WEST AFRICAN WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP SUMMIT
Theme: “The Role of Women Leaders in Reducing the Burden of Orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) In Africa
Date: 24-29th October, 2011.
Venue: La Palm Royal Beach Hotel, Accra-Ghana
OFFICIAL OPENING CEREMONY REPORT:
The official opening ceremony on the first day of the four day West African Women in Leadership Summit, Accra 2011 started at 8:00am with the arrival and registration of delegates and resource personnel for the day’s event at the reception of the conference hall.
The Summit under the theme “The Role of Women Leaders in Reducing the Burden of Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) in Africa was organised by Centre for Economic And Leadership Development (CELD) with support from ECOWAS Female Parliamentarians Association (ECOFEPA).
As at 9:00am, all delegates and resource personnel were set to begin the day’s activities. A prayer was said by one of the delegate.
Delivering her welcome address, the Executive Director, Mrs. Furo Giami gladly welcomed delegates representing the various countries on the West African Coast and described the Summit as a gathering of women champions, saying that women all over the world are the progenitors of life, makers of their homes, helpers of the men folk and incubators of uncommon strength.
Speaking further, the Executive Director indicated that, women across the continent as well as the world over, share a common future. Hence the Summit, she said, is to enable women find common grounds to do not just the right thing, but the smart thing, which is, empowering women to further build up that innate leadership quality embedded in them especially developing concrete strategies on how women leaders can help fight the scourge and burden of orphans and vulnerable children and reducing it to the barest minimum.
Sharing recent evidence which suggests that children in some poor, rural families are expelled from home early on safety or economic reasons, Mrs. Giami revealed that, these children are sent to fend for themselves in nearby urban towns, where they eventually end up as street children.
Concluding her welcome address speech, Mrs. Furo Giami ironically asked, who is likely in a better position to stop this raging storm coming on children, which she answered by saying– “the woman”, for she is the one who conceives life, bears it, and nurtures it to greatness.
She also ended with a profound statement- “I see it as our destiny to wipe out this plaque threatening the existence of our children”.
Taking her turn to address the African women, the Minister for Women & Children’s Affairs of the Republic of Ghana, Honourable Juliana Azumah-Mensah expressed her excitement to be part of the Summit which brought together women across all sectors in the sub-region, to deliberate, strategize and identify specific roles women leaders can play in combating the burden of orphans and vulnerable children in Africa.
Elaborating on the theme, the Hon. Minister admitted that, the present state of children in respective countries serve as a mirror to what every country will be in the future.
On government policy, she indicated that, the government through the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare and The Department of Social Welfare, developed an Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) National Plan of Action in 2010, hence government was committed to the provision of care and protection for children especially orphans and vulnerable, therefore, their survival, growth and development.
Sharing more on government policy, she said, the Action Plan is a 3-year plan which will serve as a catalyst and guide for its implementation across the country to ensure the maximum care and protection for children.
Honourable Minister Juliana Azumah-Mensah commended the organisers for bringing women across the continent to identify specific roles in women leadership, at all levels can play to sustain good governance and in combating the burden of orphans and vulnerable children and hoped that, at the end of the Summit, women leaders present would be clear in their minds of their peculiar roles and responsibilities in assisting their countries in combating the burden of orphans and vulnerable children.
Mrs. Joyce Aryee, out going President of the Ghana Chamber of Mines indicated that, the 21st Century has changed people’s perception about women particularly in Africa stressing that, the 21st Century woman is not about trying to imitate men, or becoming more like men rather, the value of honouring femininity and offering to the world the wisdom that is held in humanity.
She however said, the traditional and obsolete perception that confines the African woman to the kitchen is gradually giving way to a better appreciation of the roles of women in development as women’s lifestyles are changing to accommodate new careers, education and family structures and their role in society is being adjusted accordingly.
Statistics she indicates shows that, women now have a fair representation in politics and public affairs, revealing that Ghana and Liberia has seen tremendous improvement in women’s participation in politics.
But these not withstanding, Ms. Joyce Aryee lamented to the exposure of women to various challenges and hazards because of the competiveness and challenging nature of working the 21stCentury; hoping the Summit would help women to set out the path for the advancement of women in Africa which will create a good platform to formulate new ideas, acquire new inspirations in order to support women to strive for progress and improved quality of life.
Concluding she outlined some of the platforms through which women contribute to the socio-economic development of their respective countries. Among them were women Parliamentarians, women in senior/managerial positions in the public and private sector, women entrepreneurs, women in media as well women in banking and Information, Communications and Technology (ICT).
