Dr. Isatou Touray’s acceptance speech at the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Awards Luncheon

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Dear Ambassador Green,

Dear Ms. Van Susteren,

Dear Members of the International Republican Institute and Women’s Democracy Network,

Dear participants of the International Women’s Day Conference,

Dear Guests.

It is an honor for me to be here with you to receive the WDN Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Award, which has been given to so many women leaders. I’d like to commend the Women Democracy Network’s Campaign “She Speaks. She Votes. She leads. We are all Heard,” which celebrates women participating in all aspects of political life.

“She Speaks. She Votes. She leads.” These are concepts that seem normal for many of us, but that in 2017, have yet to materialize in so many parts of the world. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN women, less than a quarter of all national parliamentarians were women as of June 2016. Rwanda and Bolivia are the only countries in which women make up more than 50 percent of the single or lower houses of Parliament. In January 2017, only ten heads of state and nine heads of government were women.

Women represent half of mankind. Equality, empowerment, and the promotion and protection of their fundamental rights should not be considered privileges. They are the rights that women are entitled to because they are human beings. Women are just as capable as men of fully and equally participating in politics, the economy, and society. When empowered, women bring about positive change and contribute crucial insights into the concerns of women.

In The Gambia, I have had the honor of co-founding and leading the Committee on Traditional Practices affecting the Health of Women and Children. We have relentlessly fought against female genital mutilation and early and forced marriage, successfully changing people’s opinion on these issues and laying the groundwork for the legal ban on these practices in 2015 and 2016.

More recently, I decided to seek the highest political office in The Gambia, the presidency. I did so with the hope of being the unifying force for opposition political parties to effect the change we all aspired to after 22 years under an authoritarian regime that had deprived Gambians of their fundamental rights. In this particular case, change meant restoring democracy, respect for the fundamental right of all Gambian citizens, ,and freedom of expression; bringing institutional and constitutional reforms, as well as bringing the country back to the community of Nations; and ending impunity, which for so long had been characteristic of the autocratic regime.

I carried this same motivation and the same goals with me when I decided to support Adama Barrow, the opposition coalition flag-bearer as the presidential candidate. And it worked: now as you all know, Adama Barrow is the president of the Republic of The Gambia. I’m proud of what the men and women of the democratic opposition were able to achieve: restoring democracy to the Gambia, and opening doors for women to increase their participation in Gambian politics.

Together, WE made change happen in The Gambia, and together, WE will bring change again during the upcoming legislative elections in April.

Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t need to tell you that much work remains. But changes does happen if you believe in it and fight for it. Thanks to the support of movements and organizations like IRI and WDN, women around the world are making that change a reality.

Thank you very much

Dr. Isatou Touray