Lack of Education Stole her Dream of Career Politician

Amie Bojang-Sissoho
Posted December 6, 2011 from Gambia
Lack of Education Stole her Dream of Career Politician

She was sitting amongst a group of women, supervising the cooking of a big pot of ‘Jollof’ rice at a naming ceremony. I sat watching how they admired the attire of the guests and the griot sang praises to the women linking them to their linage. Then I observed that she was less busy and it was time to have a break and settled down for a bowl of chakiri - locally made couscous with fermented milk under the veranda.

Haja Ngundo Koita lives in an old settlement near the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by tourist attractions. She is amongst many in her community affected by high illiteracy, amongst women and girls in particular. Haja is married but she is a matriarch in her household where she lives with her sons, in-laws and grandchildren.

Haja sells iceblock to the fishmongers to preserve their fish for sale in the local market and some sell it to the nearby towns. She is also engaged in other businesses by buying dried fish and selling them in rural communities three hundred miles away to farming communities in exchange for coos and groundnuts needed in the urban areas. She is aware that if she had financial support, she could expand her business to a larger scale.

Haja is a leader of over fifty women vegetable gardeners in her neighbourhood and they give moral and financial support to each other. Their weekly contributions of D50 (less than $2) accumulates to D125,000 (about $4,464) which circulates amongst them in a year. They support their families and this was how Haja was able to buy her fridge and explore the need for iceblock amongst the fishmongers in her community. Even though several women groups have approached her group with the hope of giving them support, they are yet to succeed.

Haja is alert about the current debates about women’s rights issues regarding harmful traditional practices such as early marriage and female genital mutilation. “Early marriage takes women backward. If the marriage is not successful, they suffer, that’s the situation of many women,” She opined. As she explained the consequences of early marriage one of the young girls from the village approached us and she commented, “Look! She is an example of how early marriage can make girls suffer. She married young, lost her baby and her husband left her and traveled.” Haja is equally following the debates on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and is aware that it is not good for women’s health. She noted, “Now that we know it is not good for health, we do discuss it amongst our group and I have decided that my grand daughters who have not been circumcised will not go through it, because the doctors know health issues better than us.”

There is perception that political commentary is equated to having personal interest to be a politician. This tends to inhibit a lot of educated women in particular to discuss politics openly. On the other hand, illiterate or semi literate women tend to openly show their political affiliation without fear. This unassuming 60 year old is one such woman. Haja did not go to school because being the first and only girl at the time, helping her mother with household chores was seen as more important than going to school at the time. Lack of education stole her dream of becoming a career politician. She laughed when I asked how she got into politics. “ I’ve been in politics for a longtime, since Sherrif Dibba’s time but earlier than that I used to listen to Pierre Njie and Jawara. I supported Pierre Njie because of his plans for the country. Even though he led for a short period, his demonstrated leadership .” As a teenage Haja attended political rallies of early politicians and at an early age she decided to give her support to the United Party- UP against the Peoples Progressive Party - PPP. Since then she has supported main opposition parties like the National Convention Party and now the United Democratic Party. What is amazing about Haja is her strong believe in having an alternative. She observes the political situation with regards to women and asserts “ Gambian women in politics is one sided, if you do not support the ruling party, you’re not considered as a patriotic citizen and not contributing to national development. We are equal citizens.”

Haja beliefs that women can be politicians because they are equally educated like men. She further justifies that why women should engage in politics from a gender perspective. “Men help men, when women become politicians they will take women’s concerns more seriously; women don’t want to see their fellow women suffer,” she asserts. Haja argues that there is spiritual guidance for women and when they hold leadership position they will be blessed.

When I asked if she would have been a politician if she was educated, Haja sighed and said “if I was educated, I would stand for elections. My only regret is not being educated. If I was educated like my brother Muhammed, I would definitely be a politician.” She realizes the importance of education for women to take leadership in national politics that is why she supports her granddaughters to be educated because it is lack of education that have stolen her dream to be a career politician.

