African Women Emancipation Continental Conference Held At ECOWAS Commission, Asokoro, Abuja, Nigeria 1st – 2nd Of July, 2010

INTRODUCTION

WAELE/ARCELFA 3rd Continental Conference on African Women Emancipation took place in Abuja, Nigeria with more than 500 participants and delegates from 32 African countries and other participants from the USA, UK and Australia.

DAY ONE

Opening Ceremony

Otunba Basirat Nahibi Founder/President of WAELE/ARCELFA delivered a welcome address which gave a historical background on strides in emancipating women on the continent. The Beijing Declaration and Platform form action provided a springboard for her presentation. In concluding her address, she urged participants to be open-minded and focused in ensuring that the aim of the conference is achieved.

General Yakubu Gowon, former Head of State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria chaired the opening session of the conference. He explored the theme of the conference from a fatherly perspective drawing much from his experience as a child. He buttressed the importance of women in the rapid development of the continent and charged women to rise from the challenges of deprivation and take practical steps to alleviate poverty and associated challenges facing them.

Keynote Address: African Women’s emancipation: Keys to the Future:

This was delivered by Baroness Caroline Cox, a member of the British House of Lords and Founder/Chief executive of Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART).  In her presentation, she painted a picture of the grim challenges facing the women folk in Africa.

She traced the historical achievement of women in the continent from 1500 BC. She cited the famous Asante society (present-day Ghana) of the 18th and 19th centuries as one where there was no delineation of power along age or gender lines. The social structure was headed by both male and female elders. Both men and women served as spiritual leaders holding significant power within the community.

This historical approach firmly established that the African foundation was not faulty from the origins. She buttressed her point with Nigerian examples of the same period:  in the Igbo community, women were central to decision making in the market place; in the Yoruba culture, principles determining seniority were based primarily on age and not gender. However, according to the baroness, the fortunes of women changed in recent years as a result of:

  • Increased civil conflicts which have encouraged violence against women
  • Structural adjustment programmes which have emphasized export growth and efficiency to the detriment of welfare. Women have been affected by cuts in social sector spending and have been forced to bear the increasing burden of care and food production.
  • Growing problems of HIV/AIDS which have posed serious consequences to women and development.

Baroness Cox itemized the problems to include:

  • Health, including maternal and child mortality: A grim picture was painted in the statement that “in Africa, the number of deaths caused by pregnancy and childbirth are greater than all deaths from HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria combined.”
  • Education: Twice as many women as men are illiterates and girls represent the majority of the children without access to primary education.
  • Violence Against Women, Human trafficking, Domestic Violence and Urbanization.

Way forward was offered under the sign posts:

  • Women Economies and Microfinance Movement;
  • Women Law and Politics;
  • Leadership Peace Processes;
  • Women and the Environment;
  • Elders, Grandmothers and Aid.

Baroness Cox concluded that there has been great progress in recent years in legislation and policies which promote equality for women across the cultural, economic and political arenas. She identified the African Women’s Preparatory Conference held in 1994 at which a number of priorities were highlighted. These include combating the increasing poverty of African women, improving access to education and health services, addressing women’s relationship to the environment, increasing the involvement of women in the peace process, advancing the legal right of women, and mainstreaming gender concerns with economic and development policy making.

For Baroness Cox, many of the policies which have been identified do not require international, multibillion dollar projects. She noted that there is a growing understanding that poverty alleviation should be achieved by empowerment of local populations and enterprising individuals. Women’s initiatives are springing up across the continent, supported by an array of national, regional and international women’s networks, providing practical solutions for women and pressurizing those in leadership to create supportive legislations.

Address by Guest of Honour, Her Excellency Honorable Joice T. R. Mujuru, Vice President of Zimbabwe

In her contribution, Mrs. Joice Mujuru established that global and continental development cannot be addressed adequately without tackling the problems bedeviling the advancement of women.

She highlighted these problem areas to include: women and poverty; education for women; women and conflict; women and the economy; women in power; rights of women; women in the media; women and the environment; and the girl-child. She noted that responsibility of government is to improve, promote and protect the rights of women and guarantee the attainment of gender equality. She urged for adoption and implementation of tailor-made, time-tested solutions, including more participation of women in governance.

Honourable Joice Mujuru also mentioned the achievement of Zimbabwe Government at increasing the participation of women in politics. The progress of the ZANU-PF in clinching power paved the way for women to aspire to leadership positions in Zimbabwe. But the way forward is in the enactment, ratification and enforcement of various protocols on women’s rights at continental and regional levels.

Honourable Mujuru concluded that emancipation of African Women politically, socially and economically requires what she calls “revolution that has to be fought and won.”

President Goodluck Jonathan, president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Special Guest of Honour was represented by the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Mrs Iyom Josephine Anenih.

