By Donatella Gnisci, Sahel and West Africa Club Advisor – Expo Milano 2015
Current approaches to food security and sustainable development consider women’s empowerment and gender equality to be sine qua non conditions for success in the Zero Hunger Challenge and the Post-2015 development agenda. The Milan Charter also emphasises women’s fundamental roles in all private and public spheres of life at the local as well as the global level.
In my previous article about the Charter’s relevance for West Africa, I asked what specific aspects of the gender agenda are identified as priorities in the region. Senegalese women at the Milan conference on Women who count (28-29 May 2015) gave a clear answer: the promotion of economic empowerment and the strengthening of women’s organisations and networks that are influential and effective in bringing about societal and economic change. Women’s empowerment is about “taking control”, they said, explaining how they made it as successful agricultural producers, traders, entrepreneurs and service providers. “You need to speak up and act for yourselves”, echoed others, sharing their experience of how they became fulfilled as professionals, educators, trainers, mentors and local leaders in Dakar, Kaolack and Ziguinchor. The audience also appreciated Khady Toure’s provocative movie “Echange inégal” portraying the abusive behaviour of a woman taxi driver and main bread-winner towards her husbands who were in charge of child-rearing, household chores and community activities. No matter how exhilarating the movie experience was, the women at the conference told a different story: their fathers, husbands, brothers, male bosses and colleagues have been on their side and supported them in achieving their goals. This solidarity was very important. For these women power is a means to transform gender relations and move towards a more equal society that is better equipped to end poverty and hunger. Simply swapping gender roles will not help.
African women are progressively in better positions to take leadership, set agendas and steer processes. A few success stories support this statement, including those involving national political systems, regional and continental organisations. African legislation and policy frameworks have also been evolving both to account for these changes and to consolidate achievements in support of deeper transformations in society and in political and economic systems. Yet this picture is one with many shadows. The data and analyses available show that the situation is diverse and sometimes contradictory at local and national levels, and even worse in situations of conflict or crisis. Human development indicators for West Africa’s female population, when they can be calculated, reveal progress in certain areas (political representation) and setbacks in others (socioeconomic conditions).
So, notwithstanding the scarcity of reliable, consistent and comparable gender-related data, what is the current state of women’s empowerment in West Africa?
The women’s empowerment debate at the Sahel and West Africa Week
We will attempt to answer the question above in preparation for the Sahel and West Africa Week that we will be holding at Expo Milano on 26-30 October 2015. Delving into women’s empowerment and gender equality is part of our ongoing reflection on: 1) regional demographic, socioeconomic and environmental transformations and their implications for food security, resilience and sustainability in West Africa; 2) the potential to manage and improve situations, as illustrated by the experiences and practices of West Africa’s stakeholders; and 3) innovative approaches, policies and partnerships for assessing and supporting these transformations, and for better reaping their benefits, in terms of development and well-being.
The Week will start with a two-day discussion forum to enhance our common understanding of women’s contributions to West African food systems from a regional perspective. We see this event as a milestone in the process of unpacking issues, pulling together evidence and sharing knowledge as widely as possible, to build robust arguments and messages that can influence policy agendas. In Milan, we will bring together some 90 people, including regional stakeholders, experts and practitioners. However, we hope to raise interest and engage with many others, before, during and after the event, so as to address the following questions:
- How do women contribute to the West African food economy in order to build more resilient communities?
- What resources and support do women draw upon to increase their capabilities, and to improve their own situations and those of their families?
- What are the international and regional/national policy frameworks that promote women’s empowerment and gender equality in West Africa, in relation to food security issues?
- What role do organisations play in strengthening the voices and agency of West African women?
- What obstructs women’s ability to voice their needs and take action?
- What successful experiences can West African women contribute, to inform the global agenda on women’s empowerment and gender equality?
Please share your ideas, comments and insights. Your inputs will feed into a background paper and policy brief which we will use to further stimulate debate in Milan and beyond. We also invite you to share your feedback on the full paper outline.
Submit your comments on this blog article or send them by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to hearing from you.