From Adanna Nnamani, Abuja
Abuja witnessed a different type of visitors penultimate Tuesday, when women activists from West and Sub-Saharan Africa met to amplify their voices on gender equality and deeper women involvement in politics and general governance.
The event was the West Africa Intergenerational Feminist Forum themed; “Building Collective Power For Gender Equality and Justice”, organized by BAOBAB for Women’s Rights and the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI), Ghana.
The gathering could pass for a mini version of the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women’s Rights and the message was the same; to free women from patriarchal, cultural and religious shackles and unleash their endowments and leadership skills on various socio-economic landscapes for good.
The organisers said the conference was inspired by the need to strategically tackle factors responsible for the declining participation of women in politics in many West African nations.
It also sought to identify emerging and lingering challenges to women’s rights and freedoms, while bridging detected gaps and cultivating culture of progress across generations.
It was observed that the number of women seeking elective positions, particularly in Nigeria that is routed to be the giant of Africa, has been on the downswing over the years, instead of increasing.
For instance, women represent a paltry six percent of lawmakers in Nigeria; both at the Senate, which comprises 109 Senators and the House of Representatives with 360 members.
Worse, there are indications that the incoming 9th Senate in 2023 would have seven women Senators, not up to eight as it is currently.
The attendees also came to demolish all hurdles stacked against women that make them play a second fiddle various economies despite being economic drivers, especially in the Small and Medium Enterprises SMEs’ space.
Speaking at the event, the Executive Director, BAOBAB for Women’s Human’s Rights, Abuja, Bunmi Dipo-Salami, said there was a need for women to congregate and build collective power since they have always received the short end of the stick, especially in times of crises.
“Like in Mali, Nigeria and other places where you have increased poverty, unemployment or there is a pandemic, these take a chunk of the country’s resources, sap the time and energy of its leaders and thus push women’s issues to the back end.
“That is why it is extremely important for us as feminists across generations to come together and loop our hands. It is also important because there is a huge gap, there is a disconnect because there are different generations of women, working to achieve the same goal, but having different resources and experiences. And those resources, and experiences, we find generations working in silos. “When you listen to all the women in the room, the issues are basically the same. And at this time in Nigeria, where we need all hands to be on deck, it is important to learn from one another.
That is why WACSI and BAOBAB partnered to bring these amazing women together. They are doing a great job in their home countries. It is important to learn what is working and what is not working.
“We also have some of the sisters in the room, who are working at the continental level, bringing their own experiences to share with us in West Africa; to say let us see what is going on and let us figure out how we can be better, how we can achieve more than we are already achieving. In Liberia, one of our countries in West Africa, we have a female President. We have had two female Vice Presidents in The Gambia. We have not had a female Governor in Nigeria and this is the giant of Africa like we always say. So, in some areas we see ourselves as giant, but when it comes to bringing women to the table, treating women right, treating women with respect, we begin to talk about our culture, we begin to talk about tribe, traditions and religion. And forget that in those other African countries they also have culture but they treat women with respect”, she explained.
On whether the forum had anything to do with the 2023 general elections in Nigeria, Dipo-Salami said: “Yes, it does because with this, we are talking about women’s political participation. For instance, we have about four women in the room who are in the political sphere. Women who got tickets and tickets were withdrawn from them and given to men and we are also saying if we say we want Nigeria to prosper, Nigeria cannot prosper clapping with one hand, flying with one wing. It is not going to happen. So, we have since independence been ruled by men, controlled by men, men having access to all our resources but here we are. So, what this is also looking at is “where are the resources for women? How can women find money that they can use to work, to deploy, to make sure that women are more active. In some countries we have the quota system, we have affirmative action, but then in Nigeria we don’t. And we keep staying down and our economy keeps going down.
“So that is why we are comparing what is happening in Sierra Leone, in Nigeria, and zero in on how Nigeria women perfect that.
“It’s never too late because we have to start from somewhere. We have to build on something. So, it is just for us to say 2023 is around the corner but then whatever is going to happen beyond 2023 is what we are not working towards”, she noted.
In her submission, Rissi Assani, Funding and Programme Development Advisor, Oxfam – Ghana lamented that that within West Africa, Ghana and Nigeria are the lowest in terms of women representation in parliament.
“It bothers us. It is just unfortunate that we do understand that the political landscape is deeply patriarchal and how to penetrate it becomes a bit of a challenge because the few women who go into parliaments then begin to become gatekeepers of their male counterparts. That is the story and that is how it is viewed. We have the current Minister of Gender for example, who for more than a year has not been at her post. There are issues affecting gender, issues around girl child education, issues around young women sexuality and so on and so forth, which have not been given the needed attention. And I think the way forward now is for us to begin to advocate for transformative leadership for women’s rights”.
Also contributing, Nana Asantewa Afadzinu, from Ghana and Executive Director, West Africa Civil Society (WACSI) said one the institute’s key strategy wss looking out for women’s leadership and empowerment.
“So, for us, this is important because if you look at the feminist movement in West Africa, there is a lot it has achieved but as the years have gone by, we have the younger generation of feminists that are coming up and also pushing the women’s agenda in ways that also suit their context. There is some different understanding sometimes between the different generations of feminists and we need to push an agenda that we need our collaboration and solidarity to enable us push the feminist agenda and remove those obstacles that can make it challenging for a women in Africa, particularly West Africa to reach their full expectation in all spheres of life.
Adama Dicko, Executive Director, Youth Association for Active Citizenship and Democracy (AJCAD), Bamako, Mali in her remarks hailed the forum for the opportunity for younger women to know the challenges they are facing are different from the older women.
“Now, we are under different challenges and how we can collaborate? Now we have the technology to deploy in advocating to our political leaders, religious leaders to take women rights as a priority in our political and institutional landscapes.
“In Mali, the situation is different unlike other African countries. In Mali, we have terrorism which affect the women and girls. We have another problem which is our democracy. You know it is very difficult for the people who push for women’s rights to speak out because we have a military power which may not like such.
“But this is an opportunity for us to discuss the challenges of the Mali girl child, to do our advocacy and to do an action plan. And to work with other women in Nigeria, Ghana etc, to share their experiences, challenges and to put solidarity networks about feminism, about women’s right.
“Mali does not have a gender policy to protect women. When we do our advocacies, we use international conventions signed by the government of Mali with international organizations.
“We say you must protect us by signing it. It is your responsibility to protect us. We do our advocacies with these international conventions and religious leaders because in Mali our major problem when it comes to pushing for women’s rights is the religious leaders. They don’t like to hear about women’s rights. So, now we have tried to develop the religious leaders model. So, we are able to discuss and find a middle ground. Another problem is the political leaders in Mali because they need the religious leaders to mobilize voters for them during elections. They also reject what the religious leaders are not accepting. The other issue we have is the repetitive coups. Because when we do the advocacy with the minister and the deputy, when a coup happens and a new government comes on board, we have to start the advocacy all over again”, she lamented.
Attendees came from both the Anglophone and francophone nations in West Africa Sub-Saharan Africa.