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Ending Discrimination Against Gambian Women

UN Panel Discusses Law And Practice In Ending Discrimination Against Gambian Women

New York, Jul 18 2005 4:00PM

Though Gambia was the first West African country to appoint a woman Vice President more than a decade ago, the Gambian Government has expressed certain reservations about equality for women, based on the perceived restrictions of culture and religion, a United Nations expert group says.

Since Vice President Isatou Njie Saïdy's appointment in 1994, the country has added "on the basis of gender" to its anti-discrimination provisions, but only 27 percent of women are literate, compared to 54 per cent of men in its 1.3 million, 90 per cent Muslim population, the 23-member UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) <"">concluded from the Government's report.

The CEDAW experts pointed out that although the Government acceded to the anti-discrimination Convention, it expressed reservations about the African Women's Protocol on rights also covered by the Convention, and that the country's legal system, lacking such laws as those prohibiting domestic violence and sexual harassment, sometimes allowed civil rights violations.

On the report's position that the extreme poverty in the country, combined with the growing tourism industry, was luring girls into prostitution and making them more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, the CEDAW experts said tourism may have increased because of the easy availability of prostitutes, especially minors.

The Gambian delegation, headed by Minister for Fisheries and Water Resources Bai Mass Taal, said Gambia had tried to collaborate with the countries of origin of "sex tourists," but those Governments often aided the perpetrators by giving them new passports so that they could flee prosecution.

Meanwhile, the United States and United Kingdom were assisting the Government in drafting laws to comply with the Convention, but the Government realized that it was not enough to change a law, the delegation said.

Mindsets needed to be changed and the Government was engaging in a dialogue with religious and other civil society leaders to influence attitudes towards such issues as female circumcision. Recent draft legislation on children banned female circumcision, the Gambian delegates said.

Human rights stood above sensitivity to cultural norms, the CEDAW experts said, and they expressed concern that religious leaders were calling the shots in a secular state.


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