She gave a brief background on Nigeria’s achievement in women emancipation and challenged women to move out of their comfort zone to rise above emerging challenges and take their place in governance and leadership.

The challenge is not all about the pursuit but also about the alternatives to be given up, in other words, “swapping our beautiful words and flowing dresses for action and agitation until the status quo is turned upside down.”

Noting that the struggle is one which would outlive every generation, she concluded with a call on women to mentor other young women on the challenges of emancipation.

On behalf of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, she declared the conference open.

Plenary Sessions

Climate Change and its Impact on African Rural Women

Nigeria’s Minister of Environment, Mr. John Odey, in this presentation, established that climate change not only undermines progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals but indicated a shift which affects the human development index in many countries.

He emphasized on relationship between climate change and women and enumerated eleven challenges or hurdles African Women have to scale in pursuit of emancipation. These include:

  • Climate change as a threat to security;
  • Lowering of life-expectancy;
  • Increase in domestic and sexual violence;
  • Dependence of African women on local natural resources for livelihood, because of their responsibility of securing food, water, energy for cooking and heating;
  • Beyond these is the burden for safeguarding the rights of women in the continent which is frequently being threatened by change in climate and limited access to information necessary to enforce their rights.

Mr. Odey suggested ways to overcome the problems. He stressed the need for African governments to integrate a gender perspective into the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation and reporting of national environmental policies and development plans, taking a cue from international strides on climate management.

Plights of African Women in War-torn Countries:- The way forward

Jennifer Kargbo, Director, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Southern Africa Office) made this presentation. She listed countries that have experienced war and the effects of war as including Angola, Chad, DRC, Liberia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Uganda.

Under the signpost “The Manifestations of WAR”, Jennifer Kargbo explained the devastating consequences of war on vulnerable population particularly women and children, she analyzed the predicaments, situating women in the fray. She lamented the lapses of post-conflict reconstruction programmes in failing to address gender specific issues.

Even though these situations can be seen during and long after the end of the war, actions to address these are hardly visible in policy-making process, since traditionally, women and girls, particularly in the rural areas, lack voice and power. Furthermore, the analytical and operational frameworks of post-conflict reconstruction tend to treat the impacts of conflicts in a non-gender differentiated manner.

The way forward according to her is for post-conflict reconstruction programmes to address women’s issues structurally in a manner that makes not only for the maintenance of peace but also for achievement of sustainable development.

DAY TWO

Plenary Sessions

Peace and conflict Resolution:- Panacea for Sustainable Development in Africa

The presenter, Professor Danfulani Ahmed of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Nigeria opened with a quotation from the AU Declaration of 1991 which:

Recognize and resolve that democracy, Good Governance, Peace, Security, Stability and Justice are among the most essential factors in African socio-economic development.

This set the focus for the presentation on:

  • Peace and Sustainable Development
  • Conflict Prevention & Management
  • Conflict Resolution

He observed that the nature of the economic and social environment and the mode of political governance have a lot to do with the causes and dynamics of conflicts in Africa.

He concluded with recommendations necessary for sustainable development in the area of peace and security. The actions largely revolve around developing parameters for conflict management.

Economic Empowerment, Micro Credit Facilities and Skill Acquisition

Prof Tendai Johnson, Associate Vice Chancellor, University of North Carolina, USA who was happy to be back in Africa and drawing largely from the American experience, spoke on many issues which included:

  • Expand financial aid for college and make historic investments in community colleges: The Budget will support expanded Pell Grants and a simplified student aid system, and include a new American Graduation Initiative that will make competitive grants to help community colleges improve their outcomes and graduate 5 million more students by 2020.

  • Strengthen anti-discrimination enforcement: The 2011 Budget provides an increase for the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC), which is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee on the basis of race, age or sexual orientation.

  • Focus on the unique needs of women veterans including homeless veterans and families: 2011 Budget provides continued funding for this demonstration program, and will generate lessons learned about how to best provide ongoing services to this population.

  • Expand affordable high-quality primary and preventive care: The Budget includes funds for health centers to provide affordable high quality primary and preventive care to underserved populations including the uninsured.

  • Provide critical healthcare services to women and their families across the globe: The Administration will build on its commitment to save millions of lives through increased investments in global health activities. The Budget includes increased funding to combat the HIV/AIDS crisis by focusing on prevention and increasing treatment; ramping up maternal and child health programming to reduce mortality of mothers and children under five and decrease the prevalence of malnutrition; expanding investments in family planning activities, malaria, tuberculosis, and neglected tropical diseases; and includes strengthening local health systems to enhance capacity and long-run sustainability of each health program. Alongside multilateral partners, the United States will continue to provide global leadership in fulfilling its shared responsibility and our common promise to improve the health of the world’s poorest populations.