She suggests that politicians should give priority to providing employment opportunities for educated women as well as support the women who are not educated to ensure that the future of women’s political leadership is guaranteed by educating the girls today. “We should send our girl children to school so that they would not end up regretting like we do.” In her final comments she reiterates women’s concern and asserts “first let’s stop mutilating girls, second let’s educate our girls and finally let’s support the women who are not educated to ensure that the girls are educated, these are our important concerns.”

Attachments

lack_of_education_stole_her_dream_of_career_politi.doc
would_she_agree_to_talk_on_politics_my_reflection.doc

Comments 11

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Emily Garcia
Dec 06, 2011
Dec 06, 2011

Great article, Amiesissoho! Did your mean to post it in the 2011 Voices of Our Future Correspondents group for feedback from the other correspondents?

Amie Bojang-Sissoho
Dec 06, 2011
Dec 06, 2011

I was hoping to reach my editorial midwife and mentor first before posting it to the correspondence group I would welcome guidance on posting to the different groups and at what stage. Thanks for taking time to read through.

Achieng Nas
Dec 06, 2011
Dec 06, 2011

Dear Amie, You have touched my heart SO DEEPLY, whoever takes action against illiteracy and especially education of women and girls touch my innermost feeling. This is a great story! If I was any closer to Haja, I would hug her, hug her for gathering her hopelessness and making her life more meaningful without formal education, hug her for standing out for her grand daughter to have education, hug her for campaigning for girl education. Please tell Hajja that I am in the same struggle with her, here in Uganda. Tell her however that I am not-so-much in politics because of the risks it is associated with here in my country BUT someday I will be a member of parliament for my region. Tell her I an very proud of her! Aime, thank you AGAIN for sharing this great story!

Amie Bojang-Sissoho
Dec 07, 2011
Dec 07, 2011

I don't know what to say but thank you AchiengNas for being touched by Haja's story.

Halima Rahman
Dec 11, 2011
Dec 11, 2011

Hats off to leading women. This is a well written article from the beginning to the end.

Amie Bojang-Sissoho
Dec 12, 2011
Dec 12, 2011

We stall keep striving for the best.

Cheers

Kat Haber
Dec 12, 2011
Dec 12, 2011

Arnie,

Achieng Beatrice Nas of Uganda, is also a passionate advocate for girls education. She credits her success in life with her being granted the support for an education early in her life. She wa one of the three correspondents who spoke in the US with World Pulse this fall. Are there Gambian women may support Ugandan women in this collaborative need in your communities? Which kind of social enterprise might be created to sustain this in your nations?

Amie Bojang-Sissoho
Dec 14, 2011
Dec 14, 2011

Collaboration is always a possibility especially amongst people with similar interests. I could read Achiengs; interest in education in her comments. cheers,

Kat Haber
Dec 14, 2011
Dec 14, 2011

Collaboration is such a powerful paradigm now as we are gathering tribes. I am so grateful to be reading your articles.

Monica Clarke
Dec 14, 2011
Dec 14, 2011

Dear Amie

I really enjoyed reading this story. i could literally see Haja. You painted such a strong picture of her.

And as I read it, it came to me how powerful group learning is, for Haja is already doing it - educating the women - when she says they discuss issues in their group. This is such powerful education, for it comes from the mouth of an elder to a younger and then is shared amongst peers and passed down to other girls, who will pass this on in the same kind of informal settings. They can speak openly to each other because they have been given permission to speak openly about delicate issues by their elders and peers.

Group education is such a powerful tool, and women have learnt how to use this tool through the ages, despite the resistance of formal classrooms to invite us in. Well done Haja! Well done Amie!

Love and hugs from Monica in France

Amie Bojang-Sissoho
Dec 14, 2011
Dec 14, 2011

Thank you so much for the deeper understanding of education in different settings. Oral discussions are powerful means of educating women who did not have the opportunity for formal education. This way generations of old women can also pass on their knowledge to younger ones.

Monica I appreciate your best wishes and I will you the same