Our Diplomatic Correspondent LINUS ALEKE examines the role of ECOWAS
Parliament on Gender Inclusion as a global community, national authorities, rights and gender activists, as well as multilateral Institutions organized conferences, workshops, symposia, and roadshows to elevate the discussion on gender parity to a higher level as the world commemorates International Women’s Day 2021
Beyond its primary duty of law-making, the Community Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States, otherwise known as ECOWAS Parliament had demonstrated capacity and commitment in advancing the inclusion of women in governance space in the sub-region.
Speaking at an event organized by ECOWAS Parliament
to mark the International Women’s Day 2021 in Abuja, the Speaker ECOWAS Parliament Rt Hon. Sidie Mohamed Tunis highlighted some of the practical steps taken by the Institution to encourage the participation of women in politics and governance.
He said: “At this juncture, permit me to highlight the ECOWAS Parliament’s position on women issues, beginning with our strong advocacy and support for increased female participation in law-making and parliamentary services.
“It is because of this political commitment at the highest level that made it possible to adopt in 2003, an ECOWAS Female Parliamentarians Association commonly known as ECOFEPA.
“The Association provides an opportunity for Female Parliamentarians to use their collective constitutional mandates to create an enabling environment for women’s effective participation in the politics and political process and increase the proportion of women in decision-making levels within the ECOWAS region”.
The Speaker, however, lamented that despite, the work carried out by ECOWAS Parliament in terms of advocacy and actions for the involvement of women in leadership roles, the region still falls short of recording significant figures.
“For instance, the most recent available statistics provided by the West Africa Brief show that women occupy 421 seats in West African Parliaments and thus represent only 16.1% of all lawmakers.
“Furthermore, 12 out of the 15 ECOWAS Member States are short of the 23.3% world average of women in Government. In the region, women occupy on average less than 20% of ministerial posts, and, of those, they are mostly clustered in the ministries covering women’s affairs and social issues,” he further bemoaned.
He posited that in spite of these facts, ECOWAS Parliament has continued to press forward in playing its role to enhance the appreciation of the importance of women to socio-economic development.
Hon. Tunis said, “Within the ambit of regional Legal Texts, Article 63 of the ECOWAS Treaty on “Women and Development” calls on the Member States to formulate, harmonize, coordinate and establish appropriate policies and mechanisms, for the enhancement of the economic, social, and cultural conditions of women.
“ECOWAS also adopted the Gender and Trade Plan of Action, 2015-2020, which aims to increase women’s productive capacity and export competitiveness and to promote gender-sensitive trade policy development and implementation among Member countries.
“The theme for this year’s international women’s day seeks to encompass in one statement, the idea that the world must and has now come to embrace the necessity for women’s full and effective participation in decision-making in public life.
“This theme also captures with it, the understanding that clearly calls for women’s right to decision-making in all areas of life, equal pay, equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, as well as the development of health-care services that respond to their needs.
“I salute the courage that has brought our women this far in the quest for true equality in the workplace and in public space. I salute the female capacity for dedication, steadfastness and quiet resolve.
“I urge us as a society, to build on the momentum of our predecessors in strengthening women’s leadership and promoting their active participation in local, national and international decision-making processes in order to attain good governance”.
Speaking about the achievements of women from the sub-region Hon. Tunis said, “We can all recall the pride for ECOWAS and Africans as a whole when the landmark announcement was made recently to give Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from Nigeria, the position of Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) at a critical time in the Organisation’s history.
“Dr Okonjo-Iweala not only becomes the first African to hold this position, but also the first woman. The WTO, at a time when strong leadership is required, has turned to a woman for guidance.
“The selection process for the top position of the Organisation also demonstrated how far women have come to our world today, throwing up a situation, not of the “last man standing”, but of the “last woman standing”.
“We should also recall that prior to this appointment at the WTO, Dr Okonjo-Iweala was at the forefront of Africa’s response in mobilizing financial support and resources to combat the global challenges posed by COVID-19”.
He also said that in the United States, the world watched as for the first time in that nation’s history, a woman, now Vice President Kamala Harris, emerged to take the position of the 2nd citizen in the United States.
“This accomplishment made all the more remarkable when you consider her story from childhood to the Vice Presidency. Again, with this, we see the growing acceptance of the leadership qualities that women possess”.
While noting that he was honoured to address participants at the event and lend his voice to celebrate the unsung heroines of society, the Speaker said, “our women, who through dedication, commitment and enormous energy, are finding the courage to take necessary actions to make indelible changes towards the stability of the global community”.
He posited that 8 March, provides the opportunity, annually, for the world to take stock of the significant contributions of women of all races and ages.
The Speaker, however, noted that the specific theme of this year’s International Women’s Day; “Women in Leadership- Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World”, paves the way for continued discourse on the outstanding work needed to achieve systemic and sustainable change on the rights and emancipation of women.
“2020 was indeed a very challenging and difficult year in the history of the world, with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and its disruption to life and social interactions.
“We, as a people, were forced to accept necessary measures such as border closures that prevented travel and home confinements, with a view to arresting the spread of the deadly virus.
“Yet, in the midst of these life-changing decisions and challenges, also emerged the very best display of human nature.
“We found that our women have been standing at the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis from its initial detection,” the Speaker said.
While alluding to data from the UN Women, Hon. Tunis said that women makeup almost 70% of the health care workforce, caregivers, community organisers worldwide and as some of the key policymakers in the response efforts.
He further said: “As the world gradually begins to come out of this COVID-19 experience, and we seek for a brighter future than our immediate past, it is clear that women must be given an integral role to play in the future we build.
“As they constitute the greater percentage of health care responders, which in turn, makes them more susceptible to infection, they must therefore be given the right to safeguard their future through increased representation in leadership and decision-making process in the health care sector.
“We are now starting to talk about the leadership that women can bring in dealing with and addressing the challenges that await us in the post-COVID-19 world. And in this area, I think that conversations on equality for women in the public space should be driven by the undeniable merit of the value of female contributions to nation-building and global stability. Our conversations cannot be about “giving equality” to women, rather they must be conversations that begin from “the fact of such equality”.
He equally said that the sub-region must begin by recognizing that at the moment, it is witnessing the critical role women are playing in providing valuable leadership.
“We must begin by acknowledging how much different things could have been if women had been seated at the top echelon of decision-making long before now. We must recognize these facts and adjust accordingly. It is soothing to see glimpses of these adjustments already, even on our doorsteps,” he concluded.