Three out of Ten? Is it too much to ask for?

The representation of women in politics is a global concern because women constitute half of humanity, yet they do not make up half the number of representatives in decision-making positions. Since the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, women have been calling for a thirty percent quota system to increase the number of women in decision-making bodies. This has not been achieved in many areas and the situation is not different in Parliamentary representation in many parts of the world.

As of December 2011, the Inter-Parliamentary Union figures indicated that globally only 19.5% of parliamentary seats were held by women. In Sub-Saharan Africa the statistical representation is almost a point ahead with 20.2% women Parliamentarians. (

In Gambia, gender representation in Parliament since Independence leaves much to be desired. Until 1994, only one woman has ever been elected into Parliament. Honourable Nyimasata Sanneh- Bojang has been the reference for elected Gambian women for a long time. However, this did not mean that women had not made attempts to get elected. Some tried during the First Republic but they have not succeeded. The trend also continued during the Second Republic. Only few women like Duta Kamaso, Bintanding Jarju, Haddy Nyang-Jagne have vied and succeeded to be elected to Parliament. However, these women were all under the purview of the ruling party of the day that is the Peoples Progressive Party in the First Republic and the Alliance for Patriotic, Reconciliation and Construction Party in the Second Republic. Women had vied under opposition parties but none succeeded. One of such women who continuously made her name among Gambian women in politics is Amie Sillah. Despite all her attempts she has not been elected. She is a role model for women in politics. Her courage to vie for election on an opposition ticket is commendable. It demonstrates an understanding of what multi-party democracy means.

Since the Beijing Conference in 1995, The Gambia has seen increased visibility of women in political decision-making positions. Up to 2011, five (5) women have held the position of Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly at one point in time. As of December 2011, only 7.5% of the Gambian National Assembly is female, representing four women out of fifty-three members of the Assembly of which one is the Deputy Speaker. It is important to adopt the 30% quota system for women to have a significant number of representatives, whether it is through elections or appointments, to change the current situation in which only two are elected and the other two are nominated.

On the 25th February 2012, the national television broadcast “Banjul Calendar” which identifies national events for public attention. One of the events listed was, “Nomination of Candidates for National Assembly Elections on the 29th March 2012”. The general public may not have taken note when the national television broadcast the announcement. People who are not in the partisan political arena may be taken unaware because it was not apparent that there was any form of lobbying for nomination going on. There was very limited discussion in the media, local newspapers or on the radios, public and private on who should represent the people in the National Assembly. Aspirants did not come out in the open to make their intention public in the media.

Why aren’t there more women elected into Parliament? The Independent Electoral Commission published the qualifications for Citizens to vie for elections. These include age, educational status, and income tax clearance, amongst others. While this may seem fair and straightforward, a closer look into political party representations would highlight gender bias and unequal gender representation.

The importance of education to increase women’s political representation in Parliament keeps manifesting itself in election of candidates. In most constituencies the vocal women leaders are not educated and are disqualified for vying for elections whether it is National or local. Yet, most of the women with formal education who are qualified to stand for election shy away from politics.

The selection processes in political parties are also obstacles to women vying for Parliamentary seats. Women in political parties have been strong mobilizers for their parties. They show commitment and dedication to whichever party they belong. This is accepted until women run against men. Once women in the same party decide to contest for a candidature once occupied by men, it becomes a problem. The women become threatening to those already occupying the seats and it starts breeding discontent and conflict in the parties.

In the on-going campaign for the 2012 National Assembly election, the ruling party approved the nomination of only three women of the forty-eight candidates that have been identified. It could mean either women in the party did not vie to be elected or the party does not have enough educated and qualified women who are 21 years and above. I put this to one of the prominent women interested in women in politics and her response was “I am disappointed, there were women from the different constituencies but the selection committees in the party at the constituency level did not select them. These are women who are capable and have presence in the constituencies. They are known supporters of the party.” When it was further asked why those women cannot stand as independent candidates, the response was “they will be seen as opposition members.” Some of the women believe that intra-party favouritism is imposed for the selection of candidates.

Six opposition parties in The Gambia have decided not to put up candidates for the 2012 National Assembly elections. The reasons published in the local newspapers include the unlevel playing fields and the manifestation of public support for the ruling party amongst officials of government institutions that are supposed to be neutral. Only one opposition party had vied but none of its candidates is a woman. Therefore no woman from the other opposition parties came out to compete for the 2012 legislative election. Also there is only one female independent candidate for 2012.

