CISLAC Advocates Empowerments of African Women at United Nations
The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) on the 15th of March 2019, held a side event at the United Nations Commission for the Status of Women 63 (UN CSW63). The event was attended by many participants from across the globe that are of notable repute and from different backgrounds including Prof. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande the Nigeria Permanent Representative to the United Nations ably represented by Mr. Alwan Habu Abdussalam, Senior Counselor/Focal Point for Nigeria on Counter Terrorism to the United Nations; Ms. Tazreen Hussain, Gender Advisor at Centre for Civilians in Conflict, Washington DC; Prof. Mojúbàolú Olufúnké Okome, Professor of Political Science, African & Women’s Studies, Leonard & Claire Tow Professor, Brooklyn College; Mr. Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani), the Executive Director of CISLAC, Civil Society Organizations; Development Partners; International Community; Private Sector; Nigerians in Diaspora and the Media. The meeting was also ably chaired by CISLAC Global Board of Trustees, Mr. Francis John. The event aimed at provoking critical discussions and harnessing potentials for what will ultimately lead to showcasing the plight of the African women to the international community and exploring gender relevant issues to promote social security for women in Africa.
In his welcome remark, Mr. Auwal Ibrahim Musa Rafsanjani welcomed all to the auspicious occasion of the UN CSW63. He stated that the event serves as an enabling platform for different stakeholders and international community to interact in proffering holistic solutions to the current trend and challenges confronting adequate, accessible and effective multi-stakeholder approach towards promoting social security for African women. The overall goal of the event was to identify the central needs required for full social security and human development, attainment of rights and empowerment for African women and especially women in conflict. He further stated that the highlights of this event included, exploring social security challenges ailing African women with specific focus on empowerment, social safety nets, statelessness, maternal and child health, and nutritional challenges, contemporary critical issues of internal displacement and domestic violence against African women and how these affect their social security and development, including that of their children.
Rafsanjani stressed the need to keep the issues of women globally and regionally on the front burner of the international discourse. He noted that some governments within the African region have truly not met the expectations of the governed in terms of delivering on some international treaties made on behalf of women. He cited the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, popularly known as CEDAW, a treaty adopted since 1979 by the UN General Assembly, and ratified by 189 countries, he observed that this bill described as the bill of rights for women is yet to be fully implemented across Africa. He further noted the existence of Gender policies in most African regions which are not being implemented. He further cited the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa which is yet to secure universal ratification.
The Executive Director of CISLAC reiterated the importance of achieving sustainable development goals which is unattainable with exclusion of women, girls and all vulnerable groups. He opined that the cost of non-inclusion of women is shocking. According to a World Bank report released in 2018, countries are losing worldwide 160 trillion USD in wealth because of differences in lifetime earnings between women and men. The extent of the problem is disproportionally more serious in Africa. UNDP in its Africa Human Development Report for 2016 says, “Gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa on average $US95 billion a year”.
Rafsanjani further stated that Africa must discard gender discrimination and misguided beliefs based on cultural and religious misinterpretations, for instance, a World Bank Gender Data Portal shows that 76.3 per cent of women in Mali and 92.1 per cent in Guinea believe a man is justified in beating his wife if she goes out without telling him. Africa must challenge these ingrained beliefs which stand in the way of the socio-economic progress of our societies.
Rafsanjani noted that it is a major disservice to the African nations to overlook and sometimes discriminate an integral part of the community. He observed that in terms of political and socio-economic development women have constantly been side-lined in Africa. He proposed exploring global economic impact on women in Africa and traditional structures that once provided differing levels of social security for African women. He further proposed that women in decision-making positions and as political influencers must be actively promoted. There is a growing evidence that women’s leadership in political decision-making processes improves them. When given the chance, women have demonstrated that they can succeed even in the most politically combative environments. They are the best champions of issues of gender equality, such as the elimination of gender-based violence, parental leave and childcare, pensions, gender-equality laws and electoral reforms.
He concluded by urging governments across Africa to leverage recommendations from the international community to improve the lives of African women, stating that empowering women will further propel Africa to a level of unprecedented development and a brilliant future for the African nation.
