A Work to Change Gambia’s Narrative on SGBV Becomes Model on Transitional Justice
A very important role that one woman has been playing since the start of The Gambia's Truth Reconciliation and Reparations (TRRC) process is ensuring that greater attention be given to other forms of human rights violations such as Sexual and Gender-Based violence (as a crime that disproportionately affects women and girls).
Ms Fatou Bladeh, MBE, was concerned at the beginning of the Gambia’s transitional justice process, that without proactive efforts, other violations such as murder, enforced disappearance and torture would be given more attention than women’s rights issues when investigating human rights violations. This motivated her to focus her work to ensure that the experiences of women and girls are highly recognised within The Gambia’s TRRC process.
“When your country is investigating a history of 22 years of dictatorship and has a history of trivialising women’s rights, then there is a need for women and women’s rights organisations to take a stance and ensure that the experiences of women and girls are recognised, documented and included in that history,” she maintained.
In her work in the Gambia’s TRRC, she helped devise more ways to uncover spate of sexual and gender-based violence that occurred under the regime of ousted dictator, Yahya Jammeh. Now, international transitional justice bodies are using her work and approaches as model for other countries to replicate in their systems.
“Women played major roles both ending the dictatorship and
as heading households and maintaining families during the dictatorship in The
Gambia. Women constitute over 50% of the population and in 2016 they came out
in their numbers and voted against Jammeh, ousting him out. When men were
imprisoned, killed or exiled during Jammeh’s 22 years of dictatorship, it was
the women who held families and communities together and took over the role of
head of households,” she said in an interview held in her office in Banjul.
Ms Baldeh holds a Masters Degree in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Bachelors of Science Degree in Health and Psychology in the UK. Her experience in advocacy for gender justice span both in the UK and The Gambia. In recognition of her work with migrant women who experienced abuse in the UK, Her Majesty, the Queen of England honoured her with an MBE in 2019.
She returned to The Gambia in 2018, highly motivated to contribute to the rebuilding of the country after two decades of dictatorship. She established a civil society organisation, Women in Liberation and Leadership (WILL). This organization had since dedicated itself to empowering women on sexual and reproductive health and rights. WILL has been supporting the TRRC process in The Gambia over the years.
At the start of the TRRC, she found out that too much emphasis is placed on rape when discussions were held around SGBV. She advocated for the inclusion of other forms of SGBV within the process. This led her to introduce the idea of "safe spaces" and "women-only listening circles" in order to better understand the issues women faced under Jammeh.
She considers these spaces necessary in ensuring the privacy of women, to enable their confidence in opening up and sharing experiences of stigma, backlash, victim blaming and re-traumatisation. Through such spaces, women victims suggested ways that they would like to participate in the process. These were communicated to the TRRC.