The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expresses concern regarding the human rights situation in Gambia.

Press release

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) welcomes the concluding comments and recommendations addressed to Gambia by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (« the Committee »).

At its 33rd session, the Committee considered the combined initial, second and third periodic report of Gambia on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) by the State party. The recommendations issued by the Committee are derived from the main concerns expressed by FIDH in its note on the situation of women in Gambia. [1]

In its concluding comments, the Committee stresses the lack of full incorporation of CEDAW into Gambian legislation. As of 1993, date of its ratification by the Gambia Governement, CEDAW provisions are still not enforced by law. Therefore, the UN body urges the State party to fully incorporate CEDAW into domestic law. FIDH welcomes this recommendation and calls Gambia to also ratify the Optional Protocol to CEDAW which allows the Committee to receive and consider communications submitted by or on behalf of individuals or groups of individuals claiming to be victims of violations of any right set forth in the Convention by the State Party.

The UN body also expresses concern about Section 33 (5) of the 1997 Gambian Constitution. Indeed, Section 33 derogates from the general principle of non-discrimination: the girlchild is discriminated against with respect to education, women are discriminated against in matters pertaining to divorce, which is only permitted under rare circumstances and there is further discrimination against women in inheritance matters. The Committee consequently urges the State party to amend Section 33. In that perspective, FIDH also calls upon Gambia to lift its reservations regarding the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the rights of women in Africa concerning notably matrimonial matters (Article 7), the passing on of nationality, harmful traditional practices (Article 5) and the right to inheritance (Article 21).

Violence against women and particularly domestic violence have also been stressed by the UN body, which notes a lack of legislation, policies and programmes addressing these issues. The Committee therefore requests the State party to enact legislation on violence against women. In conformity with its international obligations and pursuant to the Committee’s general recommendation 19, the Gambia must take all appropriate legislative measures to incriminate the different forms of violence against women and bring its perpetrators to justice.

The same recommendation has been made with regards to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which remains widespread, especially in rural areas. Unfortunately, the official campaigns led are not forceful enough to reverse this trend. Gambia must take all measures, including the adoption and implementation of legislation, to put an end to the practice of FGM, discourage its proponents and enforce punishments for their perpetrators.

The persistence of patriarchal values and cultural practices undermining the full enjoyment of human rights by women especially in the area of access to education and healthcare are also issues of interest before the Committee. It is our Federation’s position that Gambia should take real steps to sensitise its constituents on women’s rights and change the subservient and oftentimes negative image of women in society.

The Committee acknowledges efforts made concerning women’s political representation; however in spite of the elections of women at national and local levels, the level of representation in public and political life and in decision-making positions remains low. The Committee encourages the Gambian Government to take all measures including temporary special measures to accelerate the increase in the representation of women at all levels of leadership.

Finally, the Committee regrets the insufficency of statistical data to assess the impact of measures implemented thus far and the progress made towards the elimination of discrimination against women. This was the case for the situation of women in the labour market, particularly in the informal sector. The Committee therefore urges the State to ensure equal opportunity for men and women in the labour market via temporary special measures and subsequent detailed reporting in its upcoming report.

FIDH reiterates that Gambia has to conform with all of CEDAW provisions. We therefore urge Gambian authorities to fully enforce all recommendations made by the Committee and to report upon progress made on the important issue of women’s rights in its next periodic report due in May 2006.

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