A cycle of empowerment and leadership is rising in West Africa – and it is led by women. Read on to learn more about the inspiring women leading with dignity in The Gambia, thanks to the confidence they gained through Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program.
In 2017, the Women’s Bureau of The Gambia organized special grassroots elections to choose one woman representative from each district for the National Women’s Council. Each district typically covers 40 to 50 villages. The role of the council is to contribute to shaping policies affecting many areas important to the wellbeing of girls and women in The Gambia.
In the Upper River Region, where Tostan has been implementing the Community Empowerment Program (CEP) for the past 10 years in Mandinka, Pulaar and Sarahule communities, all seven districts elected a woman that had participated in the Tostan program. Many of these seven women Councilors elected had been the Coordinator or a member of their Community Management Committee – the grassroots organizing body that Tostan partner communities elect to guide the realization of the community’s vision for development. One of the women had even been a Tostan facilitator for six years.
The women campaigned in the villages of their specific district and when interviewed, explained that before the Tostan program, they had rarely spoken in public and never dreamed they could run for office. They learned that women have the right, but also the responsibility to vote and to run for office and they practiced new leadership skills through their participation in the Community Management Committee. During the CEP, they gained confidence and experience in their capacity to voice their opinions, to mediate conflicts and to lead their community toward positive change.
“When I campaigned in the communities of my District,” said newly elected councilor Fatoumatta Jabbie, “I told the women that I will share on a national level what we have been doing at a local level. Learning about democracy and human rights helped us to know how to campaign and I told everyone that I will advocate for girls and women through promoting their rights to empowering education, health and income generation. I told them I am the one who can best represent their needs and priorities at a national level.”
On a visit to The Gambia in 2017, Tostan’s Founder and Creative Director, Molly Melching, received requests from the Director of the Women’s Bureau to implement the CEP throughout The Gambia. The Director noted, “Women who have been through the Tostan program have a different way of talking and have important knowledge and skills that other village women don’t have. The other Councilors on the Women’s National Council want the same kind of education that Tostan participants have received.”
The sparks of change are bright! Tostan has reports from the other five West African countries where it recently implemented the CEP – Senegal, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Mauritania – that hundreds of women participants are being elected to leadership positions at a local, regional or national level. This is a hugely exciting time for Tostan and partner communities, as we plan toward scaling and sustaining our impact across the West African region, and across the globe, with a key focus on the empowerment of girls and women, and on promoting human rights, democracy, peace, security and resilience from the grassroots.