Conquering women votes: a new battle for The Gambia’s ruling party


When the APRC held a women’s rally in Jarra Soma, little did they know that a fierce women’s right crusader will announce an independent bid for the nation’s highest office.

President Yahya Jammeh came to power in 1994 and was quickly backed by women. 22-years on, Jammeh continues to rely heavily on women votes to stay in power. There is no actual statistic as to the number of women voters but many believe that more than half of Mr. Jammeh’s votes rely on the women constituent, especially in provincial Gambia.

Dr. Isatou Touray is the first woman to launch a bid for the presidency and has said it is time for President Yahya Jammeh to leave.

At least 10 years before then 29-year old Lieutenant Jammeh overthrew the government of President Sir Dawda Jawara, Touray started an unpopular campaign to protect the country’s women from a deeply-rooted traditional practice, which many believe is sanctioned by the Islamic religion.

Although she faced strong opposition on her anti-FGM campaign, she became well known across the country, including some of the hardest to reach places. Her journey transformed from just fighting for their reproductive health rights to addressing their social issues. It made her well known and three decades later, President Yahya Jammeh who was shying away from the issue, declared a ban and a legislation to criminalize the practice.

Jammeh is supported by powerful Islamic clerics, who were on a campaign against Touray’s quest as well.

But President Jammeh has always said he was the champion of women issues in The Gambia. His wife, a Moroccan by nationality has been accused by the regime’s critics of not appreciating Gambians. Last year, First Lady Zineb Jammeh surfaced on the political platform and started a foundation. She began visiting women gardens and holding events.

First Lady Jammeh and VP Njie-Saidy were together in Jarra Soma.

“We have witnessed over the years tremendous achievements in the history of women’s empowerment since the advent of the Second Republic,” said Ms. Jammeh.

President Jammeh’s ruling APRC party is divided, though not deeply. A former parliamentarian formed a new party, bringing with him disgruntled members of Mr. Jammeh’s party. Among them is a leading women mobilizer, Tina Faal who was a former parliamentarian as well.

The APRC said it has reduced gender inequality and has introduced development programs that reduced poverty, provided skills and vocation training, and provided low-interest credit lines for women.

Most of the women’s project has been biasedly distributed. Only those that supported the ruling party benefitted and were unsustainable.

At least 70 percent of rural Gambia lives in poverty and do not have access to quality education or healthcare. However, infant and maternal mortality rate have been significantly reduced.

The Coalition of the WiLDAF Campaign said it remains particularly concerned by the violations of women’s human rights in Gambia: the persistence of discriminatory laws; discrimination within the family; violence against women; unequal access to property, education and employment; under-representation in decision-making positions; and lack of access to health services.

The plural law system, which includes customary and Sharia law create contradictions and inconsistencies and there are many discriminatory provisions in all three sources of law, particularly in the areas of family and property law.

Although the representation of women in politics has slightly increased, (in particular, in 2007 of 3 women ministers, including the Vice-President of the Republic), representation remains low. In 2009, there were four women in the 53-seat National Assembly (two elected and two nominated by the president) and six women in the 18-member cabinet, including the vice president.

Dr. Isatou Touray has participated in projects that seek to engage women in politics and for them to contest public offices. More than 10 of women from the project have gone to win public offices.

She has gained endorsements from women groups and this will pull from President Yahya Jammeh’s women’s vote. It is a race that will require any winner to gain the deeply divided women’s vote.

Political parties are on a quest to win this important constituency that has the power to influence what ballot box everyone in the household will drop their token into.

Touray is seeking the backing of an opposition coalition to end President Yahya Jammeh’s rule.

She has gained the support of many undecided voters and if a coalition is achieved, not will many women votes shift but many who sat home hopelessly will turn out to the polls.

President Jammeh and the ruling APRC are for the first time in a fierce fight to convince women voters to stay with their party.

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