Exploring regional solutions to issues affecting women




The need for an inter-generational dialogue on lingering and emerging issues, challenges and opportunities to promote gender equality was reiterated when feminist leaders in West Africa convened in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital last week, ENE OSHABA reports.

Feminism and feminist ideology have been crucial agents driving women’s rights, gender equality and overall development around the world. In Africa, feminists and feminist organisations have been critical voices influencing everyday public discourse towards policy change and development.

A palpable characteristic of feminism in the West African region, and as a matter of fact across the world, is its increasing inter-sectionality, that is, the multiplicity of voices including those in the margins, sexual minorities, those living with disabilities, poor rural and urban dwellers, and the most conspicuous category, the young versus the older generation of feminists.

To effectively advance women’s rights, gender equality, and achieve gender justice, the need for inter-generational connections and collaborations, both in learning or sharing ideas and practice, have been emphasized.

West African feminists have made progress over the years, and it is crucial that while they take stock of that progress, they should unite to confront the emerging and lingering challenges to women’s rights and progress in the West African region.

It is as a result of this that the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) in collaboration with BOABAB for Women’s Human Rights convened in Abuja, Nigeria, for an inter-generational dialogue to discuss lingering and emerging issues, challenges, and opportunities to promote gender equality, justice, and strengthen women agency  in the region.

Challenges

The proverbial saying, a problem shared is a problem halved, expresses the idea that when in difficulties it is useful to talk to someone about them.

It is on this premise that feminists in the West African region thought it wise to share experiences, identify the common challenges and chart paths towards lasting solutions.

According to WASCI and Baobab, over two decades since the Beijing Platform for Action set out how to remove the systemic barriers to women’s well being and equal participation in all areas of life and society, and despite some notable progress made, pertinent challenges persist for majority of women around the world.

It was observed that across West Africa today, and indeed the world over, not a single country can boast of having achieved gender equality in all spheres.

This is as violence against women has attained the status of a shadow pandemic in the context of a post-COVID-19 world.

Multiple obstacles remain, and so are the varied responses and feminism has been crucial   to advancing the agenda for women both in public space, law, and culture. Yet women and their contributions to societal progress remain undervalued; they continue to work more yet earn less, have fewer choices, and experience multiple forms of violence at home and in public spaces.

Meanwhile, many women, feminist actors and organisations continue to face several existing and emerging challenges that hinder their ability to advance their agenda and activism effectively and efficiently.

 This is in addition to prolonged battle with discriminatory social and patriarchal norms including deliberate exclusion of women and feminists, and their organisations, from decision-making processes.

Speaking during the dialogue, the Executive Director, WACSI, Nana Afadzinu, said the feminist movement in West Africa has achieved a lot, however, the different understanding sometimes between the different generations is creating a gap in the common goal.

She stressed that the crucial need to remove every obstacles that make it challenging for African women to reach their full potential in all spheres of life.

”We really are facing a serious issue with the gains that women have made over the years and that is why it is so critical for us to interrogate what is happening and look at what are the strategies we use. It may not be the strategies, it may have to be a combination of the old and new. But then you also need fresh ideas.

“That’s why you need the younger generation you know they are using technology, the habit different way of thinking because the context is in a way is different,” she stated.

Similarly, the Executive Director, BAOBAB for Women’s Human’s Rights, Bunmi DipoSalami, said at the moment, women, as always, receive the short end of the stick, especially with the looming crisis in the west African region still battling increased poverty, unemployment, pandemic etc taking a chunk of the conscious resources of the country’s time and energy of its leaders, women’s issues gets moved to the back end.

She also maintained that another challenge to the attainment of the feminist agenda is the inter-generational disconnect between feminists in the region where different generations of women are working separately to achieve the same goal, instead of harnessing tools, resources, experiences.

“We find generations working like in silos and we also have generations not connecting with the issues. Women’s issues have been moved to the extreme end of the room, and our countries are in crisis,” she said.

Patriarchy, insecurity as huge setback

A feminist activist, reproductive health and media development consultant from Ghana, Abena Benewaa Fosu, while reflecting on emerging and long-lasting challenges to gender justice expressed concerns that the issues of women are still in a conflicting condition in Ghana for its deeply patriarchal culture just as it is practiced in Nigeria and other African countries.

She maintained that feminism was not too much of a welcome idea in Ghana hence most people try to dilute it under the terminology of women’s rights advocacy and activism.

Fosu noted that the moment one was tagged a feminist there were so many other labels attached to the person.

According to her, “However the movement has stood firm not as private spaces but public feminists, but generally feminism has helped to move the gender agenda forward in Ghana.

“We can’t scrap patriarchy by scratching the surface. We need to dig deep into the root of the problems to be able to get lasting solutions to the challenges facing women in Ghana and Africa.

“It bothers us that we are one of the African countries with low women’s representation in the parliament. It’s just unfortunate that we do understand that the political landscape is a deeply patriarchal space, and how to penetrate the face of their male counterparts,” she said.

Speaking further she said, “We have a current minister of gender, for example, who for more than a year has not been at home. There are issues affecting gender issues around girl-child education, issues around a young woman’s sexuality, and so on, which have not been given the right attention. But we thought having a young woman at that seat was going to help push the agenda then it became problematic. Don’t we have to begin to inculcate the notion of this charter or to some of the women aspiring to political offices,” she added.

Fosu stressed the need for women’s leadership by closing all the existing gaps and advocacy for transformative leadership for women’s rights, even as she expressed hope for a just and fair society desired by all.

On her part, the Executive Secretary, Independence Commission for Peace and National Cohesion, Sierra Leone, Hawa Samai, noted that her country’s government was trying to meet the 30 per cent quota in leadership for women, however, has refused to make it a working document.

“To put it down in black and white is the sticky beats, but the government even with the proclamations and their actions, you see them putting women in positions.

“For example, I have been given position to head the Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion and I am the executive secretary. A position a lot of men wanted but because the government believe in the UNSCR 1325 agenda which encourages women should be seen taking the lead in terms of peace in our country and for young woman of my age as well to hold that position,” she stated.

Way forward

DipoSalami, while noting that issues affecting women in the region were basically the same, called for all hands to be on deck as it was important to learn from one another.

She also stressed the need for male support in achieving the gender agenda to enable countries from the larger regional level, the continental level, bring their experiences to share for all to benefit and achieve more.

“If we say, we want Nigeria to prosper Nigeria cannot prosper clapping with one and flying with one wing. It is not going to happen. Both men and women need to work together in achieving national growth.

“Gender equality is smart economics any economist will tell you that. Nigeria is not bringing women on board and that shows we don’t want to be smart, but I don’t believe that we are not smart people.

“There is misogyny and hatred of women in Nigeria, women are being denied positions, gender bills thrown out and we won a court judgement on 35 per cent affirmative action but it is currently appealed by the federal government.

“Nigerian women need help, we need external help because we cannot continue like this anymore,” she lamented.

In the same vein, Samai called on women to lobby and get men to their sides if the goal must be achieved.

She called on women, especially in Nigeria, not to accept free forms for election but get support from family, friends, schoolmates and women in general to raise money for the cost of forms for election so as to stand better chances of winning.

“We cannot win this race on our own; we need support from the men. In Sierra Leone, we have collaborated with men to the point that some leave the positions for the capable women to contest knowing full well they will be carried along in the governance process.”

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