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“Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”- Ecowas President

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Address to mark the 2016 International Women’s Day by His Excellency Ambassador Kadre Ouedraogo, president, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) commission

This year’s theme for celebrating the International Women’s day which is on 8th of March every year is: “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”. In this season of celebrating the International Day of Women we seek to raise awareness on women’s issues, to acknowledge their indomitable roles in the society, to celebrate their achievements and to propose forward looking strategies for accelerated progress in the course of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.  

This year theme also draws our attention on how to effectively mainstream gender equality and women empowerment in the 2030 Global Agenda on Sustainable Development.  The theme is an affirmation that promoting gender parity, equality and empowerment of women and girls will indeed critically and significantly contribute towards the attainment of all the Sustainable Development Goals and Targets.

The founding leaders of ECOWAS had always recognized the need for the full mobilization of human resources (men, women and youth) abounding in the region.  Hence, the ECOWAS Treaty Article 63 is on Women and Development and it reads thus:

1. “Member States undertake to formulate, harmonise, co-ordinate and establish appropriate policies and mechanisms, for enhancement of the economic, social and cultural conditions of women.

2. To this end, Member States shall take all measures necessary to:

i) Identify and assess all constraints that inhibit women from maximising their contribution to regional development efforts: and

ii) Provide a framework within which the constraints will be addressed and for the incorporation of women’s concerns and needs into the normal operations of the society;

3. At the Community level.  Member States shall:

a. Stimulate dialogue among themselves on the kinds of projects and programmes aimed at integrating women into the development process:

b. Establish a mechanism for co-operation with bilateral, multilateral and non-governmental organisations; and

c. Promote and develop mechanisms to encourage the exchange of experiences and information between Member States “

The Treaty gives ECOWAS a strong mandate to formulate policies and develop programmes that enhance women’s economic, social and cultural conditions. Thus, the Vision has always been clearly affirmed – commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment as means of ensuring collective involvement in development activities of the region.  ECOWAS Authority has been consistently conscious of women’s economic empowerment as the key to development and has thus repositioned gender issues for injection into its frameworks and initiatives.

ECOWAS women have made progress in terms of education, political participation and some progress have been made in terms of their economic empowerment.  ECOWAS as an organisation now dialogues with member states, private sector, and civil society to harmonise their national gender policies and to promote institutional mechanisms for gender equality and women empowerment.  ECOWAS also encourages the identification and removal of bottlenecks inhibiting governments living up to their commitments and accountability for gender mainstreaming in their development plans, programmes and budget allocations. 

Permit me to highlight some of our programmes on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls in the ECOWAS Commission:

 Education and Training of Women and Girls

Education of women and girls has been called one of the best investments a country can make in its future growth and welfare since it has benefits for the women and her children. Furthermore basic education opens the way to further education or vocational training in agriculture, health services, etc. and, thereby, increases the opportunities to find remunerated employment. The following actions have been taken to support the education and training of women and girls in the ECOWAS Community:

ECOWAS Commission has a programme to award merit-based scholarships to brilliant but needy girls from poor families in the fifteen (15) ECOWAS Member States. This programme aims at helping these girls to have access to quality education, as part of efforts to contribute to the elimination of existing gaps and disparities in the education sector in the ECOWAS region, particularly in the scientific, technical and professional fields, where girls are mostly few or altogether absent. The beneficiaries of the programme are selected on the basis of their academic performance and their level of deprivation. The programme finances the school fees of the girls and all other education-related costs, such as feeding, transportation, accommodation, text books, etc. This programme is done in partnership with the ministries responsible for gender affairs, the ministries of education and the host ministries of the ECOWAS National Units in the Member States. Various sensitization workshops have also been held on girl-child education and child marriage.

We also have programs dealing with the following pertinent Issues:

 Gender and Development Training and Trainers’ Manual :

With this training tool, ECOWAS  is able to respond adequately to the capacity building needs of stakeholders in the areas of gender mainstreaming and gender analysis. The dissemination of this tool in ECOWAS Member States is done through national training seminars.

 Development of a Training Manual on Gender, Peace and Security, in collaboration with the Women, Peace and Security Network (WIPSEN-Africa), the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC) and the German International Cooperation (GIZ).

 Draft Training Manual on Gender and Child Protection Issues during Complex Emergencies.

 Gender and Health – Support to Women and Girls suffering from the Obstetric Fistula Programme. Assistance is continuously being  provided to women suffering from obstetrics fistula, and this is  followed by psycho-social and financial support. 

 Women, Peace and Security Programme

 Capacity Building on Gender and Election

 Gender and Agriculture

 Gender Mainstreaming in Energy Access

 Gender and Trade

 Gender and Migration

 The establishment of Business Incubator for African Women Entrepreneurs (BIAWE) Project in the ECOWAS region. This is being sponsored by the NEPAD-SPANISH Fund for African Women.

 Promotion of networking and Partnership for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls within the ECOWAS Region.

The ECOWAS Gender Agenda  indeed commits Member States to fulfill their obligations under various regional and international protocols/agreements and contributes to the realization of New Partnership for African Development – NEPAD’s objectives, Beijing Platform for Action and the Sustainable Development Goals. ECOWAS as a regional organization has reaffirmed its commitment to the global agenda of promoting Gender Equality and Women Empowerment. 

The high level political commitment to gender equality issue gives a high leverage for gender sensitivity and mainstreaming of activities within ECOWAS as an institution and with multiple ripple effects within the region. The challenge for ECOWAS as an institution is to sustain the commitment and the willingness to make resources available for the implementation of the targets set out in the various gender-related policies and plans of action; to close the gender gaps in all the sectors as well as empower women and men to better deal with the multi-dimensional challenges in all development sectors. 

 The economic situation in the region, debt crisis, armed conflict, insurgency, terrorism, the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls, traditional and cultural issues; continue to pose serious challenges to the effective implementation of Gender Parity and Equality Issues. Hence, there is the need for continuous focus and action to address these challenges. 

However, the process of engendering development in ECOWAS is on course and will need to be more vigorously pursued in the coming years. ECOWAS indeed has embraced the vision for gender equality and empowerment of women and girls, which is indeed a proven strategy for empowering humanity, we see the picture and we are making it happen. We enjoin all stakeholders to take concrete steps to help achieve gender parity and to promote and prioritize gender equality and women empowerment issues. 

ECOWAS hereby salutes all the  women,  men, girls and boys of the community  and encourages all to join hands in promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls for sustainable and enduring development and democracy in our region. Together we win !!! We are building a socially inclusive society where everybody’s needs and aspirations are given due consideration.   

Kadré Désiré OUEDRAOGO 

President of ECOWAS Commission

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