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Source: allAfrica

The advent of the 22nd July revolution has indeed ushered in tremendous development in all sectors of the Gambian society, especially in the area of women empowerment.

Since the early days of the revolution, the empowerment of Gambian women has been a key priority in the development master plan of the Second Republic.

The government of the Second Republic under the leadership of His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yaya AJJ Jammeh has shown a high sense of commitment to supporting the cause of Gambian Women, children and the vulnerable, which has earned him global recognition. Thus his efforts in empowering Gambian women are worth praising as it steps up the development process of the nation.

The Women Empowerment Project launched in 2008, constitutes a magnificent project, as it showcases another meaningful step in the efforts deployed by government towards providing the necessary environment, infrastructure and facilities for Gambian women to learn and acquire skills, access resources and finance, as well as network at both local and international levels, thus harnessing their collective potential to create and develop a vibrant platform for business and production. In July 2010, The Gambian leader, Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh was conferred with the 'Pride of African Women Award' by the Women Advancement for Economic and Leadership Empowerment in Africa dubbed WAELE, a Pan-African women organisation, in recognition of his good governance, as well as his strides in the empowerment and advancement of African women.

The president was also officially decorated at the same occasion by the founder and president of WAELE, Dr Basirat Nahibi, as the 'Grand Patron' of the organisation, with a membership spreading over all the regions of the continent. All these developments came hard on the heels of a visit to The Gambia by Dr Nahibi and a high-powered delegation from WAELE to applaud the Gambian leader for his outstanding women empowerment initiatives, which prompted them to designate him as the Grand Patron of WAELE, as well as announce their intention to award him the aforementioned prestigious accolade.

The president has never relented in championing the cause of women and working towards increasing their success in key areas like the inclusion of women in the functional structures of government, especially at decision making level, girls education, the drastic reduction of maternal and child mortality, the protection and promotion of women's rights, with legislative instruments that do not only guarantee protection, but stipulate stringent penalties for those who perpetrate violence against women.

The APRC Government's stance on the empowerment of women cannot be over emphasized. This was also highlighted in November 2009, during the Beijing +15 meeting held in the Gambia. The main objective of this meeting is to discuss and strategise on the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA). The launching of the Gambian Women's Federation in 2010 also witnessed the launching of the African Union Women's Decade 2010-2020 in The Gambia. The launch of the National Women's Federation brought together thousands of Gambian women from all spheres of human endeavors, including farmers, entrepreneurs, decision and policymakers, craftswomen, politicians and activists, amongst a host of others. The Federation's goals is to provide a platform for women's effective participation in national development through institutional strengthening, improved communication and partnership amongst women groups both within and outside The Gambia. The formation process used a bottom-up approach, leading to series of consultations for the establishment of management structures at village, ward, district, regional and national levels.

Dressed in traditional white gowns, the women marched past the Gambian leader, whose government has always championed their cause, culminating in the formation of the Women's Federation.

In his launching statement, President Jammeh hailed the women for their steadfastness and for taking a giant stride in coming together under one umbrella as part of the women empowerment process. He noted, with delight, that the women of the country have never failed to respond to his calls for support, and have always been at the forefront of national development since the advent of the July 22nd Revolution.

At the Elysee Summit in Paris, France, the First Lady of the Republic, Her Excellency Madam Zineb Yahya Jammeh highlighted the president's drive towards women empowerment as exemplified by his support and endorsement of the candidature of the incumbent prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, (ICC), Fatou Bom Bensouda. Protection of women against abuse

The president of Republic of the Gambia, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yaya AJJ Jammeh and his government never tolerate violence against women such as rape and other forms of abuse directed against women. Perpetrators of such act faced the full force of the law. President Jammeh has set up a mechanism for addressing violence against women through the ratification of international and regional legal instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, the Beijing Platform of Action and the enactment of the Women's Act 2010. This year we have seen the coming of the 'Domestic Violence Bill and a Sexual Offence Bill' by the government of The Gambia which are also significant in addressing violence against women and girls.

All these instruments recognized the significant contributions of women and girls in the socio-economic development of The Gambia.

"The government of The Gambia is resolved to see that all women and girls are given fair and equal treatment at both our socio-cultural and political levels as in tandem with programmes aimed at combating violence against women. This is the vision of His Excellency the president who continues to promote the implementation of policies and programmes that engender the empowerment of women and girls, as well as advocate for the equality of the sexes. This would ensure that gains we have already registered are entrenched and sustained, leading us to our desired goals of the eventual elimination of violence against women," said the First Lady of the Republic, Her Excellency Madam Zineb Yahya Jammeh, at the two-day Elysee Summit in Paris, France.

Agriculture among other sectors

Women constitute more of the labour force; they are always seen very active in the agricultural sector most especially in the production of rice.

Apart from their struggles in the rice field they also participate actively in most of the development activities of the country including tourism, and also as mothers and household keepers among others. They are running major businesses in the trade, export and import sector. They are indeed great in all aspect of the development of our motherland, The Gambia.

In the just concluded nationwide tour with a strong call for Gambian farmers to engage in large-scale agricultural production for the country to move from predominantly subsistence farming to commercial farming, The Gambian leader was never relent in praising and appreciating the important role women continue to play in the implementation of his programmes and policies, describing them as a catalyst to national development. He said he has enormous confidence in women to the extent that he can entrust them with any responsibility and yet go to sleep. "I'll continue to empower women because they are honest. In the next five years, by the will of Allah, you will all see a greater change," he promised.