  • Reform elementary and secondary school funding by setting high standards, encouraging innovation, and rewarding success: The Budget supports the Administration’s new vision for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The reauthorized law would encourage states to adopt higher, clearer standards that set the expectation that every student will graduate from high school ready for college and a career.

According to her, these are but a few examples of the multiple approaches needed to address the needs of women and their families to empower them as well as to elevate the conditions that prevent them from achieving their full potential. Women should have access to the same opportunities and be able to make the same choices as men. Experience shows that countries are more peaceful and prosperous when women are accorded full equal rights and opportunity. When those rights and opportunities are denied, countries often lag behind.

Furthermore women and girls often disproportionately bear the burden of crises and conflict. Through the new administration the United States has pledged to work with regional and international organizations to prevent violence against women and girls, especially in conflict zones. The administration supports women’s equal access to justice and their participation in the political process. The US is promoting  child and maternal health, combating human trafficking, especially women and girls through domestic and international law enforcement, and supporting education, employment, and micro-finance to empower women globally.              `

She further said that in reviewing strategies for the empowerment of women micro-credit interventions utilizing the Grameen Bank process as an example and the examples of government intervention strategies utilizing current activities occurring in the US were considered as well as the historic position of African women in their communities and abroad, and it was found that women share an unequal position throughout the various world communities. What differs is the degree of unequal status, and the efforts currently under way to change the status quo. Having considered the aspects presented, she offered that a next step may be the deconstruction of each intervention, and the reconstruction of that which fits best for African cultures and futures.

She concluded by saying that although many models exist, there is none that can be adopted wholly. Whatever is selected those models will need to be acculturated and reformed to fit the African condition and future plans. In essence, just as the Grameen Bank was designed for the conditions in Bangladesh, so will any future models for Africa need to be designed by those who are affected, and will benefit from the changes. Africa must decide for herself her future and her development realizing that true development requires the full inclusion of all her members, both male and female alike.

Simple and Effective Ways of Combating Malaria in Sub Saharan Africa

This was presented by Dr Hadiza Nuhu, OON, Department of Pharmacognosy and Drug Development, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Ahmadu Bello University, and Managing Director, Herbal Point Services, Zaria, Nigeria. In this presentation, she rolled out the following facts about malaria:

  • It is the oldest and most devastating parasitic disease whose eradication is an important component of the Millennium Development Goals and must be tackled for any meaningful socio-economic development to take place in Africa.
  • With about 3 million annual mortality rate, malaria is the largest contributor of total disease burden and loss of productivity in Africa.
  • More than USD 12billion lost each year is accrued to malaria.

To address malaria, a number of complex social, economic and environmental factors must be understood and resolved, particularly in the prevention of the disease. According to her, plants have been the most important chemotherapeutic agents for malaria for thousands of years and must form the basis for simple and effective ways of combating malaria in sub-Saharan Africa.

She noted that a combination of many devastating factors is responsible for the inability to control malaria in Africa and concluded that a renewal of effort is needed largely from within Africa in terms of attention, resources, strategies, research and exploitation of African bio-resources targeted at discrete environments and communities. This, according to her, is absolutely necessary for success in the control of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa.

CLOSING CEREMONY

In her address, the Founder/President of WAELE/ARCELFA, Otunba Dr Nahibi gave a rundown of activities of the organization in its six years of existence which include the following:

  • Economic empowerment of women across Nigeria and Africa including Africa in the Diaspora;

  • Presentation of relief materials to the women of Plateau State of Nigeria during the Ethnic religious crises between the Christians and Muslims on 9th of July 2004

  • Presentation of relief materials on the 13th of February 2008, to the Chadian refugees during the recent rebel disturbances.

  • WAELE/ARCELFA in collaboration with the Sudanese General Women Union (SGWU) held a peace meeting in Khartoum on Darfur issues from the 20th – 21st of October 2008.

WAELE/ARCELFA visited President Omer Al-Basher to discuss the Darfur issue as well as issues concerning Sudan and the Republic of Chad. President Omer Al-Basher promised to continue working towards peace between Sudan and Chad as well as in Darfur Region. As a result of this intervention, Sudanese border with Chad and Sudanese Embassy in Ndjamena were re-opened.

  • WAELE/ARCELFA visited the IDP camp in Al – Fashir, Northern Darfur in May 2009 and was part of Peace Summit with the Dafurian women. The Summit was organized by Sudanese General Women Union (SGWU). More than 1000 women participated in the Peace Summit.

  • WAELE/ARCELFA participated in African Spanish Women for better World 2008 Niamey Conference and in June 2009 the Launching and first meeting of the working group on economic development in Nairobi Kenya.

