So much has been said and written on violence against women and girls, with the Gambia Committee against Traditional Practices (GAMCOTRAP) being in the forefront of the crusade for a better deal for women. Using the potent advocacy tools available, GAMCOTRAP has repeatedly called for an end to violence against women and girls. The issues that GAMCOTRAP deals with are real: wife battering, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, divorce, inheritance and economic rights of women.
GAMCOTRAP’s challenge is a tough one in the sense that all of the issues it takes head on are rooted in ‘culture’. It is ‘culture’ that allows a husband to beat up a wife; it is ‘culture’ that allows the girl-child to be forced into marriage; it is ‘culture’ that permits forced marriage. What sort of culture permits discrimination? Certainly, such a culture does not foster progress. GAMCOTRAP challenges us all to rethink some of our cultural practices, giving up those that get in the way of progress and taking up the ones that are useful.
Instead of being seen as tools to be used and then discarded, women should be given opportunities to develop their full potential. There is also need for mutual respect on the part of male and female, because they need each other to lead a full and well meaning life.
Women have shown themselves to be just as competitive as their male counterparts in every sphere of life. Not too long ago, the idea of a female president was unthinkable. But we have had female presidents who have risen creditably to the challenges of statesmanship. If they had been impeded in the name of culture, then humanity would have been deprived of their valuable contributions. Therefore, women are not as inferior as the world has been made to believe over the years. Given a level playing field, women have shown that they can hold their own against men.
One way of undoing the age-old discrimination against women is to increase access to education for them. Getting them scholarships will help a lot. With education, more and more women will become conscious of their rights and be better able to defend themselves against oppressive cultural practices – and reasonable men should also root for them in their quest for emancipation. They need to because the world needs gender balance as the foundation for lasting development. We believe that peace and prosperity will continue to elude the world so long as women are held in captivity in the name of culture.
“The one true index of a man’s character is the health of his wife.”