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28.10.2008 General News

ECOWAS Centre Promotes Gender Equity

It is reassuring to note that African regional bodies are increasingly taking an interest in the discourse pertaining to issues on women's rights.

As a result, women's concerns are getting more prominence in the formulation of strategies for national development.

This is in view of the fact that there is still much work to be done, particularly in developing countries, in relation to gender mainstreaming and the attainment of gender equity.

Human rights issues have become increasingly important and are pursued within the framework of various organisations, including the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN).


It is therefore not surprising that the issue of gender inequality has become a concern of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).


This concern has resulted in the creation of the ECOWAS Gender Development Centre (EGDC), which was established in 2003 with a mission to “strive for the development of women in the sub-region”.

The centre's priority areas include education and health; economy and trade; governance, representation and decision-making; agriculture and environment, peace and security.


 It does this by initiating, developing, facilitating and co-ordinating strategies to ensure gender mainstreaming in the community's programmes.

In 1993, member states of ECOWAS initiated a process to formulate, harmonise, co-ordinate and establish appropriate policies and mechanisms for the enhancement of the economic, social and cultural conditions of women.

This was then followed in 2001 by efforts to provide groundwork for an ECOWAS women's empowerment policy laying emphasis on the framework and appropriate mechanisms for gender-mainstreaming in ECOWAS programmes, as well as the structural analysis of ECOWAS Commission and partner organisations.


And in 2003, there was the adoption and establishment of a gender department within the ECOWAS Commission.

As part of its mandate to enhance the status of women in the West African sub-region, the EGDC in collaboration with Ghana's Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs (MOWAC), organised a one-day national information and sensitisation seminar in Accra in June, this year, to develop a list of recommendations to guide the EGDC in achieving gender equality.

The seminar was aimed at creating understanding of the operations of EGDC, its mandate, objectives and activities among its key stakeholders and to build consensus and strategic alliances with various stakeholders on issues that are of relevance to the attainment of gender equity and equality in Ghana.

In pursuance of the above objectives, various stakeholders working towards the advancement of women, as well as directors and executives of ministries, departments, and agencies, and gender core expert groups, exchanged ideas on enhancing the status of women.

As the Minister for Women and Children's Affairs, Hajia Alima Mahama, rightly pointed out when sharing ideas with participants at the seminar, the issue of gender equality must be given the needed attention to enhance the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

As the date for the December elections draws near, it is necessary to remind the country's policy makers that the widespread gender inequality in society cannot be overlooked when reviewing and drafting national development strategies.

To this end, gender issues should be mainstreamed into the country's development and planning processes to ensure equity and equality and make the policy process and policy outcomes gender-sensitive.


 In doing this, it is important to consider the demographic and socio-cultural factors that influence the gender patterns of activity.

Financial constraints often deter women from running for public office. Campaigning for such office demands huge financial investment that some women simply cannot afford.


Therefore Hajia Alima appealed to the EGDC to find innovative ways to raise funds to support female candidates to enter Parliament and local government institutions.

Moreover, the active participation of women in politics was cited as a strategic entry point to influence policies that have a direct impact on women's rights as that will enable women to influence policy decisions to cater for their interests.


Although most African states are signatories of well-known documents on gender equality such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Beijing Platform for Action and the African Union Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality, the real impact of these international instruments on women's lives has been limited and variable.

Ghana, in compliance with regional and international covenants, has enacted laws and formulated policies to promote the participation of women in power and in decision-making. And yet, the low representation of women in politics is unacceptable.


The political terrain must therefore be made more women-friendly and men must be sensitised to accept and welcome women as equal partners in determining Ghana's development agenda.


However, inculcating this understanding will require a multi-faceted approach.


While economic empowerment is a goal for the attainment of gender equality and equity, education is the necessary impetus from which economic empowerment can be achieved.


Economic empowerment does not simply mean creating economic opportunities for women; it is the process of educating women on how to become knowledgeable and retain economic power themselves.

This is especially important in Ghana's rural regions, where women are more disempowered relative to those in the urban centres.


Some participants at the seminar therefore emphasised the need to further build the capacity of rural women to succeed in their economic endeavours.

To address the systemic gender inequalities, it is critical to strengthen the institutional mechanisms for the promotion of gender equality and women's empowerment.


Institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women take the form of institutions or national machinery that promotes the advancement of women at all levels.


They include Gender Desk Officers in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), Parliamentary Gender Committees and Women's Caucus in Parliament and women's organisations.

However, there are weak links between institutional mechanisms at the various levels, from the state to the civil society organisations.


The capacity, both human and financial, of the different actors can be further strengthened with increased collaboration.

Without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women's perspectives at all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development, and peace cannot be achieved.

Story by Fauzia Issaka