Women of Substance





Interview With Rohey Yata Smith, A Gambian Rights Advocate

By: Isatou Bittaye

Isatou: Can you please introduce yourself to our readers?

Rohey Yata: Hello Maafanta readers, I am Miss Rohey Yata Smith, a Gambian residing in England with my family.

Isatou: Briefly tell us something about your advocacy work or interest in politics and human rights?

Rohey Yata: Actually I have never been interested in politics or engaged in advocacy work until recently when Yahya Jammeh took over The Gambia and began ruling with an iron fist where people’s human rights are no longer respected. Several people are been killed, tortured and many disappeared without trace. Because of the situation of The Gambia and how Gambians are living today under Yayha Jammeh’s government, I developed interest in politics and started advocating about human rights, freedom and justice for all.

Isatou: Can you provide an analysis of what some people defined as “leadership crisis” of Africa, the political situation of The Gambia inclusive?

Rohey Yata: What I understand by 'leadership crisis' in Africa especially the case of The Gambia is a situation where the leader (President) is ruling without obeying the constitution of the land, he/she has his/her own rule of law where the constitution of the country can be change easily without people’s approval.

There is no freedom of speech or respect for fundamental human rights, no freedom of the Press, citizens are ruled based on fear and they are scared to express their opinion on how they are governed which is their right as guaranteed in the constitution. In addition, there is limited trust in the judiciary for fair trial of all citizens as many are held in detention beyond 72hrs which is prohibited by the constitution, citizens are been killed without the government doing any investigation on their cases, so many are tortured while in detention. There is no economic freedom, poverty is increasing and no job security within the government as hiring and firing takes on daily basis. Farmers are no longer guaranteed of good prices in the international market and women are suffering on a daily basis and abused in their homes. This is the situation in The Gambia and some other African countries but The Gambian case is worst as the country is in a state of terror.

Isatou: How do you think democracy, the rule of law and the respect of fundamental human rights can be restored in The Gambia?

Rohey Yata: Rule of law, democracy and respect of fundamental human rights can only be restored if there is a fair and democratically elected President which is impossible with Yahya Jammeh still being there. He has stressed it several times that no election can remove him as President of the country and I believe in that because elections cannot be free and fair under his regime, therefore democracy and rule of law cannot be restored unless he is gone.

Isatou: Do you think that change of leadership will be that easy, considering the fact that, most Gambians don’t speak with the same voice and fight the same cause?

Rohey Yata: Yes I agree with you that a change of government will be very difficult. For me unless the Gambian people all UNITE together steering under one umbrella to strategize, build strong pillars of networks and programs and sacrifice everything for the interest of The Gambia there will not be any change of leadership in the near future. If all issues are put aside and we all unite and work based on a common interest, I am certain we can restore power back to the people and have The Gambia we have known before.

Isatou: Moving to women’s advancement, I understand you have special interest in women and girl’s empowerment.  What is the motivation behind such interest?

Rohey Yata: My mother is my motivation, role model, inspiration and rock. My mum (Yassin Jobe Gai) is the first woman to do Metal work(Mechanical Engineering) in The Gambia, which she has a Master’s Degree in, together with four other different masters degrees including Gender Equality and Women Empowerment. I have seen the tireless work and travels she did in The Gambia (rural areas) to help eradicate FGM and to stop the girl child marriages, abuse and violence against women. Based on her inspiration I get motivated and developed interest in women’s affairs and empowerment of young girls.

Isatou: There are several strategies used to promote girls and women’s empowerment, including universal access to education and out-of-class life skills education, among others.  What best lessons could you share with us in order to protect young girls and women from abuse and violence they face every day in our society?

Rohey Yata: In addition to the ones you mentioned, I think promoting the health and wellbeing of girls and women; implementing enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices are important strategies that could help empower women. Another key lesson I would like to share is breaking the glass ceiling which includes having equal number of women and men to participate in active politics in order to represent women’s interests best, allow women to penetrate the high level global corporate boardroom leadership, and measure and report their progress. Also, having progressive gender laws that are fully enforced at all levels could help protect young girls and women from abuse and violence. These are important strategies I think should be taken on board in the empowerment of women and girls to enable them live meaningful lives and contribute to national development.

Isatou: Are you engaged in any advocacy that focuses on women’s self-esteem and trust building in order to prevent abusive relations or risky health practices?

Rohey Yata: I am volunteering at a Center for Abused and Battered Women here where we help women and girls who are victims of violence and encourage them to build up their self-esteems and break-free from violent environment.

Isatou: Let’s talk about skin bleaching. I understand you are very particular about it. If so, please give us some explanations.

Rohey Yata: Yes, it is true that I am particular about skin bleaching. I am very comfortable and confident in my own skin. I am proud of my Nubian natural skin. I won't short change myself for any skin bleaching.

Isatou: Can you tell us its health effects?

Rohey Yata: Skin bleaching is a cosmetic procedure used by people who are not happy with the colour of their skin. Some people use it to feel confident and to boost their self-esteem, but some use it for medical reasons to get rid of blemishes or uneven skin tones. Excessive use or the use of harsh chemicals are very dangerous. Some of the health effects of bleaching are allergic reactions, skin cancer, muscle weakness, thinning of the skin, blotchy appearance, redness of the skin, osteoporosis, acne, among others.

Isatou: What advice do you have for women who bleach?

Rohey Yata: I know it is every woman's prerogative but my advice to those who bleach their skin is that let them be aware that there are health effects of bleaching especially its excessive use and they should be proud and confident of their skin colour. They shouldn't allow any man to make them use bleach chemicals as some men do encourage women to bleach.

Isatou: Don’t you think it will be good if do weekly or monthly write ups on this issue for Maafanta? The team will be exceptionally happy to welcome you.

Rohey Yata: It would be my pleasure to do monthly write ups for Maafanta as I am interested and particular about this issue.

Isatou: Thank you and welcome on board. Any last words for our readers?

Rohey Yata: I am apologizing to Maafanta readers if I offend anyone in anyway in this interview. Thank you all for your time and enjoy this piece.

Isatou: Thank you very much for accepting to share your thoughts with the Maafanta readers.

Rohey Yata: It’s my pleasure

Aisha Bittaye has a diploma in journalism, a degree in political science and currently  a post graduate student in International Studies at National Chengchi University (Taiwan) .

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