In the quest to fine tune the Gambia’s electoral system, many politicians have advocated for the advent of proportional representation. They believe that among other benefits, this will widen the opportunities for women to easily grab electoral positions.
Dr. Ismaila Ceesay, a political scientist and active political party executive, stresses the importance of proportionate representation since 51 percent of the population of The Gambia are women. Yet they are underrepresented in all aspects of governance and the decision-making structures.
“This is due to many reasons, including our culture and the financial cost involve with such a process. Yet, more women participation is good for our democracy as it ensures inclusion. Affirmative action is needed to increase more women participation in our politics,” he said.
In the United States, some disadvantages associated with the proportional representation are the underlying factor for the voting process not opting for it, despite the poor historical underrepresentation of American women in elected positions. In PR systems (proportionate representation), a candidate party list is usually required to make it much easier to put women into slots, and to ensure that more of them get elected. This is not the case for U.S, according to Dr. Christina Wolbrecht, Professor and Director, Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy. “It’s very much a zero-sum-game”.
“So, in the United States, each congressional district elects one person and whoever gets the most votes in that district becomes the representative. That’s by the way, one of the reasons why we only have two major parties in the United States. In a PR system, a district might have as many as, they vary hugely, say 10 seats. And those seats are allocated according to the distribution of votes in that district. So, if one party gets 30% of the vote, they still get 30% of the seats.
“There’s a reason why systems that work like that have proportional representation have more parties. Because a party can only get 10 or 20% of vote and still have representatives in Congress. It’s very hard to do that in an American system. First past the post where whoever gets the most gets the seat and everybody else is not elected out of that district.
She agrees without an iota of doubt that proportional representation systems elect more women to political office for a lot of reasons. But argued the possible backlashes particularly when a quota system to reserve seats for women.
“There’s some evidence that, for example reserved seat programs. One of the goals was that if you get more women in office, you’ll make everyone understand that women can be good, elected officials. Some of the early evidence actually just makes people mad that women unfairly got those seats. And so, they’re going to vote for men in all the other sort of seats. In the United States, a quota system is nearly impossible,” she argued.
Dr. Wolbrecht describes American system to be having ‘quite weak’ parties that would find it difficult to make proportional work as a result of primary elections. “So, anybody who puts themselves forward can be a candidate and the voters decide which candidate they want to be the party’s nominee. So even if the party wanted to say, we want 25, 30, 40% of our candidates, for let’s say the U.S House to be women, they don’t actually have the power to make that happen. We also, of course, then don’t have list systems.
U.S women and the 19th Amendment
The 19th Amendment prohibits discrimination in voting rights on the basis of sex in the United States. It is patterned after the 15th Amendment to the American Constitution that prohibits the denial of voting rights on the basis of race, colour, or previous condition of servitude. Since then, there’s been a lot of interest in women voters throughout the 100 years in which they’ve been nationally enfranchised even though a number of States had given women rights to vote before 1920.
“I might mention that it’s actually been since 1964, that there have been more women in the presidential electorate, even when they were turning out at a slightly lower rate. There are simply more women of voting age in the United States, due mostly to the fact that women have longer lifespans, at least in the U.S,” says Dr Wolbrecht. “What I want to point out, however, is that the highest turnout that we see, by dividing up the population this way, is among white women and black women. Black women’s turnout has become especially high in recent elections.”
Black women – driving force for women suffrage
The fight for women suffrage in the U.S began in 1869 when Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton found the National Women’s Suffrage Association. This pushed women a lot more forward into seeking women’s suffrage and allowed for states to consider jumping on that bandwagon.
And after a 72-year-long fight, the 19th Amendment finally passed on August 18, 1920, when women finally gained their right to vote.
“What I would like to point out here is every major movement across the United States in our history, black women have been the driving force, the organizers to push that movement forward,” Tierra Stewart. IGNITE national fellowship program director, community organizer and activist. “I also want to recognize that in a lot of those major movements throughout our history, not only were we there to push that movement forward, but we were also left out of the agenda.”
She said that in the fight for the right of every woman to vote, the white women got the right to vote before black women. She added that even as they were fighting for civil rights for black people, the black man told the black woman, “Me first, and then you.”
2016 election and its beauties for women
“In 2016, 20 percent of Congress was women, and then I’m going to break this down by race here in a second. 25 percent of state legislators, 12 were women, 12 percent of governors were women, and I would like to note to date there has never been a black woman to serve as a governor of a state. And then 22 percent of mayors were women and this is where we started in 2016,” said Tierra Stewart.
According to her, 73 percent of the women were Democrat and then 27% were Republican. She further illustrates the racial representation, indicating that 64% were white, 16.8 black, 9.3 was Latina, 8.4% Asian American Pacific Islander, and then 0.9% multiracial.”
What voting means for Gambian American women
The Atlanta based Gambian American woman, Haddy Coulibaly says their vote matters a lot to restore morality, tolerance and end blatant hate against African Americans. “We need a haven where our children can grow up without living in fear and feeling like being targeted whenever they step out. It means sleeping at night knowing my black son can grow up in a world where he can excel and grow fearlessly.”
Coulibaly says the Trump administration is against everything that will help African American kids to prosper and live a confident life. She prefers and advocates for her fellow African Americans more so Gambians to visit the polls with their kids just for them to witness how their parents are effecting change to buy their safe and bright future.
“Our votes matter today more than ever. We have a very important role to play, especially as mothers. We need to lead by example and encourage our children to exercise their right to vote to help protect their future in this country.”
The United States will be held in six days to decide the next president between the incumbent Donald J. Trump and Democrat’s nominee Joe Biden.