A two-day meeting to review and validate the ECOWAS Gender and Elections Strategic Framework (GESF) and Action Plan began Monday in Abuja, Nigeria.
The ECOWAS GESF together with its Action Plan is meant to be an advocacy document for the promotion of women’s political participation and representation in democracy while enhancing their role in electoral processes.
The experts present at the meeting are expected to make substantial contributions towards improving the integration of gender equality perspectives in political parties’ governance processes, structures and systems in West Africa.
Dr. Fatimata Dia Sow, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender, disclosed at its launch that the meeting was expected to enhance the role of national electoral stakeholders and to support and integrate gender dimension through their activities in the electoral process.
“Elections have become a central element of the democratic landscape of West Africa while women who make up about 50 percent of the electorates in the region, continue to contribute immensely towards peace-building and conflict prevention in the region,” she said.
The Commissioner however maintained that despite their strategic position, women have “continued to be seriously under-represented as candidates for public office” and have been “systematically and culturally disadvantaged and therefore need to be part of the whole process, not just as voters, but also as development agents”.
Dr. Sow noted that, aside the positives coming out from a country like Senegal, West African countries were still “lagging behind the world in political participation and representation of women”; a situation which according to her, needs to be addressed with immediate effect as a major challenge in West Africa.
With support from Dr. Sintiki Ugbe, the ECOWAS Director, Gender and Child Development, the Commissioner said “it is imperative, for stakeholders to address the ‘gender blindness’ of the various electoral systems of the region as well as in the outcomes of elections”.
This, she said, was because there could not be a stable, peaceful and prosperous community if institutions were not democratic and representative of all groups in society such as women, men, minorities, majorities, the dispossessed as well as the affluent.
Commissioner Sow explained further that ECOWAS took the initiative of developing the Gender and Elections Strategic Framework and Action Plan in order to “meet the challenges of women’s poor representation and participation in the electoral processes of West Africa.”
She expressed appreciation to the Danish Government for their financial support towards the development of the Framework and Action Plan, stressing that ECOWAS would continue to count on the support of Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) and other potential partners towards the successful implementation of the plan.
Mr. Constant Gnacadja, the Programme Officer, Conflict Prevention, in the Directorate of Political Affairs, on behalf of the ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, urged participants to come up with positive inputs to the document being reviewed with the benefit of the presentations and submissions, in order for the region to have a befitting Framework and Action Plan.
Presentations and discussions at the meeting centred on the state of women participation in election and its effect on the political process.
Also being reviewed are the GESF Action Plan, implementation prospects dynamics as well as the way forward.
It is expected that the work of the experts in Abuja would be recommended for adoption by ECOWAS Ministers of Women Affairs at their meeting proposed to be held in the first quarter of 2017.