#WACSW'23: Stakeholders Seek Strong Collaboration To Protect Women's Right Amid Shrinking Civic Space In Africa
L-R: Ms Bunmi Dipo-Salami, Executive Director BAOBAB, Nigeria; Ms Omowumi Ogunrotimi, Executive Director, Gender Mobile, Nigeria; Onyinye Onyemobi, Programme Associate, Ford Foundation, Nigeria; Dr Hussaini Abdu, Country Director, CARE, Nigeria; Mr John Frinjuah, Programme Officer Policy Influencing and Advocacy, WACSI, Ghana, on Gender and Space: Addressing the Threats of Shrinking Space to Gender Equality in West Africa in Lagos, Marriot Hotel on August 30, 2023.
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#WACSW’23: Stakeholders Seek Strong Collaboration To Protect Women’s Rights Amid Shrinking Civic Space In Africa

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Civil Society stakeholders have called for strong collaboration to ensure women’s rights are adequately protected in the midst of emerging political realities in parts of Africa which according to them have led to the shrinking of civic space.

They made the call at a panel session of civil society experts in the West Africa Civil Society Week (WACSW) 2023 held at Marriot Hotel, Ikeja Lagos.

The session was to reflect on how the challenge of shrinking civic space in West Africa is affecting women’s rights and gender equality generally.

The experts averred that when the civic space starts shrinking, with the attendant infringement on rights of freedom of expression, association, and movement among others, there is every tendency that women’s rights would be significantly violated.

Speaking at the session held on day two of the three-day event on the sub-theme, “Gender and Space: Addressing the threats of Shrinking Civic Space to Gender Equality in West Africa, Programme Associate, Ford Foundation Nigeria, Ms Onyinye Onyemobi, said the need to protect the rights of women cannot be over emphasised.

Ms Onyemobi, who chaired the session, noted that experiences have shown that the promotion of gender equality contributes significantly to national development.

A member of the panel, Ms Omowumi Ogunrotimi, Executive Director, Gender Mobile, Nigeria, said when civic space is eroded and women’s rights are affected, society comes under threat.

While observing that there are gaps in human rights laws Ms Ogunrotimi said there is a need to engage the judiciary to exercise discretion while making judicial pronouncements or interpretations.

“When the civic space is shrinking and human rights are affected, definitely women’s rights are under threat.

She called for the collaboration of CSOs in consciously working towards addressing the challenge.

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Dr Hussaini Abdu, Country Director, CARE Nigeria while acknowledging that the civic space is under threat as a result of political instability and poor governance, stated that in areas where religious fundamentalism has been springing up in the last decade, women are most affected.

He further observed that aside from the wave of political crises in the Sahel region of Africa, there are also humanitarian challenges that affect women as well.

He also pointed out that the patriarchal system still contributes greatly to limiting women’s rights and is much more pronounced in times of humanitarian crisis. He called on donor agencies never to get fatigued as the reality is that the crisis still persists and needs to be tackled.

Contributing, Auwal Ibrahim Musa Rafsanjani, Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), identified early marriage as another factor that undermines the growth of women as they are not able to go to school and gain knowledge.

Rafsanjani said if women are educated they would be able to overcome stereotypes that thrive and drive its potency in ignorance. The civil society activist added that attention needs to be given to issues of deprivation in rural areas not just in urban centres.

On her part, Executive Director, BAOBAB, Nigeria, Ms Bunmi Dipo-Salami, while noting that online space is expanding and offers opportunities for the promotion of rights, highlighted the need for CSOs to form robust collaboration to push for the promotion of rights of women.

She further stressed that women need to go beyond issues of ethnic and religious difference, adding that the major barrier to ensuring that women collectively fight for gender equality is lack of political will.

She called on women to exploit the capabilities of information technology in mobilisation.

Ms Bunmi also harped on collaborating with male allies who are very supportive of women’s rights. “We need to engage constructively in fighting for our rights without emotion,” she said, adding that fighting for women’s rights is not just for women’s selfish interest but should be seen as something that equally contributes to national development.

Ms Bunmi also emphasised on continuous mobilisation, education and sensitisation of women about their rights.

Ms Onyemobi observed that women also face bullying even on social media. She also supported the call by others for intergenerational interaction among the people, adding that older women with great ideas should not be allowed go to their graves with their ideas.

Still on CSOs collaboration, John Frinjuah, Programme Officer, Policy Influencing and Advocacy WACSI, Ghana, said that bringing women organisations together in clomourng for their rights would help a great deal. Talking about mainstreaming women in leadership, Mr Frinjuah also noted that younger women don’t appear to be picking interest in learning to take up leadership positions.

Auwal Ibrahim Musa Rafsanjani, Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), identified early marriage as another factor that undermines the growth of women as they are not able to go to school and gain knowledge.

Rafsanjani said if women are educated they would be able to overcome stereotypes that thrive and drive its potency in ignorance.

The CSO activist added that attention needs to be also given to issues of deprivation in rural areas not just in urban centres.

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