Women and youth remain an important section of society and are critical agents of change and development in West Africa. These groups constitute the largest proportion of the region’s population and contribute hugely to its development despite prolonged years of marginalisation in key socio-cultural, political and economic decisions, and development policies. Lack of capacity, knowledge and skills have been given as major excuse for the marginalisation of this group of people.
As part of efforts to change this narrative in West Africa, WACSI in its new strategic vision, “…for a peaceful and prosperous West Africa where development is driven by its people”, acknowledges the critical role of all persons especially women and youth in the development and achievement of a prosperous West Africa. Thus, the Institute plans to actively engage more women and youth in its programmes and the overall implementation of its 2018-2022 strategic plan.
WACSI is committed to giving specific and deliberate support to strengthen the agency of women (including women-led organisations, women’s groups, associations or movements and individuals) and youth networks in West Africa under a dedicated strategic theme on “women and youth leadership”.
The Institute continues to forge new partnerships and strengthen existing ones with likeminded civil society organisations and development partners dedicated to advancing women’s leadership, women’s rights, and gender equality in West Africa. In addition to creating safe places for different groups of women to connect, learn, share ideas and amplify their voices on issues that affect their growth and societal development, WACSI also makes deliberate efforts to mainstream gender into all its programme conception, design and implementation using multifaceted systematic approaches.
As a civil society-centered capacity development institution, WACSI’s gender programmes cover a wide range of topical thematic areas including women’s economic and political empowerment, women’s leadership in the non-profit sector, women’s financial inclusion, advocacy against gender based violence (for example, child marriage), strengthening women’s movement and networks among others.
A central part of WACSI’s commitment in this area includes documenting history of women’s struggles, leadership and contributions to democratic governance, socio-cultural development, peace and security, and the arts in West Africa. In this context, the Institute published in 2009 a comprehensive report on “The Status of Women’s Leadership in West Africa”, and in partnership with CARE International, WACSI produced a report that showcased how women are using the Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) to advance their financial status. The report also reviewed the ‘state of women’s financial inclusion policy in 8 West African countries’ in 2017.
In addition, WACSI runs capacity development programmes that seek to provide women across different thematic fields with basics and advanced leadership skills including a training package on influential leadership; board governance and NGO management for women’s organisations.
For over 10 years, WACSI has created tactical platforms for women in politics and civil society to convene, connect, debate and build consensus around policy decisions that affect their advancement in political leadership, electoral governance, civil society leadership among others. Between 2008 and 2013, WACSI co-established and co-convened the ‘Annual West Africa Women’s Policy Forum’ which tackled different policy challenges around women’s leadership across 5 countries in West Africa; and also championed the establishment of a regional women only election observation team known as West Africa Women’s Election Observation Team (WAWEO) in 2012. WAWEO has since been recognised by the leadership of the ECOWAS Commission and is regularly invited to join the ECOWAS election observer mission across West Africa.
WACSI continues to leverage on its networks and regional experience in working with women’s movement, coalitions and associations such as West Africa Women’s Association (WAWA), the 50:50 Women’s Group in Sierra Leone, Manu River Women’s Peace and Security Network (MAWOPNET), Network for Women's Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT) and WAWEO. The Institute is putting strategies in place to foster regional policy engagements with the key regional bodies including the ECOWAS Gender and Development Centre (EDGC) and Gender Directorate during the current strategy cycle.
In terms of youth leadership, WACSI’s commitment to the capacity development of the next generation of civil society actors is reechoed in its 2018-2022 strategic plan. Since 2007 the Institute has developed and delivered numerous initiatives targeted at building the knowledge, skills and capacities of young West Africans through its flagship internship programmes—the Next Generation Internship Programme. The Institute’s passion and dedication to reach out to more youths outside the civil society sector led to the expansion of the internship programme into a Next Generation Leadership Programmes which consists of 3 components-an internship, a research fellowship and a leadership capacity development initiative known as the Civil Society Leadership Institute (CSLI).
The internship programme is designed to attract young graduates yearning to gain first hand professional work experience within civil society, while the research fellowship programme offers young researchers (academia) an opportunity to document indigenous practices on civic leadership and governance in West Africa. The fellowship programme provides interactive space for young researchers to meet, engage and facilitate discussions between relevant stakeholders including decision-makers, development actors, civil society leaders and other constituents—on their research findings. During the fellowship, they are mentored by top-notch researchers who focus on development discourse peculiar to the region.
The CSLI on the other hand focuses at equipping emerging civil society leaders (specifically middle level professionals) with the requisite skills and abilities to effectively lead and influence change for enhanced performance and more sustainable social benefits. Through the Next Generation Leadership Programme, WACSI is growing a new cadre of development agents through transformational leadership and has proven to be a connecting tool across generations of civil society actors.
These initiatives are fundamental approaches towards realising the sustainability of the sector and bridging the intergenerational gap.