In 2008, a consultation held on women’s political participation and leadership confirmed that gender issues in politics cut across political parties, ruling or opposition. Women from different political parties raised concerns about holding meetings late at night to discourage the potential women political aspirants from attending; thus when decisions are taken in their absence, it cannot be disputed. The other aspect raised is lack of finance to engage in political campaign – the logistics to reach out to the electorates as well as lack of campaign materials to show visibility of their candidature.

Personality politics is another constraint highlighted for the lack of women vying for political positions. Marital status and morality issues are raised. Some who are against women standing for elections will want to know whether the woman political aspirant had children born out of marriage, or even who are they going out with. This type of personality politics does not seem to be attached to men who aspire to be politicians. It is an open secret that there are men in Gambian politics that have had children with women they had not married or are even having extra-marital affairs, but they are not castigated about those personal issues. Yet when men canvas for votes, they do not ask the female electorates their marital status or other personal moral issues. People voted them into political positions because they are expected to represent the concerns of the electorate in improving the development of the country. The risk of losing elections is another challenge that deters qualified women from leaving their comfort zone to engage in hassling and bustling with men in the political arena.

Selection for Parliamentary representation should be based on citizenship and the other relevant requirements. This is to ensure an effective National Assembly that represents the concerns of the electorates in the policies and laws that are discussed and adopted in Parliament.

To overcome the gender concerns and gaps in national politics, there is need to engage young women and groom them to be fine committed politicians. This requires building leadership in young people to understand national policies and the role of representatives in ensuring a conducive legal environment for protecting the national integrity. The National Assembly is where national issues should be debated and laws enacted to protect the citizens. It is one of the highest national institutions where democracy and good governance should be demonstrated.

Meanwhile, to increase the representation of women in the National Assembly, Gambian Political parties should adopt a quota system. To demonstrate the strategic and genuine engagement of women in the political parties it is recommended that the UN 30% quota system be adopted to encourage the participation of women in the national and local elections. Is it too much to ask for three out of ten for people of equal citizenship?

Human rights cannot be in realized in a space where silence is the norm. The mandate of National Assembly members includes, amongst other things, engaging with their constituencies to educate them on national policies and programmes and create enlightenment on democracy, good governance, and the roles of the government, the Parliament and the electorate. Promotion of freedom of expression within parties, between parties and in the media can entrench the culture of speaking out in the national psyche. Men and women can express themselves in a respectful, honest way on national issues to find solutions. The more people are able to openly share their ideas the wider the opportunities for them to make informed choices regarding women’s political representation in the National Assembly. In order to make informed choices, the media is key in engaging the masses to recognize the gender issues and concerns in electing women in political positions. These are key in changing the perceptions of the electorate about the responsibilities of their representatives. Perhaps silence does not always mean consent.

The 2012 National Assembly election is a foregone case in gender representation. If the nomination is anything to go by, the next National Assembly will have an increase in elected female representation. There will be four elected women. Hopefully if the Head of State follows the constitutional mandate to nominate at least two more women, then the percentage of women in the Gambian Parliament will increase from 7.5% to 11.3%.

An optimistic analysis of Women’s participation in the upcoming 2012 National Assembly election will assume that all four (4) female candidates will win and two more will be nominated thus increasing the number of women in parliament to six (6), an increase from the current four (4). On the other hand if the two ruling party female candidates opposed by men and the only female independent candidate lose then there will be decrease in the number of women representatives in the Assembly. It then implies that the only representative would be one unopposed elected woman and possibly two nominated women. Thus it will reduce the percentage to 5.6% of women in parliament far below the UN recommendation of at least 30% representation of women in decision-positions such as the National Assembly.

There are more educated women in the urban areas than in the rural areas. Yet, apart from one of the current women parliamentarians, all the women ever elected to the National Assembly were from rural Gambia. Despite the fact that rural women are perceived as docile, the educated ones have demonstrated that their leadership potentials go beyond their locality; with confidence and determination they can contest in national elections as equal citizens. Such potential cannot be realized without the selection committees treating them as equals and giving them opportunities. Their constituencies have not used culture and religion as excuses for not electing women. It also highlights that if the parties are committed to select women as candidates it will increase the chances for more women to be elected at constituency level. Therefore, with more educated women in urban areas, the selection committees of the parties should give consideration to their female members who are aspiring to vie for elections. Voter education should take the gender issues and concerns into consideration in order for political parties to demonstrate their commitment to making women’s empowerment through representation a reality.

