Gender inequality remains a source of concern to rights’ advocates and women groups in many African countries and formed the crux of discussion at the 3rd edition of Africa Women Conference (AWC) in Marrakech, Morocco, as women from different countries gathered to forge a coalition to end gender inequality in Africa. CHIZOBA OGBECHE was there.
The quest for gender equality and women empowerment is one that has continued to dog most African countries including Nigeria. This is as different groups and organizations have continued to champion economic independence and political liberation of the African woman.
The 3rd edition of the Africa Women Conference (AWC), convened by the Helpline Foundation for the Needy Abuja, Nigeria; Echoes Africa Initiative, New York, USA; and
International Centre for Diplomacy, Morocco; with the theme: Building A Coalition To End Gender Inequality In Africa, in Marrakech, Morocco, provided a platform to identify challenges affecting the African woman, interrogate causes of action to solve such challenges and proffer sustainable solutions.
The conference which had participants from different parts of the continent featured paper presentation and experience sharing on various themes including: Inclusive Governance and Women Participation in Politics; Policy Option to Accelerate Bridging the Gender Gap in Africa; Role of Women in Ending Gender Inequality in Africa; Building Sustainable Partnerships for the Socio-Economic Growth of Women in Africa; and Public Private Partnership to Eradicating Gender Inequality in Africa.
Africa Women Conference (AWC) is an annual gathering of African Women with support of professional advocates, experts, institutions, corporate organizations and individuals promoting the growth, stability and development of African women, to further advance their course and encourage the institutionalization of gender parity in the all spheres of Africa life.
The Africa Women Conference was birthed at the eve of the United Nations NGO CSW62 in March 2018 taking advantage of the presence of delegates to drum support and set agenda through which stakeholders in the African polity can realise the potentials of women, which have remain largely untapped, for the sustainable development of the African continent.
According to the organisers, “Over the past three decades, issues of gender inequality have taken the centre stage in the development process and democracy in Africa. For so many years, women and girls have to grapple with the realities of discrimination in all ramifications in contrast with their male counterpart in the African societies.
“Until the recent past, women and girls have to content with their social status as dictated in norms, cultures and traditions, of pervasive gender discrimination from generations to generations, and in different forms and dimension.
“The result being an uneven distribution of wealth (economic and social benefits) which necessitated advocacy for gender balance and has thus, thrown up space for new areas of studies in the Social Sciences while providing platform for gender activists to raise their voices against any form of gender discrimination.”
AWC 2019 had over 150 participants, from across the region, among who were top government functionaries from Nigeria and Morocco.
Nigeria’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco, Ambassador Baba Garba; Minister of State, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Presdient, Council for African Political parties, Mrs. Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu; Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Women Affairs and Social development, Otunba Adewumi Onanuga; and Wife of the Governor of Sokoto, Mrs. Maryam Aminu Tambuwal; and former member of the National Assembly, Senator Binta Garba, were among the lead delegates from Nigeria.
From the Moroccan side, the Mayor of the City of Marrakech was represented by Hon. Mrs. Aouatif Berdai, who is the Vice President in charge of International Relations and Decentralised Cooperation, Communal Council of the City of Marrakech; who led other dignitaries and delegates.
Other participants included top female functionaries of the FCTA; women rights groups, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs); Nollywood actresses and actors; He for She activists; leaders and members of the Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) and a host of other individuals and interest groups.
Partnering for devt, growth
In her welcome address, the Convener, AWC, and President of Helpline Foundation for the Needy, Abuja, Dr. Jumai Ahmadu, stated that the conference was established to create a platform for collaboration and partnership with other stakeholders towards promoting the development and growth of African women.
According to her, “The resolve to seek collaboration and partnership with development partners was inspired by the SDG 17, which is focused on strengthening the means of implementation and revitalizing global partnership for sustainable development.”
She urged participants to network and canvass support for actionable resolutions required for the African woman to express her potential, even as she expressed optimism that if her talents were properly harnessed the Africa continent would better positioned.
The convener expressed delights to the progress made so far sequel to the previous editions of the AWC, noting that delegates to the previous editions were collaborating on various projects.
Women ministry to prioritize resolutions
Declaring the conference Open, the Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, who was represented by the
Chairman, House Committee on Women Affairs and Social Development, Otunba Adewumi Adenuga, commended the organisers of the conference.
According to her, “This is the way to go as it concerns collaboration and forming coalition to end inequality in the continent.”
She vowed that she would make it a priority to ensure that resolutions of the conference are used to foster the well being of women in Nigeria and Africa as a whole.
Gender equality as recipe for devt
In his goodwill message, the Nigerian Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco, Ambassador Baba Garba, who described gender equality as critical recipe for the development of Africa, noted that significant improvements have been made in supporting women empowerment and inclusion in governance in Morocco.
While commending the women groups for giant strides in economic empowerment through cooperative unions, which have grown to enjoy support by government, he urged other participating countries, especially Nigeria, to emulate the time-tested system.
African women rising to the occasion
For the Minister of State, Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mrs. Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu, women representation in Nigeria and some other African countries was still low and the girl-child and women are still being suppressed.
However, she said the women were rising to the occasion, noting that the most important thing was self discovery and women getting engaged.
She queried, “How ready are we to engage the women? How ready are the women to be engaged? How do we want to engage the women?”
According to her, “Women are already and many others are already engaged. However, we can’t have meaningful engagement if we can’t support one another.”
While decrying suppression women, especially those seeking political positions, are subjected to, she said women, not withstanding party and political differences, must have one thing in common which is moving the gender forward.
She said women in leadership position should encourage others who have aspirations to move forward even though the odds are not in their favour.
“We can’t all be under one umbrella because it will be a mistake to put all our eggs in one basket. We must educate, enlighten and gender strong mentorship. Support from one woman to another can’t be overemphasized,” she declared.
