Once again, the professionalism and sincerity of some of our socalled legal luminaries is quite questionable, especially in the way and manner they seem to treat issues of concern to Gambians. A case in point had been the type of bills recently presented to the National Assembly by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, and of course, not surprisingly, unanimously passed by the National Assembly Members.
Going through those pieces of legislation, one cannot but wonder whether those who drafted them as well as the National Assembly Members who overwhelmingly voted for them were actually concerned about the welfare of Gambians or were they just interested in keeping their shaky positions regardless of the consequences to the people of this country.
Of course, for the majority of the National Assembly Members, they would vote for anything that comes to them from the executive, always describing such bills as “non-controversial”. There is no doubt that most of them do not either have the intellectual capacity or even the interest to thoroughly read those bills before voting for them. As far as they are concerned, those sessions are yet another opportunity for them to renew their unquestionable loyalty to President Yahya Jammeh rather than consider the interests and welfare of those they claim to represent in the National Assembly.
Indeed of most particular concern had been the Criminal Code (Amendment) Bill, 2013 which seems to have even contradicted some provisions of the constitution. For instance, the amendment of Section 167 of the principal Act paragraph (j) reads; “Any male person who dresses or is attired in the fashion of a woman in a public place or who practices sodomy as a means of livelihood or as a profession shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years or with a fine of D200,000 or with both”.
Apart from the naked gender discrimination of this clause, it also clearly violates the Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms in Chapter Four of the constitution; Section 33, sub-sections (3) and (4), which read; “(3) ….no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner by any person acting by virtue of any law or in the performance of the functions of any public office or any public authority.
“(4) In this section, the expression “discrimination” means affording different treatment to different persons attributable wholly or mainly to their respective descriptions by race, colour, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status whereby persons of one such description are subjected to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of another such description are not made subject, or are accorded privilege or advantages which are not accorded to persons of another such description.”
It is indeed hard to imagine that in this day and age, anyone would be so severely punished simply for his or her mode of dress. For instance, can any reasonable person imagine someone being sent to prison for merely putting on a dress of his choice?
While nowadays it is not quite easy to distinguish a woman’s dress from a man’s dress, but it is also not unusual to see men and women exchanging dresses. In fact in certain societies, what we in the Gambia consider a woman’s mode of dress is worn by men as well. Therefore, if such people were to come to the Gambia and put on their traditional dress, then they would be violating the law and could be prosecuted for it.
One would also wonder why the men are being prosecuted for putting on women’s dresses while the women are not being prosecuted for putting on what is generally considered men’s dresses. We definitely expect our legal experts to be more mature than drafting such openly discriminatory laws when the trend is now to bridge the divide between the sexes.
In fact, the entire bill is ridiculous and outrageous, not only criminalizing people’s mode of dress but also effectively banning street begging, singing of ‘scurrilous’ songs or even quarreling in the streets. It is hard to imagine whether the Gambian judiciary has the capacity to prosecute all those who would no doubt continue to violate this piece of legislation on a daily basis, or even have the space in our prisons to incarcerate all those who would be violating the law, considering the number of street beggars who will continue to roam our streets as well as those who would continue to quarrel and even engage in physical fighting.
It is quite hard for anyone to see the rationale of designating the poor street beggars as criminals and threaten them with stiff penalties while the very architects of the law themselves frequently organize gala nights and other fund-raising activities to beg for money for one thing or the other. It is therefore grossly unfair to prevent the poor from begging for their survival while the rich continue to harass the business community for donations and other unsolicited gifts to fund their unholy activities.
It would also be quite interesting to see how the police would treat those men who, during such feasts as ‘Talabone’ and other occasions, usually dress like women as part of the traditional celebrations.
It is indeed a shame that instead of the Gambia trying to learn from best practices from other nations and societies, we seem to be reversing the clock and trying to do things in our own way, which in most cases seems to be getting us deeper into isolation from the rest of the civilized world. Our political leaders need to accept the fact that we live in an interdependent world, and always trying to be different tantamount to foolishness.