By John Okeke
Indication emerging yesterday shows ECOWAS Parliament may likely reject the lists of lawmakers from countries who are short of thirty percent women’s representation as suggested by a Gambian Lawmaker, Honorable Fatmata Njai .
She was speaking in an exclusive interview with this Reporter following the official Opening Ceremony of the Fifth Legislature’s delocalized meeting of the Joint Committee on Social Affairs, Gender and Women Empowerment / Education, Science and Culture/Health, currently holding in Monrovia, Liberia (13th-17th April 2021) on the theme, “ Empowerment of Women in the ECOWAS Region.”
According to Hon. Njai, it worth noting the fact that some countries lack female representation in the Conference of Bureau in the ECOWAS Parliament which she said, “ is disregarding the ECOWAS Rules of Procedures.”
“The Rules of Procedures mentioned that each member country should have a female representation at the Conference of Bureau. Each country has three members in the Conference of Bureau, so each country can at least have one female member which will be thirty percent representation. I think if we are to preach something, we should be seen acting what we preach. We can ask countries to send thirty percent and we must enforce that as well, but if countries say that they do not have thirty percent, what is stopping them from having thirty percent. It is not that they do not have females in these countries, they have them and they have competent women as well but why are they not winning elections. I think that is the question,” Hon. Njai said.
She continued by saying that countries should be asking themselves if there is a level playing field and try to know why women are not winning elections, adding that it is not a question about the women not being educated because there are women as educated as men, “ but what are the things that are stopping women from winning elections .”
Hon. Njai said: “When I first joined the ECOWAS Parliament, we were twenty-five in number. We have lost some of the women and I think now we are eighteen in number which is something that should be addressed. Why are women losing elections, and why are countries not sending the thirty percent as stipulated and is required from them by ECOWAS. I think that if countries send a list that is short of thirty percent, the ECOWAS should reject that list.”
On how much of a significant impediment is language barrier to women’s empowerment, Hon. Njai said she mentioned this issue during the panel discussion because one of the participants cited Senegal which is doing very well in women’s empowerment with a forty-four percent female representation.
“The fact is that Senegal speaks their local language (Wallof), this might be a problem and that is why I pinned on that, that we need to revisit the language that we speak in parliament because if the people cannot speak the language, they cannot come forward and most women are illiterate and they do not speak the languages that we speak in parliament, be it English, French or Portuguese. I mentioned that because Senegal speaks Wallof in their parliament and I think and believe that is the reason why there is a large female representation.”
Hon. Njai also noted in her submission during a session facilitated by Ms. Sakandel Benao Reine, Chairperson of the Gender, Social Affairs, and Women Promotion Committee’s deliberation on, “ The best strategies to empower women working in the informal sector in West Africa,” noting that women must empower themselves.
When questioned on how can women empower themselves in a patriarchal society such as that of West Africa, Hon. Njai said: “I mentioned that because one of the speakers said that Islam deters women.”
“Islam does not discriminate against women. Islam empowers women. I think it is the inclusion of culture that discriminates against women and that is why I said that we should ignore that and empower ourselves. Women must go and grab it. If we do not have chairs on the table let us build our own chairs and seat.”
Hon. Njai also said that the biggest missing element in women’s empowerment can be corrected if the fact that women accepting the fact that they should not just sit and wait to be given the ball to play, “ we should actually demand it or grab it ourselves, so I don’t see that as a problem. I see us women being our own enemies because like somebody mentioned, if a woman wants to run for office, it is the same women that would not vote for them, and for us being in the majority why should that happen. We should vote for ourselves and be at the table where the men are.”
In concluding the interview, Hon. Njai implored: “My female counterparts, don’t give up. It might be difficult but it is not impossible, that is what I always say.”