Again, during the launched of Ecowas Federation of Business Women and Entrepreneurs (FEBWE) Gambia Chapter in 2012, the vice president told the gathering that the government under the able leadership of Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh has undertaken series of initiatives to create an enabling environment that enhance women's economic growth and employability through the development and implementation policies, programmes and projects. She pointed out that all these activities are geared towards encouraging more and more women to venture into commercial and industrial sectors of the country's economy.

Personal support by the Gambian leader

The Gambian leader, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya AJJ Jammeh, is the number one advocate of women advancement and promoter of gender equality, not only through official means, but also at a personal level. The sponsorship for the girl's education through PEGEP and the Girl's Education Trust Fund have significantly contributed towards the attainment of gender parity in education.

Through the Jammeh Foundation for Peace, several projects have been implemented in the areas of health, education, agriculture, and environmental management, which have yielded several benefits to women and girls. He also initiated a Women's Empowerment Programme for girls; women's participation in state matters, decision-making and politics has improved over the years since the advent of the Second Republic. Operation Save A Baby initiative and OFLAGAM

"Operation Save a Baby' is a charitable committe initiated by the First Lady, H.E. Madam Zineb Yahya Jammeh in December 1999. It was the first project of the First Lady," said the former speaker of the National Assembly Fatoumatta Jahumpa Ceesay. Operation Save a Baby's main objective, she said, is to compliment the efforts of the Government within the health sector particularly in the maternity sub-sector. The funds of Operation Save a Baby are generally raised from donations by institutions and individuals. The most popular activity of Operation Save a Baby is the First Babies of the year, whereby cash prizes and baby gifts are given to the first babies of the year. There are generally four categories: First baby of the year, first baby Girl of the year, first baby boy of the year and first twins of the year. In the first year, this event covered only the referral hospital in Banjul, Royal Victoria Hospital and now called Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital. Apart from the cash prices and gifts given on New Year's Day, scholarship funds are also set up for the first babies. The First Lady normally presents the gifts and in her absence, the Vice President would present it.

"The most important work of Operation Save A Baby is the purchase of maternity related equipment and medications for the maternity wards throughout the country but mainly Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital, Basang Hospital, APRC Hospital in Farafenni, Brikama Health Centre etc. Maternity related equipment, such as incubators, malaria drugs, pediatrics blood bags, surgical and disposable gloves nasagostic tubes etc have been purchased in the past for various hospitals and health centres," FJC revealed.

Her Excellency the First Lady, Madam Zineb Yahya AJJ Jammeh through OFLAGAM and Operation Save a Baby, has contributed towards improving maternal and child health survival and development. Our able vice president and minister of Women's Affairs Aja Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy has also reiterated that the sky is the limit as far as her aspiration for women empowerment is concerned. While answering questions from students from various schools in the country under the United States 'Girls' Power Programme' in 2012, VP Njie-Saidy pointed out that as women and girls constitute half of the country's population, they are an important human resource component that need to be tapped to the fullest for any meaningful development.

She said: "As they constitute half of the country's population, any sensible or wise government would tap those human resources. And that is exactly what President Jammeh has done".

"He focuses his policies on women and girls and doesn't segregate between the two sexes but knows that women and girls were left behind for a very long time and that situation has to be redressed, so that at par he can address them both".

She further stated that the involvement of women and girls in the socio-economic development of the country is paramount, saying development experts have revealed that it is efficient and effective, as it trickles down to the rest of the society.

In 2013, ADE Mamonyane Lekoetje, the resident coordinator of the United Nations system in The Gambia commended government of the Gambia for its strong push for women empowerment, saying the country is on the right path to unleashing the potential of women in national development.

"There has been tremendous achievements in 20-years of President Jammeh's leadership, who we the women called not only 'Babili Mansa', but 'Avocat des Femme' of women, because he is the defender of the cause of women empowerment, he is therefore our 'Avocat' not only for Gambian women but the whole of Africa," said the former speaker of the National Assembly Fatoumatta Jahumpa Ceesay commonly known as FJC.

FJC cited the just concluded Women Africa Forum held in the Gambia, revealing that part of the outcomes of the form was the admiration the delegates have for President Jammeh for his stance and policies on gender issues particularly in connection to the welfare of women and the girl child.

"So I think there has been tremendous progress. I am among the success stories of the revolution as a woman, and there are many other women folk with similar success stories thanks to the "22 of July 1994". There are a good number of Gambian women manning key decision making positions in President Jammeh's government and Gambian women holding important international portfolios, in the likes of; Fatou Bom Bensouda and Ann Therese Ndong Jatta amongst others," she noted. Today we have the longest serving female vice president, Dr Aja Isatou Njie Saidy, all these are because women are better managers, that's why we still have her there and we have been having women in the diplomatic field as ambassadors. She went on to say that under Preident Jammeh, there are women councilors, MPs, a governor among others.

FJC thus quoted President Jammeh as saying: "I will always be with women because they always constitute the highest percentage in all gatherings in fact women form the majority in all positive developments that are happening in this country".

President Jammeh would always congratulate Gambian women for their sense of patriotism and dedication to the development of our motherland the Gambia, said a former speaker of the National assembly. She then quoted one of President Jammeh's statements were he said: "Allah has assured me the support of women because of the honesty, dedication and loyalty of Gambian women. If you (women) were not behind us I wonder whether we will have anything to celebrate today. As long as I live, women will continue to be united and loyal to the country. For Gambian women the sky is the limit".

" I therefore want to seize this opportunity, to felicitate His Excellency, the President Shiekh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the peaceful and prolific July 22nd Revolution. Congratulations Mr. President for 20 years of remarkable socio-economic development," said FJC. She concluded that "you cannot talk about the success stories and achievements of President Jammeh without mentioning the women, because he has really empowered us and emancipated us, giving us our independence, respect and dignity so that we are known and seen everywhere in the world".

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