The Forum offered Sixteen (16) key policy recommendations to enhance the involvement of women in leadership and decision making processes across the region. These recommendations were targeted at ECOWAS, National governments, and Civil society.
1ST WEST AFRICAN WOMEN’S POLICY FORUM
“Assessing the Gains, Advancing the Agenda”
The West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) and Women Peace and Security Network, Africa (WIPSEN-Africa) with support from the African Women Development Fund (AWDF), the International Women’s Programme of the Open Society Institute, the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and Abigail Disney organised the 1st annual West African Women’s Policy Forum in December 2008 to inform, guide, influence and monitor policy formulation and implementation on issues that affect women in West Africa.
The Forum provided a platform for women’s groups, associations, coalitions and women in government and other decision-making positions to reflect on women’s roles and participation in governance, development, peace and security in the region and to design concrete strategies for influencing and informing policy processes.
The uniqueness of the Forum was that it provided a tactical space for cross section of women from different fields to reach consensus on topical issues facing women in West Africa. It is envisaged that the Policy Forum will serve as an annual gathering of West African women given the fluid nature of the region’s policy environment.
The overall goal for instituting this annual forum is to address the prevailing lack of strategy and chasm in women’s collaboration and broad based advocacy to influence policies in the region.
The Forum brought together over 50 participants from West Africa including women’s groups, networks, women in government, gender machineries, and ECOWAS. Women from other parts of the African continent and the world were also represented.
Aim and Objectives of the Forum
The central aim was to convene the 1st West African Women Policy Forum by creating a platform for women working in different sectors to jointly deliberate on strategic topical issues affecting women in the region, such as the representation of women in governance, development and peace and security processes.
The Forum had four (4) main objectives:
To establish a platform for women across West Africa to strategise on maximising efforts towards influencing policies on women’s issues;
To enhance collaboration between women in civil society and governments;
To serve as an annual reflection space for a cross section of women in the region;
To provide an avenue for West Africa women to form linkages with women working in other regions of the world.
Themes of the Forum
The following seven (7) issues formed the basis of presentations and discussion at the forum:
Reviewing the “Status of Women’s Leadership in West Africa”
Tracking current issues affecting women
Ø Drug Trafficking
Ø Sub-regional integration , Migration and Free movement of people
Ø Peace and Security
The Prospects of linking policy and practice in West Africa;
Revisiting women’s networking and collaboration in West Africa;
Succession Planning in Women’s Leadership
Establishing Regional and International Linkages
Designing Regional Strategy for Women’s Policy influencing
“Percentage of Women in West African Parliaments as at October, 2008”.
Source: The Inter- Parliamentary Union (IPU)
The 1st West African Women’s Policy Forum held in Accra, Ghana on December 2 to 3, 2008 offered Sixteen (16) key policy recommendations to enhance the involvement of women in leadership and decision making processes across the region.
The recommendations outlined below are directed at ECOWAS, National governments, and Civil society.
As the most progressive regional body on the continent, ECOWAS should increase the numbers of women in key decision making positions at the Commission and other institutions. It is important that the African Union’s standard of gender parity be adopted at all levels;
ECOWAS and in particular the Gender and Development Centre in Dakar and the Gender Unit at the Commission should develop more inclusive ways of working with women’s groups to achieve the implementation of its protocols and other policies. The Centre should be a “rallying ground” for women in the region. For example, given the unique impact of migration on women, the Gender Centre should lead the process of placing women at the core of implementing the Protocol on Free Movement, Right of Residence and Establishment;
First Ladies in West Africa through the auspices of the ECOWAS Gender Centre and national gender ministries should be targeted to become involved in policy formulation processes at national and regional levels;
ECOWAS leaders should invest in strengthening the Gender and Development Centre in Dakar, to enable it play a more influential and constructive role in policy influencing in the region;
Governments should close the gap between signing and adopting instruments and implementation. There should be more commitment by States to fully domesticate CEDAW, The Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women, and the ECOWAS gender policy;
Given the appallingly low representation of women at national decision making structures, governments in the region should recommit to ensuring at least 30 per cent of women at all levels of government;
West African women in government positions should view women in civil society as allies and forge more strategic and interdependent relationships that will enhance women’s ability to influence policies;
Women’s organisations should intensify their commitment to mentorship by creating opportunities for young girls to participate and benefit from training programmes, workshops, and leadership initiatives in order to facilitate continuity in women’s representation in decision making;
Civil society should make overtures towards women in government and endeavor to provide technical assistance on issues that affect women in the region. A starting point should be for women in both sectors to work on the common cause of increasing the numerical representation of women at all levels of decision making;
Women’s groups in civil society should increase their visibility within the sector and across the region by playing more critical roles in policy formulation processes;
Women’s groups should enhance mechanisms for quality collaboration by maximising efforts and reducing unhealthy competition and rivalry. A database of women’s initiatives outlining areas of specialisation should be developed to improve cooperation.