Now it is time for the political parties to seize the opportunity to increase the participation of women in the upcoming local government elections. When one follows the pictures of political rallies women dominate in the audience. They sing and dance to show their support. It is time for women to also be elected to serve in more important roles. In the 2008 Local Government elections 21 women across the different parties vied for positions in various wards and 15 were elected. ( ) The mass sensitization should start immediately to engage and increase women in the Ward Council elections. The local government election is equally an important area where women can demonstrate leadership. The local government elections should be taken with all seriousness because the Area Council is the governance part of the decentralization process. There are capable women in the different wards. Thus it is not too much for 50% of the population to ask for at least 30% representation in national and local elections.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.


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Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future 2012 Assignments: Feature Stories.

Topic Leadership


My dear Amie

As I was reading the article, I felt that despite being continents apart, Gambia and India (or,in another word, you and me) are not really that far; in India. for 12 long years, we are fighting for one third of the seats in National parliament and state assemblies to be reserved for women. Last year, our cabinet approved the draft bill, but its yet to see the light of the day.. .Fight on Amie, its a goal worth pursuing.


Stella Paul Twitter: @stellasglobe

Stella dear,

We can't just give up. The resistance is strong because we are yet to be taken as equal citizens at heart. We are considered second class citizens and only seem to count when patriarchs are happy with us. Good luck with busy life.


Dear Amiesissoho, you said it again. Bravo !!. Like Stella has said we are not apart. In Uganda we have achieved the one third seats for women. But our question is : Are the voices of these women being heard or they are just puppets of the party leaders. Women should stand up and speak for the women.

However, you are right that the participation of women in political parties is critical and the beginning point

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."

Grace we are fighting many battles. One at time we shall get to our destination. Women in the parties have to be equally empowered. In fact some developments occurred after posting my story. The ruling Party leader coincidentally the Head of State dismissed all those considered his party members and have been nominated as Independent candidates including the only female Independent candidate. This was contained in an news item broadcast over the national radio and TV. The local papers also carried the story today.


Aimee,, I support your voice. In the context of Nepal, 33% reservation for women in constituent assembly, but sad thing is that there is not significant role playing by all of those female member. They just cover the seat and do signature as their party leader ask to do.So I prefer that they should have decision making power and should play significant role too. just being like statue is worthless.

thank you for raising your voice sister.


That is why activists should engage them to raise their consciousness and empower them with information. They need to recognize the power of their voices. We can't give up on them. Let's keep trying until they discover themselves beyond pleasing an individual.

Usha thanks for taking time to read the story.



You have taken on an important issue. As more than 50 percent of the world population, women deserve to occupy more than 5.6% or 7.5% of the decision-making positions. Women need to be considered full-fledged human beings with voices that are heard and respected. Your voice, vision, and courage are admirable. Keep on writing and sharing your vision for a better world.

Thirty percent is not too much to ask for!


Dear Sally, Thanks for the encouragement. Indeed we need to recognize women as people with voices and the need to be listened to them in the decision-making processes.


Dear sister,

Thanks for this detailed piece on an issue relevant to many countries. We women must continue fighting for our space everywhere. Btw, I believe that "power hungry" men are actually insecure!

Best, Pushpa

Dear Amie,

Thank you for your thoughtful piece. I'm impressed with the depth of your research! The most powerful comment for me was the following: "Human rights cannot be in realized in a space where silence is the norm."

This is one of the biggest issues that I see, across systems (in societies, in organizations, in families) -- i.e. Silence. Much bigger, I believe, than the issue of too much speaking up!

It reminds me that the question "Why don't people speak out?" is not a simple one. As you suggest, we all work hard to please others. It's rare that I meet someone who is deeply willing to stir a system, even in a positive way, because so much can be at stake -- being liked by our family, friends, and colleagues; sustaining control and power... It takes a lot to step into these fears. (I think of all the times I've stayed quiet over the years!)

Often I find it useful to honor these as 'okay' desires. Somewhere along the line, we learn that these things are important. And many people learn it's wise to stay quiet. A good strategy for something!

I love your response "We can't give up on them. Let's keep trying until they discover themselves beyond pleasing an individual." Yes!

