Organised by Caleb Nwongbouwoh Muefong (2016 Commonwealth Scholar, MSc Biomedical Sciences, University of Edinburgh)

To mark this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD), Commonwealth Alumnus Caleb N Muefong organised an event on Monday 9 March to promote Sustainable Development Goal 5: achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls. The event titled, ‘Gambian women: Role models for fruitful equal opportunities’, was held at Ebunjan Theatre, Kanifing, The Gambia and was attended by over 130 students, mostly from University of The Gambia and other educational institutions around the city.

In The Gambia, the National Policy for the Advancement of Gambian Women (NPAGW), enacted in 1999, had recently shifted its policy objectives, as stipulated in The Gambia National Gender Policy 2010-2020, from women empowerment only to the promotion of gender equality and equity. This shift highlights the government’s incentive to tackle gender imbalances. However, there are still unfruitful gender disparities in leadership positions in local society, which limits the scope of representation, diversity, and creativity in these communities. Most women are unaware of the positive impact they can have to advance and achieve leadership roles. At the community level, there is a need to promote gender equality, education, health, and sustainable development amongst the youth, by exposing them to motivational talks by female role models.

The event was structured around panel discussions delivered by renowned female speakers in a range of leading positions, who shared their experiences with the audience and engaged attendees in Q&A sessions. The topics of the panel discussions were drawn from 3 UN Sustainable Development Goals- SDG 4: Quality Education; SDG 5: Gender Equality; SDG8: Decent Work and Economic Growth; and a final topic on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The invited speakers were:

  • Dr Ramatoulie Njie, Researcher, Hepatologist & Gastroenterologist, Medical Research Council, The Gambia Unit and Public Health Consultant
  • Mrs Maiyai Taal Hocheimy, Marine Biology Specialist; Founder and Director – Gaining Research Experience in Africa for Tomorrow (GREAT) Institute
  • Mrs Fatou Jasseh-Kuyateh, first female Gambian Civil Engineer
  • Mrs Fatou Jeng, first and current female president of University of The Gambia Student Union
  • Emmanuel Hassan, Faculty Official at School of Arts and Sciences, University of The Gambia

Following the welcome speech delivered by Commonwealth Alumnus Caleb N. Muefong and Sulayman Gaye, President of the University of The Gambia- Science Students’ Association (SSA), Dr Ramatoulie Njie, briefed the audience on the advances made in scientific research in The Gambia country and the importance of science in the development of the nation. She recounted the challenges she faces as a woman leading in her field, her sources of motivation toward achieving excellence, as well as her key advice for the youth. She stressed the importance of achieving quality education and gender equity to boost sustainable development and inspired the students through her words, ‘The power of education is the reason why we are all seated here and that, ‘women should remember that they can do anything you put your mind to’.

Quality education and gender equality

A representative of the Ministry of Higher Education, Research Science & Technology informed attendees about government policies at the secondary school level to encourage girls to pursue higher education. Mrs Mayai Taal Hocheimy, who chaired the panel titled, ‘Quality education and gender equality’, recounted her experience from schooling in the United States of America and returning to the Gambia to pursue her dream of working in the field of marine biology. She encouraged youths to look beyond unemployment and to not be scared of creating new paths. In her own words she stated, ‘Although we must crawl before we walk, we cannot always depend on the government to make the change we want to see.’ She equally noted that, ‘frustration is understandable but as a developing nation there is much to achieve and any initiative individual can only take us forward’.

Mrs Fatou Jasseh-Kuyateh, talking on gender balance, also described her early days as an engineering student in a class where she had always been the only girl/woman from Sierra Leone to the USA. She exhorted younger females not to be discouraged by bullies and encouraged younger men to support their female classmates and co-workers. She highlighted that, ‘the atmosphere is more friendly now and people are gradually gaining awareness about the necessity of women in leadership/pioneering in our society and globally’.

Mrs Fatou Jeng, noted that gender imbalances were a societal problem, stating that women were generally considered as not being able to lead in many settings and should come in second position. She encouraged attendees to have intergenerational dialogues where youths could share opinions on the issues of gender inequalities with elderly parents and encourage the latter to educate their children and communities to build a better society for all.

Mr Emmanuel Hassan also gave his thoughts on what he called the ‘positive mindset’. Youths and women in particular have to develop a ‘can do’ mentality and develop a practical approach to applying what they have learned (through science notably). This section paved the way for the first of a number of student exhibitions in the subjects of biology, physics, and chemistry, which took place between panel discussions.

Reducing gender equalities from home

Talking on the importance of STEM and achieving SDGs, Mayai Taal Hocheimy, chairing another discussion, introduced a debate on how inequalities could be addressed through STEM and SDGs and what individuals could do at home to reduce gender inequalities. She noted that ‘women did not choose to be born women’ and that if inequalities exist, ‘it is the role of the whole society to do something about reducing/eliminating these’.

Q&A sessions were convened after each panel discussion with questions raised by panellists as well as attendees. Across all discussions, it was generally agreed that access to high quality education would create a critical mass capable of understanding the disadvantages of gender inequalities and consequently lead to more practical responses aimed at reducing inequalities. Young men in the audience committed to playing a more practical role in their homes to reduce notions and practices which have reinforced gender stereotypes.

Feedback gathered from the attendees suggest that listening to the female role models and their experiences, motivated them to achieve their goals. They now understood that skill, knowhow, and creativity are not gender-bound and that people with value and potential, both male and female, should be encouraged to take up leadership positions whenever they are meritorious.

Photos from the event are available on CSC Flickr