The significance of the year 2015 for women is manyfold. First, it represents twenty years of post-1995 Beijing Conference, where far reaching decisions that affect the lives of women were made. Secondly, it is the target year of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs);
and more importantly, 2015 has been declared the year of women’s empowerment by the African Union (AU), in acknowledgement of the increasing role women play in Africa.
However, despite the aforementioned facts, women in West Africa are still struggling to find a meaningful space in society, mostly in the economic and political spheres. Patriarchy remains entrenched in West African society in general, such that far reaching agreements,resolutions or action plans make little or no difference in the lives of women. However, in the face of such challenges, rays of hope still exist as women continue to display resilience and are rewriting roles assigned by society. For example, the richest woman in the world, Alakija Folorunsho is a Nigerian — worth over $7.3 billion, according to Forbes. All over West Africa, women are innovating in different spheres, starting up small businesses that are impacting their countries’ economy. For instance, at the Maker Faire Africa science conference, Girl Junior Engineers in Lagos, Nigeria invented “a new power generator that uses urine instead of petrol to generate electricity.”
In politics, women are albeit making noticeable headway. For instance, with Senegal’s Parity Law, which requires political parties to ensure that at least half of their candidates in local and national elections are women, the country now has 64 female representatives out of the 150 who make up the National Assembly, which is a 42.7% female representation. As for the Gambia, the country boasts a female VicePresident, but it is not yet Uhuru. Year in year out, female representation in parliament continues to recede, from the initial 9% recorded in 2007 in Nigeria National Assembly, there was a regression to a little over 7% in 2011. Unfortunately with the recently held 2015 elections, Nigerian women’s movement recorded a setback, as only 5.11% women’s representation was achieved. As the push for affirmative action continues in most West African states, there is a strong need to back it with political will. It is instructive that Burkina Faso has a quota system, yet only three women are members of the transition government, which emphasizes that, at times, legal framework could just be mere paper tiger.
The rights of women are continuously violated in the region, with gender based violence mostly recorded. Rape, forced labor, harmful traditional practices are just few of the violations suffered by Women. The numerous ongoing conflicts in the region exacerbate the situation. For instance, with regard to the crisis in Northern Mali, thousands of incidents of girls and women tortured and gangraped were recorded. An estimated 145,000 persons, mainly women and children, are reported to have crossed to Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger during the crisis. In the same vein, the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria has led to the abduction of thousands of women and girls; out of almost 1500 rescued women and girls, about 200 are pregnant, while some have tested HIV positive. Over 400 days since the abduction of over 200 girls from Chibok Government Girls School, Borno State, the girls are yet to be rescued, which clearly indicates that women’s rights and security are challenges that must be addressed as an integral part of development.
In this “WOMEN” edition of the West Africa Insight, we at the CDD join hands with our contributors in celebrating African women. Hussaini Abdu’s Women and Electoral Politics in Northern Nigeria traces women political participation in northern Nigeria and its challenges. Against the often touted frame of northern women not participating in politics, Hussaini argues that women’s participation in politics is increasing, but becoming candidates and eventually winning elections is the missing ingredient. Identifying the increasing role of the ulamahs in politics, Hussaini posits that positive days are ahead. Claudine Ahianyo undertakes an appraisal of women’s political participation in Francophone West Africa. And the results are not different from Nigeria as customs tend to override policies and the existing legal framework.
Pan-Africanist Okello Oculi’s article, Africa Women’s Head-ties Dominating Parliaments gives insights on the achievements of women across Africa. However, the picture is not always bright for women’s lives across the continent. And, as Ruth Ajonye reminds us in her contribution on the effects of the Boko Haram insurgency in Northern Nigeria: State Security: Women, Human Rights, and Boko Haram, in time of conflict, women are in general the most affected members of society.
In this edition, we also have the honor of reproducing in French, the collaborative work of Linda Bore and Felix Henkel from our partner, the Fredrich Ebert Foundation (FEF). They take a critical look at the ECOWAS parliament.
Till our next edition, women’ rights are human rights, and no nation can attain its full potential if it leaves half of its forces, i.e. women, out of the national building