As I read your piece, I wonder, too, what these men might lose by giving seats to women... Authority, power, pride; acceptance from family and friends; a certain culture and way of being around each other and talking with each other; old beliefs and assumptions that have worked for a long time... Those can seem like really high stakes -- much higher than the importance of change. If I put myself in their shoes, I can see why they want to protect the system -- as hard as it is for me to accept that, as a woman!

What would it take to create a safe environment where people can express their genuine voice on this issue of parliamentary seats? Where men can express their resistance to bringing women into Parliament -- to express their real concerns, underneath all the bantering?

These are very idealistic questions -- and perhaps too much to ask. The dialogue can be risky -- if it were ever accepted!

What's your experience on all of this?

Persistence sounds key, as you suggest -- and a few very bold women who are willing to step into a male-dominated system and role model the power of female leadership. That, a whole other issue! I often see women who get into the system by 'putting on pants' and behaving like men, in some way, to be accepted. I see it in government, organizations... This may not be as much of an issue in Gambia?

Thank you again for your thoughtful piece -- and for your COURAGE in raising your voice.

With appreciation,


Dear Robin,

Thanks for your reflections. Women are most of the time the ones who sacrifice for the honor of the family or to maintain men in power. Once women ask to be considered for the same things, the issues of family, long standing norms and values come up because someone usually a man will be uncomfortable. In the case of women in parliamentary representation is not about men giving up for women but to recognize that women can also be there. They should not be denied the opportunity because of gender considerations.

Also it should be noted that women's voices should be reflected in the decisions the men take on behalf of all citizens - men and women.

"old beliefs and assumptions worked for so long" because women did not question them or felt it important to question them. In this generation roles and responsibilities of women have undergone dramatic changes in the light of education and realization of citizen's rights and it will be difficult to continue to maintain the "old beliefs and assumptions". Dominant hegemony will never call for change, but that does not mean they have not been challenged in the call for justice.

Safe environment can only continue to exist if people feel a sense of justice and equal rights to all citizen, where men and women can honestly have open debates for gender representation.

Female patriarchs are everywhere especially if they are the token representatives who benefit from the gender debates. They do not give gender issues priority but their allegiance is to the men who get them to the positions. They do not see themselves as part of the outcome of the gender debates.

Hope you will continue to reflect on the gender considerations in keeping long standing norms. I appreciate the points you have raised and hope that we shall all work towards women's empowerment from the point of view of justice.


Dear Amie,

The issue you raised has been on for a long time in Nigeria-- even before our last general elections in 2011, when it was elaborately discussed. Women represent half of humanity, yet women have problems winning elective positions. In our consultative meetings, we identify some hurdles, which you also identify in Gambia. Fine, there are those hurdles but the major hindrance is that women do not like giving their votes to fellow women. I know a woman candidate for National Assembly who did not make it to the final election simply because she lost in the party's primary election. Upon the large number of women who participated in the primary elections, she got only one vote-- the one she gave to herself. The news was widely carried then in Nigeria.

The Federal government of Nigeria, in what is called 'affirmative action,' gives women 35% in selective positions and not elective positions. The big question I have is - why do women prefer voting for men instead of fellow women. Relying on quota from government is not really full participation in politics. Any women who attains a leadership position on the platform of selection / nomination can always be fired by the person who hires her. In that case, there will be no justifiable ground for court action.



The suggested quota system is a temporal one but there are deeper issues for the election of men and women into political positions. You're right that the selection does not guarantee security but in some cases even the elected ones, men or women can be expelled from their party. We just have to continue to search for the right strategies that work for us.



The questions you raise are critical and just as Stella and Ikirimat point out these same challenges affect women in my country too. We even have the problem that some of the women who have made it into the [political arena do not necessarily represent women's wishes but carry the agendas of their different political parties at the expense of the women's agenda. But keep the fight going.



My dear Madube,

Yesterday was the elections and the independent female lost to the ruling party male candidate. I do agree with the point that they do not necessarily represent women's interest. We would however encourage them as representatives of female visibility until we get what we want.



Amie, this is such an important topic. I love how you propose solutions throughout the piece, particularly on educating and nurturing leadership in girls in order to be the leaders of the future. Women's leadership in government could help bring some much needed changes to this world. Good work, and keep up the fight sister! Best, Scott

Scott Beck

Scott, the hope is on the future leadership that should be nurtured now. With dialogue and understanding the gender dynamics in our endeavours, we hope to contribute in our little ways. Thanks for taking time to read it. regards,