By Melvin Tejan Mansaray
Members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have ended a delocalized meeting of the Joint Committee on Social Affairs, Gender and Women Empowerment / Education, Science and Culture / Health, in Monrovia, Liberia.
The three days (13th 15th, April 2021) session focused on the theme, “Empowerment of Women in the ECOWAS Region,” was opened by the Speaker of the Liberian Parliament, Honorable Dr. Bhofal Chambers, featuring special addresses from the Liberian First Lady Her Excellency Ambassador Clar Marie Weah, her husband, Liberia’s President, George M. Weah and other top officials in the Liberian Government and also the ECOWAS Speaker, Hon. Mohamed Sidie Tunis among dignitaries.
During the deliberations, there were series of panel discussions on, “Lessons learned at the end of the African Union’s African Women’s Decade and ways to improve the next decade for women,” moderated by Councilor Yvette Chesson-Wureh, Establishment Coordinator, Angle Brooks International Centre (for women’s empowerment) and Co-Chair, Fem-Wise ECOWAS and also featured Madam Leyman Gbowee, Noble Laureate for peace-building and Madam Ceru Konah Garlo, Gender Specialist, the Carter Center, Liberia which was accompanied by an interactive session with discussants.
On the second day, Madam Salamata Konate Quattara, Gender and Social Affairs Specialist, Burkina Faso, delivered a presentation on, “ The best strategies to empower women working in the informal sector in West Africa,” with a perspective also given by a representative of the UN Women in Liberia.
Liberia’s Gender, Children and Social Affairs Minister Madam Williametta E. Saydee-Tarr however delivered a presentation on the theme, “Steps taken by the Republic of Liberia to implement Article 63 of the ECOWAS Revised Treaty on Women and their Development,” which was conjoined with a perspective from Madam Oretha T. Dennis, Executive Director ECOWAS Civil Society Movement Liberia.
Another presentation on, “The Role of the Community Parliament in Promoting Women’s Political Participation and Empowerment,” was delivered by Madam Fatima Siga Jagne, Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender, ECOWAS Commission, co-presented by Sen. Nyonblee Karngga-Lawrence, Chairperson, Senate Committee on Rules, Order and Administration and Political Leader of the Liberty Party.
The presentations however attracted an enlightening debate from Members of the Community Parliament’s Joint Committee, which were followed by key recommendations to the ECOWAS Parliament, Commission, and the Member States.
On the third day, the ECOWAS Speaker, Hon. Tunis and delegation paid a courtesy visit to the Government of the Republic of Liberia, and later in the day, the Joint Committee members and participants converged at the Ministerial Complex to consider and adopt a draft report on their deliberations.
In its draft adopted report’s conclusions and recommendations, the Joint Committee said that ECOWAS Member States: “ Need to design educational programmes for both the girl-child and the boy–child so that no child is left behind. Carry out advocacy campaigns on the need for education. The need for inter-member state cooperation and coordination on the issue of child marriage especially in cases of children who are smuggled from one country and forced marriage, etc.”
The draft report which is to be adopted by the plenary session of the Community Parliament also, recommends that the ECOWAS Commission, “Organise a regional conference on FGM to develop a strong regional policy on the matter that includes measures that criminalize its practice and contain the punitive measures to be taken if caught.”
The Joint Committee however recommended that the ECOWAS Parliament is to: “ Develop a regional affirmative bill or a regional common approach on gender parity that is fair and balance. Ensure that there is at least one woman from every country’s delegation represented in the Bureau of Standing Committees to ensure that women can take part in the decision-making process. Organize sensitization mission to be undertaken on the need to build the capacities and self-confidence of women. Advocate for the elaboration of a community test on gender parity. Organization of an urgent meeting with the Ministers in charge of Gender and the Department of Social Affairs and Gender, ECOWAS Commission to discuss the issues of women’s participation in politics and, Institute regular border visits to oversee gender issues and discuss with women informal cross border traders.”
The Joint Committee members however made a few minor corrections to the draft adopted report, for which the Director of Parliamentary Affairs ECOWAS Parliament said they will be duly reflected upon the submission of the draft Joint Committee report to the plenary session of the Parliament.
In his closing remarks, Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Hon. Mohamed Sidie Tunis said that it is gratifying to witness the successful end of the all-important meeting, adding that “ the meeting by every standard was educative, inspiring and enriching.”
“ This is due to the topical nature of the theme as well as it is important to the well-being of our people because whatever affects our women, affects our children, and will subsequently affect our future. I am happy to note that this meeting had a beautiful opening ceremony, which was graced by the President of Liberia, His Excellency Dr. George Manneh Weah and Madam First Lady, Hon Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ministers, and other officials of the Liberian Government, Members of the Civil Society Organizations as well as Members of the Fourth Estate.”
H.E. Hon Tunis however profoundly thanked the several experts and resource persons for their highly educative and enlightening presentations made, adding that, “the deliberations that followed were thoroughly enriching, provided important insights that are expected to lead in inform working actions and positions to let us address issues affecting women.” He commended the efforts of colleague MPs for demonstrating a commitment to address the gender disparity that exists in West Africa.
“The frank exchanges from all participants has helped us identify issues affecting women’s economic and political empowerment and the role that the Parliament can play in their economic and political empowerment. Furthermore, key recommendations emanating from this meeting will be forwarded to line institutions through the ECOWAS Commission to aid Member States in implementing Article 63 of the ECOWAS Revised Treaty which empowers the ECOWAS Member States to take charge in addressing women’s issues and their development,” assuring that, “ the ECOWAS Parliament working with all stakeholders will endeavor to ensure that women’s issues are addressed to the fullest.”
In her vote of thanks, Hon. Laadi Agii Ayamba, MP PusiaddresByng, East Region, Ghana thanked the Liberian people for their legendary hospitality, commended the ECOWAS Speaker’s efficiency and commitment in the execution of his mandate, appreciates the participant’s unfailing mobilization, support staff, interpreters translators for their active contribution. She commended the resource persons for their presentations and expressed gratitude to all including the Liberian Speaker of Parliament and Head of Delegation, Sen. Edwin Melvin Snowe, and paid tribute to the President of Liberia
However, the Community Parliament continues its work on Friday when the ECOWAS Lawmakers and delegations are to take a field visit to Gbarnga, Bong County to interact with market women on their economic empowerment, and on Saturday 17th April, for an excursion.