The representative of the Permanent Rep. of Nigeria to the UN, Mr. Alwan Habu Abdussalam, expressed sincere appreciation for the opportunity to deliver the welcome address. He observed that despite the vital role women play in conflict prevention and peace building, women have been often prevented from participating fully in the development processes, to the detriment of society as a whole. He stressed the need to eliminate barriers to women’s participation in peace-related activities and to ensure their full inclusion during the formulation and implementation of early-warning systems as well as in peacebuilding efforts at all levels. He further stated the need to continue to advocate for gender equality and women’s empowerment to elevate women’s voices as well as point out the role of women in countering violent extremism and terrorism.
He therefore urged participants that recommendations developed during the meeting on the plight of African women become paramount to the achievement of national strategies and sustainable development goals. He further assured all that the government of Nigeria is committed to supporting the empowerment of women and agrees that the commitment to end poverty, protect the society and ensure prosperity for all, will only be achieved if development initiatives consider the unique needs, knowledge and potentials of women and girls.
Mr. Alwan Abdussalam called on governments, private sector, non-governmental organizations and development partners to recognize the vital role of women in developing the nations. He hoped that the side event will engender active discussion and generate ideas among participants that will improve the quality of life of women, families and communities.
Prof. Mojúbàolú Olufúnké Okome, the keynote speaker, began by citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality. She further cited other international conventions that affirm social protection and social security such as the International Labour Organization (ILO) which has emphasized the importance of social security since 1919 (ILO, 2017); the International Conference on Population and Development, the MDGs now the SDGs. She stressed the objective of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which is to ensure that no one is left behind. She listed the 8 SDGs that are relevant to social protection to include goals: 1,2,3,4,5,6,8,10,16. It also affirms the importance of gendered social protection with the rationale that CEDAW provides great foundation for identifying women’s rights and the roadmap to the achievement of gender equity and gender equality.
The Keynote speaker admitted that Africa has made significant advancement in the areas of health, education by taking leadership roles but that there exists gender and pay gap and power gap. She informed all about the gender disparity in credit collaterals, property ownership, and exclusion of rural poor women and systemic discrimination in access to land and natural resources. She pointed out that under formal employment employees are insecure and work under hazardous conditions with low wages and no social protection. When less educated, women stand the risk of being trafficked and forced into labour, marriage, including child marriage and exposed to harmful practices.
Prof. Okome listed quite a number of policies relevant to social protection which included labour market policies and programs, social insurance for unemployed, disability, work injury, old age etc. social assistance such as cash transfers etc and stressed the need to have all policies gendered to avoid replication of inequality.
Tazreen Hussain, in her presentation remarked that their organization Centre for Citizens in Conflict is dedicated to the protection of citizens in conflict. Protection to her means physical protection of civilians in conflict and practical solutions to their plight. She stressed the need to distinguish between what they do and the broader social protection and social security as their intervention is the foundation to other wider forms of social protection. it is also where security actors can have the greatest impact based on their skills and experience. She said the organization is dedicated to providing practical solutions that protect and prevent civilian harm. They provide assistance to military actors to track and make amends to the harm they caused.
Tazreen intimate that when women and girls are in conflict, there is a paradigm shift in roles of men and women, traditionally men are the breadwinners while women are the home makers but in conflict women become head of household, breadwinners, facilitators and negotiators. Women are put at great risks when men are targeted. They become vulnerable and are at risk to sexual exploitation and sexual predators fueling sexual gender based violence.
She said the organization works in Nigeria at national level with policymakers and lawmakers for upstream policy engagement and at state level in Borno state in Nigeria.
They work with state actors such as Ministry of justice, Ministry of Internal Affairs, civil defense force, with the National human rights commission as the lead. They have developed a draft policy for civilian in conflict which aims to assess civilian harm during and after conflict, acknowledge the harm and create reporting mechanism. The policy calls for mitigating plan and transparency in information sharing.
The Gender Advisor informed all that the Nigerian government has taken ownership of this policy which calls for protection of civilians, allocation of resources, strategies to be developed, and action plan to be conducted. She intimated that if signed into law, civil society will be expected to push for its implementation and accountability.
Ms. Chioma B. Kanu, Manager Health, Human Development and Social Inclusion, CISLAC, during her presentation explored international, regional and national instruments which affirm that health is a right of all human kind and a basic fundamental commodity and threshold upon which the body of other entitlements: civil, political, economic and socio-cultural, are realized. She listed article 6 of the International covenant on civil and political rights, article 4 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, article 14 of the Maputo Protocol and the Abuja Declaration, all of which Nigeria is a signatory to, stressing the provisions for state parties to provide adequate health care and nutrition for women and children.
