Women's Lib

Trip Start Sep 08, 2006
Trip End ??? ??, 2007

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Flag of Gambia  ,
Saturday, March 1, 2008

Gender divisions are strong in The Gambia. As a Muslim country, the Gambia combines both civil and Sharia law in a polygamous society where men can take up to 4 concurrent wives. Over recent years, there have been significant steps towards securing legal equality for Gambian women; for example, women can vote and there are women in high ranking positions within the government. In 2006 the National Assembly dropped exclusions to an international protocol they had signed, meaning that under Gambian law, FGM (female circumcision) is now banned, men and women have legal equality in marriage, and abortion is decriminalised. Other legal advances include prohibition of child marriage, improved access to land rights and the tightening up of violence laws. 
But a change in legality doesn't automatically translate into a change in practice. FGM for example is a ritual that an estimated 60-90% of Gambian women have experienced yet even now it is technically illegal, continues to thrive whilst official powers decline to punish those involved in what is viewed as a cultural custom. Similarly when an incident of girl-child marriage or spousal violence occurs, there is often a reluctance to interfere in 'traditional' issues.
Many activities are also divided along gender lines. Cooking is a women's chore. Sewing amusingly (to me), is a male task. Men oversee livestock whilst women are responsible for the backbreaking cultivation of rice fields. The cynic among me would also list "productive labour" as a female activity whilst "sitting, drinking attaya and chewing the fat" as a male thing, but this would be somewhat of an unfair generalization.
Recently I broke the lock on my front door and needed it replaced. Simple task you might think - apparently not. Five times the locksmith has been now to "fix" it and 5 times I've been back with renewed pleas of desperation. Each time, his solution appears to be: rip out the lock, give it a bit of a shake, then nail it back in. By now my door has so many holes in it he's had to wedge bits of plywood into gaps just to get the handle to hang on. We are both stubbornly avoiding admitting the truth, that whatever the original problem may have been, the speedy proliferation of damage means that a new door is probably the only remaining thing that might possibly save it.
Today when I came back to my house, he was standing scratching his head, looking dejectedly at his nemesis. As I entered his line of vision, his whole face lit up with inspiration - he had figured out the problem... - Me!
It was obvious; he explained with great solemnity, that I was opening it wrongly.
"You women" he declared with some passion "you do not have the touch for these things. You are too gentle". I disagreed, pointing out that when the problem last occurred I had been with "a big strong man" and he couldn't open it either (ok, so it was actually my friend Evie, but she's Scottish and scary, and anything but gentle).
But he wasn't having any of it. I had clearly failed DoorOpening 101 and was in need of retraining. What followed next was an extended compulsory instruction session of him standing over me grimly chanting "key in, turn, key out" over and over whilst everyone else in my compound pissed themselves laughing. Much to my annoyance, the damn thing now works.
One giant leap for the women's lib movement in The Gambia...
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