In Hillary Clinton’s (you know I’m going to start this blog off with Hillary) book “Hard Choices,” she recounts her experiences as Secretary of State:
“Many years ago on a trip across Africa, I was struck that everywhere I went I saw women laboring in fields, women carrying water, women fetching firewood, women working at market stalls. I was talking to some economists, and I asked them, “How do you evaluate the contributions that women make to the economy?” One of them replied, “We don’t, because they don’t participate in the economy.” He meant the formal economy of offices and factories. But if women across the world all of a sudden stopped working one day, those economists would quickly discover that women actually contribute quite a lot to the economy, as well as to the peace and security of their communities.”
It’s difficult for people to become something that they cannot see. It’s much easier to follow in footsteps, mimic your parents or elders, take the safe path. Boys grow up to be farmers, girls grow up to be housewives. Around the village, boys pretend to ride donkey carts off to the farm and girls pretend to care for babies. Representation matters because we become what we see.
Technology and globalization has altered this course for those with economic and educational opportunities, like those living in the capitol region of The Gambia. But even those opportunities have limits, especially politically. When Adama Barrow came to power in February 2016, he appointed a female VP and two other female Cabinet members. Recently, there was a spontaneous “Cabinet shuffle,” removing the VP and another female Cabinet member. The female Minister of Trade was shuffled to become the Minister of Health and Social Welfare, now representing the only female member of the Cabinet.
Conversely, we’ve seen a surge of females in the local government system. In our village, we have a female Alkalo (head of the village), and have recently selected a female VDC (Village Development Committee) chairperson. After months of arguments (“Jigeen munut taxau por VDC, jigeen def dee biir!” – “Women can’t serve as the VDC chair, she could get pregnant at any time!”) the woman who served as our Role Model for Future Trek was selected. (She is heavily involved in agriculture and livestock, and sold me a turkey last Thanksgiving!) The only male village leader now is the Imam, or religious leader.
Last week, I took 4 students, 2 boys and 2 girls, and one teacher to Camp GLOW (Girls and Guys Leading Our World) to learn about gender equality, leadership, teamwork, empowerment, and community engagement. The students performed a drama about our VDC chairwoman and the challenges she faces in the village. At the end of the camp we sang, “We are the guys and girls taking steps to lead the world, and the change starts today!”