Morocco success story
For Member of the Moroccan Parliament, Hon. Ms. Ibtissam Azzaoui, women in the country have witnessed significant improvement in their lives since the ascension to the throne of King Mohammed VI.
Providing mind-blowing statistics to support her assertion she said a recent indicator revealed that 94 per cent of Moroccan citizens have access to quality education; 99 per cent electricity coverage nationwide; and significant reduction in infant mortality rate.
According to her, the country has a record of 37 per cent women participation in governance and decision making process; 58 per cent of women representation at regional level; while employment opportunities for women had increased from 30 to 42 per cent in the recent years.”
These changes, she said were brought about by recent constitutional reforms, noting that their greatest alley in bridging gender gaps in the country was King Mohammed VI.
Similarly, the representative of the Mayor of the City of Marrakech, Mrs. Aouatif Berdai, expressed pleasure to have witnessed the evolution of the development of women in Morocco.
She canvassed for more support for the women to be at par with their male counterparts in the decision making processes, noting that women are endowed with natural rights to excel and support the home front for progress in the family and by extension, the nation.
Berdai, called on Africa leaders and all stakeholders to share from the Kingdom’s experience in changing the story of African women to that of partners in progress.
Africa needs women to grow
The former Minister of the Ministry of Social Development, Morocco, Mrs. Nouzha Skalli, on her said part expressed pride in her African identity which she said is embedded in the Moroccan Constitution, noting that Africa has what it takes to be world leader because it has all natural resources to aspire to that height.
However, she said the problem was in terms of human development pointing out that there are about 15 countries where human development is average hence African women have a huge role to play in ensuring the development of the continent.
She bemoaned the illiteracy level, culture of child marriage, illegal trafficking and mutilation of women as some of the problems confronting the African women.
While describing the average African woman as naturally endowed with love, affection, emotion and capacity to make her continent great, she solicited support for the growth and development of the African women.
Future depends on women
Also speaking, former Presidential Aspirant in Liberia and Founder, deMcdella Cooper Foundation, Madam Macdella Cooper, declared that Africa’s future depended on women.
Cooper, who said African women were the hub of progress in the continent and it would take women to move Africa forward, noted that women had decision’s to make in area of economic and political empowerment.
According to her, women have to climb steep steps to get where they have to be because the men will not give up power willing.
“I am not afraid to be among women who are not afraid to fight. Women who say we can get there because it will take women to move Nigeria forward. We are not sitting down; future of our continent belongs to women. We have decisions to make.
“We have to empower women. Vote for her because she is a woman. When she is there she will protect interest of women. For all African women we can do it.
“They will not give it to us, we have to fight for it and together we can get it. If you don’t fight for women then you are part of the problem and we don’t want to be part of the problem.
“My eyes are on Nigeria. It takes women to elect women and you are next. Nigeria will produce the next African female president.”
Speaking further she queried: “How ready are the women to take the positions? We are ready but it will take support, not just financial support, to get women in the seat.
“Don’t be afraid be afraid to step up and because of your bravery people will follow you. Overcome the fear of the unknown and understand that it may not happen the first time.”
Political alignments as hindrance
For the Wife of the Sokoto state Governor, Hajiya Maryam Aminu Tambuwal, being apolitical when it comes to gender issues is the only way the objective of the conference can be achieved.
According to her, political alignment was huge hindrance to achieving gender milestones.
Gaps being bridged
Contributing to the debate, for member of the National Assembly, Senator Binta Garba said it was obvious that the women can’t get power on a platter; however, African women were making progress as it concerned gender equality.
While expressing optimism that one day the gaol will be achieved, she said gaps were being bridged. However, decried the situation where more than 50 per cent of voters in Nigeria are women yet, they don’t get to elect their fellow women into positions of leadership.
She urged participants to borrow a leaf from countries that have succeeded in achieving political empowerment of women and work towards achieving if not the presidency at least the office of the vice president.
Recognizing that working together works, the conference stressed that partnership between and among women groups in Africa should be pursued, encouraged, advocated, supported, institutionalized and replicated across the continent to reduce inequalities.
The conference further noted that continuous discussion of issues that affect women in Africa was central to balancing equal development; improve total equality in human development, tackling poverty, unemployment and illiteracy among women.
It was underscored that while being absent from decision-making positions short-changes the African woman; the Conference posited that the African woman is conscious of the many challenges of the continent and the urgent need to contribute its development.
The conference resolved that it would take the African woman to move Africa forward and consequently stressed the need for the expansion of the political space and inclusion of women participation in politics as a human right.
The conference identified access to education for the girl child, domestication of the boy-child, change of cultural policies, financial empowerment, and women entrepreneurship as policy options to bridging the gender gap in Africa.
In consideration of all of the above, the conference declared: “That there should be a legislative instrument making it constitutionally mandatory on governments of African countries to set aside certain percentage of the membership of their Cabinets for women.
“This could be for specific period of time to enable the gender-balance philosophy become internalized in the body polity of African nations.”
Similarly, it was resolved that: “The constitutions of political parties of African countries should enforce the principle of Affirmative Action by putting in place institutional mechanisms at various levels of its organs that will set aside a percentage of elective positions for women.
“This would ensure that women have favourable access to nomination processes that will enable them contest elections into all elective offices.”
In the same vein, “That parliament of African nations should enact stringent guidelines that will sanction political parties that do not meet their non compliance with relevant provisions enhancing access of women to elective offices through gender-friendly nominations processes.”
Also, in recognition of the fact that the possession of compelling intellectual capacity which emanates from quality education provides visionary leadership that would help African nations defeat poverty, create wealth, create jobs and enhance prosperity, the conference resolved that the lack of education for the girl-child should be criminalized by African governments.