West African women are being groomed to promote genuine elections in West Africa
“I observed elections in a district assembly where we [elections observers] were seated close to the ballot box and could see voters at shoulder level. From their movements, onlookers could predict whom they were voting for …”
This experience was shared by one of the 30 West African women who is taking part in an ongoing training on Gender Sensitive Elections Observation and Reporting and Policy Advocacy at the WACSI Training Centre in Accra. This training is being organized by WACSI with support from IBIS West Africa, the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) and the Women in Peace and Security Network for Africa (WIPSEN-A).
The 30 women, members of the West African Women’s Elections Observation Team (WAWEO) come from 13 West African countries. They are being equipped to observe elections in West African countries with a focus on gender related issues. Participants at the training, most of whom have observed elections at district, parliamentary and/or presidential levels in one or more African countries are sharing their previous experiences as observers. These practical experiences are prompting discussions that aim at deepening participants’ understanding of the gender aspects to look out for during elections.
Ms. Angela Peace Worname, President of the Ashaiman Women in Progressive Development has observed two elections in Ghana. She appreciates her participation in this training because “as an advocate for women, I need to understand the key principles that guide electoral processes and how these can affect the participation of some groups in our society, notably women”, she explained. This is one of many expectations shared by participants at the training.
Facilitators are guiding participants to have a broader contextual understanding of realities during elections in West Africa. They are providing participants with techniques and best approaches to observe elections objectively and report findings that would enhance future electoral processes by creating the necessary conditions that would encourage the participation of women. “Your job is to ensure that things are done according to the laws put in place by the authorities that govern elections”, stated Mr. Ken Abotsi, a facilitator at the training. “As members of WAWEO, your focus should be to observe those gender related conditions during electoral processes which can promote or hinder women’s effective participation”, he stressed. The facilitator encouraged participants to be vigilant, objective and impartial in their observations and their findings should be geared towards enhancing elections processes in the sub-region.
“As elections observers, you are researchers. You should have research questions that would inform your objectives. These objectives should enable you to put forward specific hypotheses. Your focus as election observers should be geared towards responding to your research questions, and this will enable you to put forward valuable recommendations”, the facilitator explained on the second day of the training. He went on to point out that, “elections observation is “the purposeful gathering of information regarding an electoral process and the making of informed judgments on the conduct of such a process on the basis of the information collected” as defined by International IDEA.
Mr. Abotsi stressed that the mission of WAWEO is to observe and report on the conduct of elections in West African countries vis-à-vis women. The team should focus on observing and reporting on whether the necessary conditions are in place to encourage women to willingly and conveniently exercise their voting rights.
The training that will end on Friday September 28th will enable the participants to be groomed on policy advocacy and engagement on Thursday 27 and Friday 28 September.