ECOWAS Parliament and the quest for women empowerment in the sub-region

By John Okeke

The need for the empowerment of women in the ECOWAS region was brought to the front burner at the just concluded ECOWAS Parliament’s delocalized meeting on Social Affairs, Gender and Women Empowerment; Education, Science and Culture; Health on the theme “Empowering of Women in the ECOWAS Region” in Monrovia, Liberia.

This is against the backdrop of under-representation of women in politics and other sectors in the region.

Speakers after speakers lend their voice on the on the need to ensure that women take their centre stage at all sectors especially in political representation in the region.

Speaker of the regional Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) Parliament, Sidie Mohamed Tunis said that the election by direct universal suffrage of the Community’s Parliamentarians, which the parliament is committed towards achieving in the next legislature, should make it possible to definitively implement the provision of the Supplementary Act on Enhancement of the Powers of the ECOWAS Parliament, which requires each Member State to ensure that at least 30% of its parliamentary delegation is composed of women.

The ECOWAS Speaker recalled that ECOWAS has made a clear commitment to prioritise gender equality and women’s empowerment in the frameworks of the regional integration process.

He said that “the Supplementary Act on Equal Rights between Men and Women for Sustainable Development in the ECOWAS Region serves as a strong legal tool that can be used to champion women development. This instrument was adopted by the 47th Ordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government held in Accra, Ghana, on the 19th May, 2015.”

Furthermore, the ECOWAS Parliament Speaker detailed that at its just concluded 2021 1st Extra-Ordinary Session, held in Freetown, Sierra Leone, from 29th March to 2nd April 2021, the ECOWAS Parliament considered and adopted its Strategic Plan for the 5th Legislature. This Plan, the Speaker said, “identified the enhancement of gender equality and women’s empowerment as a major strategic area under the Parliament’s participation programme. This, if pursued vigorously, would make the ECOWAS Parliament gender responsive and I pledge to do my best to ensure the achievement of that feat within the period of my mandate.”

Speaker Tunis noted the social, political and cultural factors affecting women’s development in the ECOWAS Region and assured that the ongoing meeting of the joint committee, with the support of the experts will enable them to review the legal framework, compare their experiences, compare their institutional systems in order to highlight the obstacles to women’s empowerment and propose concrete measures adopted by the Community Parliament or brought forward by it to other regional bodies.

Tunis pledged the commitments and actions of the ECOWAS Parliament to address all issues against women in the ECOWAS Sub-region.

Tunis gave the assurances that the fifth legislature of the ECOWAS Parliament under his leadership will work with all stakeholders to ensure that women issues are addressed to the fullest.

“It is gratifying to witness the successful end of this all important meeting of the Joint Committees on Social Affairs, Gender, and Women Empowerment, Education, Science and Culture and Health.

“The meeting, under the theme “The Empowerment of Women in the ECOWAS Sub-region” had by every standard been educative, inspiring and enriching.

“This is more so due to the topical nature of the theme, as well as its importance to the well-being of our people because, whatever affects our women affects our children and will subsequently affect our future.

“The frank exchanges from all participants has helped us identify factors mitigating women’s economic and political empowerment in the ECOWAS region and the role Parliament can play in promoting their economic and political empowerment. President George M. Weah, Liberia’s President appealed to the Community Parliamentarians to adopt resolutions that will go a long way to advance the course of women’s empowerment in the West Africa sub-region.

The Liberian President said: “I am very happy that the ECOWAS Parliament is holding the delocalize committee meetings of its standing committees in Monrovia, Liberia.

Mrs Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of the Republic of Liberia also called on Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Sidie Tunis to continue in his effort s of championing the cause of West African women.

Sirleef however lauded all the efforts and initiative of Tunis in driving forward the cause of the West African women, to ensure their inclusion across all sectors especially increased representation in the ECOWAS Parliament.

“I am pleased to see many women in this gathering and that brings me to say that except for Senegal, our countries have not done well in politics and we need to do more.

“We cannot do it unless you lead us. I will need to recognize the value and contributions of women to the peace, security and development.
“So I will call upon you as the head of the Parliament to be a champion for ensuring that as we go into elections in all of our countries, we have a minimum of 30 per cent representation of women.

“That we get what has been the ECOWAS standard, trying to conform with International Standard by the year, and that is that we seek to have minimum 30 per cent and we are not asking for too much.

“We like to see as women that we are equal in every way to men, we like to see that if we get that minimum then I think we will have so many women.

“And that we work very strongly through coalition and collaboration to help even push harder for the achievements of our development goals.

“I want to thank all the Parliamentarians for all you have done to keep the fire burning, to keep pushing all of our countries to meet the goals aspirations of ECOWAS.

“And as long as you continue to do that, you will get the support and I assure you that all the ECOWAS leaders will stand by you,” Sirleef said.
Hon. Laadi Ayamba, Member of the ECOWAS Parliament from Ghana recommended that Member States adopt and implement a regional binding law to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and child marriage.

According to Ayamba, Female Genital Mutilation and child marriage are some of the oldest cultural practices that violates the right of a girl child.

Ayamba said that Ghana as a country have made FGM a punishable offence under the law but unfortunately, some parents send their children to neighbouring Member States to get the procedure done.

Mrs Sangeeta Thapa, Deputy Country Representative, United Nations Women in Liberia also called on the ECOWAS Parliament to come up policies the protect and recognize the contributions of women in the informal sectors.

According to Thappa, women in the informal sector contribute a lot to the economy of countries in the ECOWAS Region but unfortunately, they are invisible and their contributions are not recognized.

A Gambian Lawmaker, Fatmata Njai said that she thinks that if countries send lists that are short of thirty percent women’s representation, the Economic Community of West African State (ECOWAS) Parliament should reject it.

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.”

Mrs Clar Weah, First Lady of the Republic of Liberia also called for long lasting and meaningful solutions and actions to end all forms of violence against women and ensure women empowerment across all sectors.

According to Weah, despite the much improved awareness of women’s worth in society, a lot of work remains undone to ensure women across the ECOWAS region are given the proper recognition.

She however noted that now is the time when collective efforts needs to be taken to find long lasting solutions to issues that affect all women, and not just women in politics or business but all women in the region.

“The theme of Empowerment of Women in the ECOWAS region, speaks of coming together to agree on a common approach.

“For ensuring that no girl or woman in our region feels abandoned or deprived of any opportunity by virtue of her gender.

“There are so many issues that require our attention and to which our focus must be clear, determined and dedicated and to which we must collectively begin to find long lasting and meaningful solutions.

“The issues such as Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), harmful practices, female genital mutilation, child marriage and teenage pregnancy remains high across the region, while access to reproductive health is low.

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