  • WAELE/ARCELFA participated in June 2009 in DIAGNOSTIC TO ACTION Micro finance in Africa multi stake holder conference at the United Nations office, Nairobi, Kenya. The conference was organized by Women’s World Banking and Africa Micro Finance Action Forum

  • WAELE/ARCELFA participated in International council of women in South Africa in October, 2009

  • WAELE/ARCELFA also participated in the United Nations ECA Eighth African Regional Conference on Women (Beijing +15) 16th – 20th November 2009, in Banjul, the Gambia.

  • WAELE/ARCELFA participated in African-Spanish Women for Better World conference in Valencia, Spain, March 26th – 28th 2010.

  • WAELE/ARCELFA also participated in African-Spanish Women Entrepreneur Meeting and Trade Fair, Madrid, Spain, June 24th – 28th 2010.

  • WAELE/ARCELFA in collaboration with IPAS organized awareness workshops and rallies on women reproductive health & rights in all the 6 geo-graphical zones in Nigeria

  • WAELE/ARCELFA participated in election monitoring in Sudan and Burundi etc.

All these she emphasized have been achieved through self efforts. According to her, WAELE/ARCELFA has not depended on any donor agency or government for financial support. Resources have been mobilized from members who have remained committed to the cause of the organization.

The closing address was given by Her Excellency Chief Mrs. Chinyere Ukpabi Asika, Matron of the organization.

The communiqué (attached as Appendix) was read by Arc. Mrs. Fatima Othman Moma, Deputy President (I), WAELE/ARCELFA while Her Excellency Chief Mrs Bola Obasanjo declared the conference closed.

RESOLUTIONS

Conference resolved among others to hold:

  • National Summits every year.
  • Sub Regional Summits Biannually.
  • Continental Conference every three years instead of five years.

APPENDIX: COMMUNIQUÉ

A communiqué was prepared and adopted at the conference as follows:

INTRODUCTION

African Women Emancipation Continental Conference organized by Women Advancement for Economic & Leadership Empowerment in Africa WAELE/ARCELFA was held in Abuja, Nigeria from 1st – 2nd July, 2010 with more than 500 participants and delegates drawn from 32 African countries. There were other participants from the USA, UK and Australia.

The conference was declared open by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, ably represented by the Honourable Minister for Women Affairs and Social Development, Iyom Josephine Anenih.

Topics of discussions centered on issues involving women and children such as

  • Climate Change and is Impact on African Rural Women.
  • Plights of African women in War-Torn Countries.
  • Peace and Conflict Resolution:- Panacea for Sustainable Development in Africa.
  • Economic Empowerment of Women, Micro – Credit Facilities & Skills Acquisition.
  • Simple and Effective Ways of Combating Malaria in Sub Saharan Africa.

Facilitators and dignitaries at the conference included Former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, General Yakubu Gowon and his wife; Her Excellency, Hon Joice Mujuru, Vice President of the Republic of Zimbabwe; Her Excellency, Rt. Hon. Joyce Banda, Vice President of Malawi, represented by her daughter; Baroness Caroline Cox, a member of the British House of Lords and Founder/Chief Executive of Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART); Mr. John Odey, Nigeria’s Minister of Environment;  wife of Former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Her Excellency, Chief Mrs Bola Obasanjo; Chief Mrs Asika, wife of former Administrator of Eastern Nigeria and Matron of WAELE/ARCELFA; Jennifer Kargbo, Director, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Southern Africa Office); Professor Danfulani Ahmed of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Nigeria; Prof Tendai Johnson, Associate Vice Chancellor, University of North Carolina, USA; Dr Hadiza Nuhu, OON, Department of Pharmacognosy and Drug Development, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Ahmadu Bello University, and Managing Director, Herbal Point Services,  Zaria, Nigeria; top Government Officials and Representatives of the Civil Society.

METHODOLOGY

The conference proceedings employed a participatory process which included a combination of power point presentations, plenary discussions, and question-and-answer sessions.

CONFERENCE CONCLUSION

The contemporary challenges in the way of advancement of women in the continent were identified as health, education, violence (both domestic and public), human trafficking and urbanization.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The conference resolved that the challenges identified above require both governmental and domestic approaches in policy formulation, implementation and action. It consequently made the following recommendations:

  • Existing legal and political frameworks need urgent and rapid implementation.
  • There is need to heighten pressure on government institutions to enact laws for the advancement of women.
  • Governments should increase participation of women in governance;
  • Obnoxious cultural practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage should be eliminated as they result in VVF.
  • Debriefing of female child soldiers should be undertaken by female paramilitary and experts in drug control, detoxification and psychology.
  • There is need to encourage effective climate management for the control of unforeseen upheavals resulting from climate change.
  • Emphasis should be placed on education of the girl-child.
  • Governments should provide enabling environments for entrepreneurship, income generation and job creation for women.
  • Women should be encouraged to participate in the election process.
  • Socio-political and development issues such as urbanization need to be tackled consciously to ensure that they do not undermine the advancement of women.

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