By Melvin Tejan Mansaray
His Excellency Honorable Mohamed Sidie Tunis, Speaker of the Fifth Legislature of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has acknowledged that the ECOWAS need to do more in empowering women to hold positions of trust among its member states.
Hon. Tunis was speaking in a joint (with Liberia’s Head of Delegation to the ECOWAS Parliament, Hon. Edwin Melvin Snowe) Special Radio talk show on PUMAHFM106.3 upon his arrival in Monrovia, Liberia on Monday 12th April 2021 ahead of the Community Parliament’s first 2021 delocalized meeting of joint committees on Social Affairs, Gender and Women’s Empowerment/ Education Science and Culture and/ Health focusing on the theme, “Empowerment of Women in the ECOWAS Region.”
Hon. Tunis said the empowerment of women must not be a matter of lip service but actualization, noting that “ for over twenty-five years since the Beijing Declaration where they spoke about empowering women, it has all been about talk, talk and talk.”
“If you look at even the statistics, let say female participation in politics, it has only moved from about eleven percent to about twenty-three percent for the last twenty-five years, which is abysmal. If we are talking about gender parity, if we are talking about women’s empowerment, we should be doing more than that, but from eleven to twenty percent, it means for the next twenty-five years, we would not even get to fifty percent. In my opinion, we should do more and do a little bit more. We should not talk more. We must engage and come out with concrete ideas, a framework that will guarantee women’s participation in politics that will guarantee the empowerment of women. That is the kind of message I am here to convey,” Hon. Tunis said.
Hon. Tunis noted that women are still not being given leverage, adding that they are still being attacked and abused when they enter into politics, adding that, “ in most cases, there is serious violence against them.” He said if the right atmosphere is not created for women to participate in politics, it will be very difficult to get the number stating that culture among other factors is debarring the progress of women and limiting them only to the kitchen.
The ECOWAS Parliament Speaker, Hon. Tunis said in terms of providing this opportunity for women, the ECOWAS Parliament is now taking the lead, noting, “ we are doing everything possible to ensure that in our flagship programme which is direct universal sufferage, we plan to make it a duty for every country to ensure that first; they have the thirty percent female representation to the ECOWAS Parliament. That is where we are going to start with.”
Hon. Tunis said in reaching their goal of women’s participation, the ECOWAS Parliament intends to employ the strategy of practicalizing words.
“The strategy the ECOWAS is going to use to empower women is to make it a law. We already have the Supplementary Act on Gender Parity, so by using the universal direct suffrage for the election of members of the ECOWAS Parliament, we will use that as mandatory. In other words, if Liberia has ten members in the ECOWAS Parliament, we must ensure and obey the law that makes it mandatory to empower women, at least three women. We start from there and those three women are going to be guaranteed seats, other women can also fight for the other seven seats. So for example, if we are certain with three seats, which is the thirty percent mandatory seats, the seven remaining seats can also be fought for by other women, assuming that one woman gets another among the seven seats, it is forty percent already, that will be a very good beginning,” Hon. Tunis said.
On what is expected as the outcome for the delocalized meeting from the 13th to the 17th, April 2021 in Liberia, Hon. Tunis said: “ In the first place we decided on Liberia because Liberia has already started. Our topic is empowering women in the sub-region and if we are talking about the empowerment of women in the sub-region, Liberia has already started by empowering women by having the first female president of a country in Africa. We have also seen after the election of the first female president, we also saw Liberia electing the first female vice president, so for us in the ECOWAS Parliament, that is huge progress. It is a huge yardstick that we can use to promote women’s empowerment .”
However, listeners of the radio show called in to express gratitude to the ECOWAS Speaker for meeting and understanding the plight of the Community’s citizens and appealed that university students, especially women are giving scholarship opportunities, a plea that Hon. Tunis promised to look into it.
Separately, the ECOWAS Speaker was heartily received by a team of ECOWAS officials led by the Community Parliament’s Chief of Protocol Ezekiel, and a representative of the Liberian House of Representatives, and President George O. Weah, Hon. Snowe and a team of journalists at the Mano River Bridge where he was escorted by a convoy of Liberian National Police officers to several locations. He met with West Africans in Liberia who complained about immigration officers extorting monies from them, visited a school and a hospital at Bomi County where he separately donated five thousand dollars each. He also paid a private visit to Senator Snowe’s one thousand acre oil palm plantation, office, houses, and above all, his (Hon. Tunis) ancestral home, Fassi Community in honor of his late uncle, Muniru Nyei.
Apparently, the delocalized meeting is to commence on Tuesday 13th, April 2021, and on Friday 16th, April 2021, Hon. Tunis’ former university would be conferring him with an honorary doctorate degree.