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Key findings
  • Gambians rank gender-based violence (GBV) as the second-most important women’s-rights issue that the government and society must address, after unequal access to education.
  • Three-fourths (76%) of Gambians say GBV is “not very common” or “not at all common” in their community, but 22% disagree.
  • More than seven in 10 citizens (72%) say it is “never” justified for a man to use physical force to discipline his wife. Women are somewhat more likely than men to see the use of physical force as justified (30% vs. 25%).
  • Almost two-thirds (63%) of Gambians consider it likely that victims of GBV will be criticised, harassed, or shamed by others in the community if they report these crimes to the authorities.
  • But a large majority (82%) believe that the police are likely to take cases of GBV seriously.
  • Two-thirds (67%) of respondents believe gender-based violence should be treated as a private matter to be resolved within the family rather than as a criminal matter that involves law enforcement agencies.

The Gambian government’s efforts to reduce gender-based violence (GBV) have taken many forms, from international conventions and national laws to the establishment of a new Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Children, and Social Welfare; of gender units in the Gambia Police Force and the Ministry of Justice; and of “one-stop centres” in health facilities to provide medical, legal, and counseling support to victims (National Human Rights Commission, 2022); Foroyaa, 2019).

Along with the Gambian Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (2021), the current government has highlighted the extensive use of sexual violence as a tool of repression, torture, and punishment during the regime of former President Yahya Jammeh and has committed itself to expanding services to survivors (Republic of the Gambia, 2022).

Despite these efforts, violence against women and girls remains a significant problem in the Gambia. According to the Demographic and Health Survey 2019-20, almost half (46%) of women aged 15-49 have experienced physical violence since age 15, including 11% during the year preceding the survey (Gambia Bureau of Statistics, 2021). The 2018 Gambia Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (Gambia Bureau of Statistics, 2019) found that more than one-third of women were married before age 18, and three-fourths of women had undergone some form of female genital mutilation, even though it is outlawed. Half (50%) of women and 26% of men affirmed that husbands are justified in beating their wives.

Systemic challenges remain as well: While the Sexual Offences Act punishes sexual violence, it does not cover marital rape (Nabaneh, 2016; Law Hub Gambia, 2018). Accessing the justice system is difficult for many victims due to high costs and stigma, and the one-stop centres are limited by inadequate resources (National Human Rights Commission, 2022).

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 (2021/2023) questionnaire to explore Africans’ experiences and perceptions of gender- based violence.

In the Gambia, citizens rank GBV among the most important women’s-rights issues that the government and society must address. Most say that a husband is never justified in using physical force against his wife and that the police take GBV cases seriously.

But majorities also think that a woman who reports such violence to the authorities will suffer criticism, harassment, or shaming by others in the community and that GBV is a private matter to be resolved within the family rather than a criminal matter requiring the involvement of law enforcement.

Sait Matty Jaw

Sait Matty Jaw is the national investigator for Gambia.

Fatoumatta Gassama

Fatoumatta Gassama is programme officer for the Center for Research and Policy Development.