The forum recommended the formation of a “West Africa Women’s Advisory Panel” comprising of women in government, civil society and the private sector to support the gender structures at ECOWAS and provide policy advice to national governments;
Peace and security remains a high priority issue in West African countries, therefore, all actors should enhance efforts to domesticate the implementation of related peace and security instruments such as the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820. The processes of developing national action plans for Resolution 1325 should be accelerated in all countries. Lessons should be learned from Liberia’s experience of developing a national action plan on the Resolution;
Given the male dominated state of the security sector in countries across West Africa, women’s advocacy on engendering the security sector should increase. This advocacy should involve calling for institutional gender policies that guide the recruitment, retention and protection of women in the security sector;
Women from all sectors should organise around upcoming elections in West Africa and become more engaged in pre and post electoral processes. Lessons on the roles of Ghanaian women in Ghana’s 2008 elections should be documented and shared in the region;
Finally, women should advocate for the visible inclusion of women in the implementation of the proposed ECOWAS vision 20/20 “ECOWAS of the People: Towards a Democratic and Prosperous Community”.
About the organisers
The West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) was created by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) to reinforce the capacities of civil society in the region. The Institute was established to bridge the institutional and operational gaps within civil society.
Vision: To strengthen civil society organisations as strategic partners for the promotion of democracy, good governance and national development in the sub-region.
The Women Peace and Security Network Africa (WIPSEN-Africa) is a Pan-African Non-Governmental Peacebuilding Organisation with a focus on women, peace and security broadly defined. WIPSEN-Africa seeks to promote women’s strategic participation and leadership in peace and security governance in Africa.
WIPSEN-Africa’s mission is to institutionalise and mainstream women, peace and security by enhancing women’s leadership capacities and promoting constructive, innovative and collaborative approaches to non-violent transformation of conflicts, peacebuilding and human security in Africa.
OSI International Women’s Programme
The OSI International Women’s Programme was established by the Open Society Initiatives (OSI) as one of its inspiration to shape public policy to promote democratic governance, free and open societies, human rights and economic, legal and social reform.
Mission: The mission of OSI IWP is to use grant-making and programmatic efforts to promote and protect the rights of women and girls around the globe where the principles of good governance and respect for the rule of law are absent because of conflict.
The Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) was created in December 2000 as part of the world network of 32 autonomous foundations founded and supported by George Soros. OSIWA share in the commitment to work for an “open society”. Based on the principle that no one has monopoly of the truth, an open society recognises the different points of view and always remains open to improvements.
In practice, open societies are characterised by the priority of law, democracy, respect of diversity and human rights, liberalisation of markets, information to the people and the dynamism of civil society.
African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) is a grant-making foundation which supports local, national and regional organisations in Africa working towards women’s empowerment. AWDF through institutional capacity building and programme development seeks to build a culture of learning and partnerships within the African women’s movement.
Abigail Disney is a Philanthropist and heads the Daphne Foundation based in the United States.