For so many years now, women and girls have and continue to face human rights violations and or abuses for multiple reasons by both state and non-state actors. Most of these reasons are rooted in colonial and heteropatriarchal culture and religious misinterpretation. These discriminations permeate all spaces in both local and international levels. Although most sates continue to ignore the human rights of women, both Article 2 and 5 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against women (CEDAW), demonstrates that States Parties have the utmost responsibility to protect, promote and fulfill the rights of women and girls. States are thus obliged to ensure the elimination of all forms of violence and socio- cultural practices including gender-based stereotypes and oppression that discriminate against and or violates the rights of women and girls. It is quite evident that women continue to reimagine their position in this patriarchal world by pushing back and fighting against violations such as GBV, Harmful practices including child marriage, FGM, domestic violence, rape, etc. However, women’s human rights defenders and organizations continue to experience both financial and safety barriers to fight for a just and equal society. The commitment to address gender equality remains nightmarish in many states including The Gambia. According to Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women , “In the previous 12 months, 243 million women and girls (aged 15-49) across the world have been subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner.” In addition, COVID 19 pandemic has created in more challenges for women and girls in The Gambia; from the spike in gender-based violence including the prevalence of FGM/C, wife battering, and the unequal and heavy work on women and girls. It is thus pivotal that states recognize these challenges and ensure the human rights and dignity of women are protected as enshrined by both local and international instruments.
As discrimination against women continues to be a global pandemic, the need for further mechanisms to be in place to tackle this menace is critical. These are key to the establishment of the Working Group on discrimination Against Women and Girls (WGDAWG) by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2010. The Working Group is one of more than fifty Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council that work on thematic human rights mandates. It is composed of 5 independent experts from different parts of the world, highly knowledgeable and qualified in different women’s human rights issues. The independent experts have a broad mandate which allows them to work with both state, private sector, and civil society organizations to identify, promote as well as recommend good practices that can be used to address discriminatory practices against women. Also, the Working Group in collaboration with states, can advise and give recommendations for the implementation of policies or programs that affects women. This is done through country visits and submission of information, known as communications, by civil society organizations. They also produce annual thematic reports on Women Human Rights issues and receive information from civil society as well as other reports from Non-Governmental Agencies, UN Agencies, for the development of those reports. The Gambia ratified CEDAW in 1993 without reservation and also domesticated it as The Women’s Amendment Act-2015. But like many other countries, the lack of state commitment in the implementation of GBV and other discriminatory laws that affects women and girls has led to continuous normalization of GBV in our communities. It is critical to engage with the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls to push for the implementation of GBV and other laws that address discriminatory practices as well as bring to light the multifaceted nature of discrimination and violence women and girls face. For civil society, engaging with this Working Group is a great mechanism to ensure that human rights abuses in various countries are tackled or brought to light with the use of the communication procedure. The Working Group can receive communications on issues of concern at any time, either for an individual woman who has experienced discrimination, or for systematic issues of discrimination. During this period, it is important to note that alleged victims, their perpetrators and the organization or individuals submitting the complaint and as well as the place where the violation took place must be known. Once the Working Group receives a communication from civil society or directly from a victim, they then initiate a communication with the concerned state to inquire about the situation and express concern. This in turn creates possibilities for highlighting issues and opportunities to lobby the state by civil society. Unlike the CEDAW Convention, which is tied to a specific reporting cycle, the Working Group can receive communications, including urgent ones, at any time. This makes is a very accessible tool. Additionally, there exist additional Special Procedures important to women’s human rights, including the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women. Engaging with her is equally a great opportunity for civil society. In concluding, I want to reiterate that violence against women is a human rights issue and must be treated as such. Women have and continue to be subjected to violence, discrimination and traumas which has claimed some lives while millions live under unbearable conditions. As an alumni of the Women’s Human Rights Education Institute program (WHRI), I believe that a different world is possible, a world where patriarchy and heteronormativity can be smashed, a world where women’s human rights can be protected and their dignity enhanced. I believe there can be a just and equal world for all in which all can thrive in our unique differences. I am committed to continue to work with our communities in championing the rights of women and girls. For a free and equal for all, women need protection from violence, abuse, intimidation, and inequalities. We shall continue to push for the implementation of laws that protect women and girls. For more information on the working group on discrimination against women and girls. Please visit their site on [email protected]