society -- there will be no gender equality without the full participation of the males in our society.

At the moment in the Gambia, the government, in partnership with the Department for International Development and Civil Society, has embarked on a Mainstreaming Gender and Poverty programme. These two main areas are government's priority. What the central project of the programme seeks to do is, "to help the Government of the Gambia to mainstream poverty reduction and gender equality strategies into the planning and implementation of public services, particularly in Health and Education."

The focus is on three main areas. Information, Advocacy and the Development of systems and skills in selected Planning Units in order to formulate, analyse, monitor policy and make plans and budgets from a poverty and gender perspective.

Specifically, addressing the operationalization of the Women's Policy, is the DCD Skills II (Two) Project funded by the African Development Bank (ADB) and operating under SPA II.  With this project The Bureau and Council's mandate of advocacy is addressed. The AWA Magazine for Women will be revived and support will be given to the dissemination of the Women's Policy to all Gambians. Information from funded research will also be disseminated through this programme.

In the final analysis, gender mainstreaming is Gambia's approach in moving the gender agenda. In this connection, a lot of progress has been made in the education and some other sectors such as in Agriculture and the informal sectors.

The Nutrition Policy and now The Draft Reproductive Health Policy will also move health issues into the main-streaming process.

Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, in conclusion, I would like to call on all stakeholders to assist in the implementation of the policy in order to move gender issues from the periphery to the center.

And on that note, I have the singular honour and privileged to launch the National Policy for the Advancement of Women.

I thank you for your kind attention and may Allah the Almighty shower his blessings upon us all.