ActionAid is a global movement of people working together to further human rights and defeat poverty for all.

Unequal power relations in the midst of food crisis

Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 00:25

Women play a bigger role in our modern society taking up responsibilities than men do and immensely contributing towards the political and socio-economic development of any country, and not only in the house keeping and upbringing of children. In the Gambia, men are always talked about as a source of protection and also the providers for the compound.

In the traditional Gambian society, most especially in the village, women are seen more like properties to their husbands than mutual partners. Traditionally it is believed that women should always obey their husband and say yes to all his commands, whether they are positive or negative.  As the man would always say I got married to you and brought you in my compound and you should not go against my wishes. I always heard people saying this and I always thought these stories were like fairy tales and fiction stories that are said in our society, but not actually happening.

Fairy tales turn into reality as I travel into the remote villages in the Gambia and meet women who are sharing their stories. Women in the various villages live in a male dominated society where they don’t participate in decision making processes in homes and the community as a whole. Women neither own nor control properties in the society and homes. 

The only thing they can call their own is the clothes they wear and the cooking utensils they brought when they were traditionally wed.  

As tradition demands in most of our cultures if a woman is going to be wed the family have to buy clothes and cooking utensils’ which she will take along to the husband home and have control over it.

Nature gives right to the physically strong and society gives right to the social being, the social understanding which makes us understand who we are and how we conceived ourselves. Every person is born physical with the right to own things and it’s the society in which they are nurtured that gives the define definition of various gender roles.  My heart aches as women think they have no right to own and control resources and decisions affecting them. The society they live in has made them submissive. Likewise men who are seen as super powers make all decisions concerning farm land, and women mostly use primitive tools to work on the farms, whilst they use modern tools.  

Having  discussed further Fatou a women farmer made us understand due to the widespread crop failure she and her children are hungry, and for her children food rationing has become a problem in the midst of crisis, as quality is being compromised for quantity. Quite often she allows her children to eat while she takes only a handful from the meal prepared.

Women’s increased workload is changing the pattern of their daily chores sometimes engaging unusual and tedious practices such as collecting baobab, which has implications on their health.  I came across a women who told her story that she goes extra miles to engage in baobab collection to sell them in the various local markets as to earn income in order to buy basic needs like food, soap and things the family will need as there is nothing a home. Women, especially female headed household, have a greater burden on their heads as they continue to worry about when and where to get the next meal for their families.

Women should be seen as partners not threats  in development and help in mitigating the food crisis in the Gambia as they are the most affected’