She intimated all that nearly one thousand Nigerian children die of malnutrition related causes daily, making a total of 420,000 deaths each year. Approximately 2.6 million children under the age of 5 are severely acute malnourished and at risk of not seeing their sixth birthday. She informed all that nutrition intervention in Nigeria is mostly donor driven in the face of dwindling donor resources. This places millions of Nigerian children under the age of 5 at risk of dying.
She reminded all of the existing government partnership with donors to fund nutrition and strongly advised the government to take advantage of the existing partnership and also own the health sector in general and reduce donor dependency. She stressed that the cost of malnutrition is very high and often hinders socio-economic development of nations and increases poverty. She further stressed that many children who might have survived malnutrition in early life are condemned to permanent physical and intellectual disabilities in later life, thus productivity of the future leaders of the state will be adversely affected.
After the discussions and presentations, the following recommendations were made:
TO THE GOVERNMENT:
1. Significant institutional reform that mainstreams gender and priorities efficient and effective service delivery, with the objective of providing across the board security, equality and prosperity
2. Map existing institutions and social protection programs and evaluate their effectiveness.
3. Gather gender disaggregated data relevant to social protection and create databases of such data.
4. Provide gender-sensitive budgets to take cater for social protection needs of women and ensure gender equity and equality.
5. Implement decent work conditions according to best practices (ILO, 1996-2019). The ILO has significant experience in partnering with countries to do this. Women’s need include healthcare, childcare and income security, especially for elderly workers.
6. Domesticate CEDAW and implement international and regional laws to which African countries are signatories.
7. Full implementation of the SDGs, particularly goals 1-6,8,10,16.
8. Reform justice system to make justice available to all regardless of economic capacity.
9. Pass and implement laws against gender-based violence
10. Provide shelters for victims of abuse and culturally relevant psychosocial care
11. Support the development policies to ensure continuity of Community Management of Acute Malnutrition programme (CMAM)
12. Prompt release of government counterpart cash contribution for nutrition activities
13. Prioritize timely release of nutrition funds
14. Implement education for all and strengthen school feeding program, encourage home gardening and nutrition education across board.
15. Implement access to healthcare for all children and basic healthcare provision funds.
16. Stronger laws and more efficient administrative regulations and procedures as well as the implementation of existing regional laws that are pro-stateless people would go a long way to solving these problems.
17. The removal of provisions in the law and requirements in administrative procedures that discriminate on the grounds of gender, race, religion or ethnicity.
18. States should make a commitment to implement the UN human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as the Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
19. Draw on UNHCR’s Guidelines on Statelessness to access its authoritative interpretation of the obligations under these treaties
20. Implement the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
21. Strengthen the national and regional normative frameworks for the protection of, and assistance to internally displaced persons.
22. Implement the Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (IDMC).
23. Prevent, respond to and address sexual and gender-based violence as well as violations and abuses committed against refugee, returnee and displaced children.
24. More resources are needed to adequately address the needs of IDPs. Financial, Educational, Health, Nutritional and Recreational resources needed.
TO CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS
1. Engage in public education and campaigns that push for reduction of burden of unpaid work on women
2. Advocate for provision of potable water and sanitation facilities in schools
3. Engage in public education campaigns that support exclusive breastfeeding
4. Engage in public education campaigns on health remedies and intervention.
5. Engage in public education campaigns against gender based-violence
6. Engage in awareness creation on scaling up of Community Management of Acute Malnutrition programme (CMAM)
7. Engage on advocacy for the adoption of National Policy on Internally Displaced Persons
8. Continuously Engage Legislators for effective oversights on policies and legislation
9. Continuously engage the Media for effective awareness and collaboration
10. Continuously Dialogue with UN Missions
Participants observed that a demonstration of political will by African leaders to fulfill their treaty and constitutional obligations is crucial to promoting the issue of social security and protection for African women. They also agreed that a holistic approach to civil society advocacy is a panacea to creating enabling environment for social protection. Participants urged CISLAC to use its global platform to work hard towards ensuring critical stakeholders at regional and sub-national levels are adequately engaged.
Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani)