Their situation remains precarious – scratching poor quality soil with crude tools or bare hands in some instances for the survival of their families. Yet they are considered second-class family members.
They are often battered and received barking orders to served meals and provided other services as if they are slaves, not intimate partners.
The Gambia last October joins the international community in celebrating International Rural Women day. The government pledged to improve the lives of rural women but how effective is this? Women’s Bantabaa finds out…..
But if life, as it is said, is an admixture of bitter and sweet, Neneh had her fairer share of the bitter than sweet part of life and the prospect of overturning her insecure life is slim, especially now that her husband is no more.
“Life is so unfair to women especially rural women,” she says. “When my husband died, his family took away the land I was farming, leaving me destitute.
“I think I deserve better than that, after living in that family for years, bear children,” she added.
The Rural Women’s Day, set aside by the United Nations is meant to focus world's attention on roles of rural women, but also the challenges facing women like Neneh in their daily lives.
To raise the profile of rural women, sensitise government and public on the crucial roles and fight inequality and prejudices against rural women, UN honors the roles of rural women on 15 October each year, a day after the world food day because of their key role in food production
It recognises rural women’s importance in enhancing agricultural and rural development worldwide,
And it’s one year since some rural women raised alarm about the life challenges to Women’s Bantabaa (women’s forum) during the 2010 Rural Women Day’s celebration in Brikamaba.
Some disclosed that they depend on men for access to farm lands, which are sometimes of poor quality. Fertilizers and tractors they said are given to men.
However, the Gambia president Yayha Jammeh said in 2010 during the launching of the National Women Federation that women have access to land
Maran Jambang, 55, is a vegetable farmer in her home village of Basse Koba Kunda and treks every morning some 2 kilometers to her farm. This is part of her daily economic routine, which supports her family.
“If you are a woman living in a rural area, you are likely to be poorer than a man, more vulnerable, owns no land, be less educated and in poorer health,” she says.
“Government and women’s right activities should bear in mind that poverty hits hardest at the rural women and (they) should come in to help us." She added
“What is reported is just a tip of the iceberg,” says Dr Isatou Touray, a women’s right activist, who heads GAMCOTRAP, a prominent Gambian women’s right NGO advocating for the elimination of harmful traditional practices and domestic violence in Gambia.
“It is a source of hope, peace and prosperity for both men and women in The Gambia, as it recognises and gives legal effect and force to The Gambia’s International Legal Obligations and Commitments made towards upholding the legal status of women and access to land,” a legal luminary, Janet Sallah-Njie, president of Female Lawyers Association, The Gambia (FLAG) observes.
“Nothing has changed since last year. The rural woman is just so unfortunate” Binta Sonko, a gardener, said.
The issue of the status of rural women also draws some concern from a male farmer, Seedy Darboe, the father of six. He said the government should double its efforts to advance conditions for women in their communities.
Action Aid International’s Hunger FREE Scorecard, which was launched in Brikamaba on the celebration of international rural women day, said The Gambia is among 20 out of 28 developing countries without possibility of meeting fulfilling its promise in meeting Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 1 of halving hunger by 2015.
“Neglecting the small scale farmers with limited extension support, inadequate access to production inputs, and poor access to markets operating have worsened the situation of hungry people resulting to absolute poverty.” Hunger Free Scorecard stated
Rural women however, believed if the tractors, fertilizers are given to them to maximise their production, they could help in reducing rising hunger and poverty in The Gambia.
This is supported by reports, which suggest that gender equality and increasing rural women’s rural women's agricultural production and participation in the labour force will help reduce poverty and stimulate economic growth.
Reports went on to point out that that unequal treatment of men and women poses serious threat to achieving MDGs.
According to Madinding Damba, rural woman farmer suffer unfairness in the access to resources needed for socio-economic development. Credit, extension, input and seed supply services usually address the needs of male household heads.
Muhammed Cham, a male primary school teacher in Basse Manneh Kunda, said rural women's lack of access to education and assets is directly linked to higher rates of child and infant mortality and the vast majority of maternal deaths.
He said millions of death every year could be prevented through better access for women to reproductive health services.
“Despite making more than a quarter of the world population rural women are rarely consulted in development projects that may increase men’s production and income, but add to their workloads,” Muhammed said.
He lamented that when work burden increase, girls are removed from school more than boys, to help with farming and household tasks.