Delegates were given the opportunity to ask as well contribute to the discussions. Among them were Mrs. Ruth Ogun and Josephine Ify Okoye from the National Orientation Agency, Abuja- Nigeria, who commended the speakers for their well delivered powerful presentations and also stated that this opportunity is indeed an eye opener to what they can do, no matter how little, in their small corners.
The Afternoon Section started at 1400GMT with a presentation from Princess Asie-Occansey from Nekotech Centre of Excellence, Ghana, who showcased a project she is currently undertaking tagged “Off the Street Angels” seeking to assist as well as evacuate the children on the street to give them a proper living.
The project she said, also aims to fight against the scourge of HIV/AIDS and other social issues, hinting that, she is in talks with the Accra Metropolitan Assembly to make one of its yet to be built schools a transition school for the street children.
In her final words, Princess Asie Occansey passionately called on the women leaders to have a passionate commitment to cater for these children on the street adding if Africa should go forward, the African woman role can not be compromised.
Ms. Ursla Owusu, Vice President of FIDA International was the last Speaker for the day and she outlined the activities of her institution, FIDA.
According to her, FIDA has set up a Legal Aid Programme since 1995 and now have a Legal Aid Centre to resolve legal issues of women.
Furthermore, FIDA have been instrumental in the creation of Domestic Violence Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU) nationwide due to the inadequate facilities to tackle domestic violence cases which does not give victims the confidentiality they need.
Also, she said, FIDA has been instrumental in the establishment of various and numerous women Aid Organisations as a result of massive and intensive education and sensitisation of women nationwide as well written manuals on HIV/AIDS and the Rights of the Child; they have also been part of the consultation of the Right Women Empowerment and just launched its Primary legal care “Solve the problem before it get out of hand”, she stated.
Touching on some of the challenges, Ms. Ursla Owusu hinted that, though the law may be there; the accessibility of it, is equally a challenge but FIDA has been working on it
However, she said, there is the need for women who advocate for women rights to also aspire to be parliamentarians to champion their cause since they are not able to get the right number of women in parliament.
The Social Welfare, she said is really under-resourced and all governments have paid lip services to them in both financial and human resources as well as touched on the weakness of the Disability Law in the country. The FIDA Representative expressed dismay on how the big people refuse to attend to disability peoples’ functions. Adding, there are challenges of bringing up disability children in homes and the need for religious bodies to reshape the ideology and way these people are treated.
Stressing the need to move from institutional care to practising adoptions of these children as well the need to encourage foster care in the country, she also appealed to the Social Welfare to educate the public on adoption of these orphans to ensure the development and welfare of the children.
DAY TWO (2) REPORT:
The Second day of the Summit started with a video show by Ms. Ethell Mac Harrison on the gory details of maternal birth in a local community in Ghana, highlighting zero access to quality healthcare.
Interacting with the delegates, she indicated that, it was difficult for her to take the coverage of events at the village due to the resistance of the people in the community.
Sharing her experience, she revealed that, birth delivery is difficult for pregnant women in the community as a result of inadequate facilities such as no bed or mat, clothes to wrap the new born babies among others.
Also, she stated that, the community had only one Traditional Birth Attendant who according to her, is not well equipped to handle the numerous births, hence, contributing to the increase of maternal mortality in the community and the country at large.
Ironically, she asked what crime has these children done to deserve such treatments in their first day on earth? These challenges, she lamented are among other challenges hindering the development and growth of the African women.
Meanwhile, sharing their views, participants congratulated Mrs. Ethel for her courage and zeal to help these women and asked if the appropriate authorities like the Ministry of Children & Women Affair’s, Department of Social Welfare etc are aware of the situation. Joining the solidarity messages, Mrs. Zainab O. Towobola from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture & Rural development of Nigeria praised the Speaker for her braveness and urged her to continue her good works in liberating women and vulnerable children whilst majority of the African women leaders requested for the Women & Children’s Minister to see the video as they need drastic attention and measures to decrease the community and country maternal mortality rate.
Concluding her presentation, Mrs. Ethel urged the gathered African women to move on and never give up the fight for the battle is not over.
Second Speaker, Dr (Mrs) Sarah Jibril, Special Advisor to the Nigeria President on Ethics, who also represented the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Her Excellency, Dame Patience Goodluck Jonathan posited that, it is important for African women to note that, it is not the papers or presentations at summits or conferences that can solve the problem but the activities they embark on in their respective communities and countries with relevance to the development and growth of women and children.
According to her, she has been active in the empowerment of women in Nigeria for years by contesting for local government positions and later contested with numerous head of states of the country for the Presidency at the party primary levels which current President Goodluck Jonathan is not an exception, she further called on women not to be deterred from participating in the political process.
To her, women leadership is just like been a mother or parent explaining that, as a leader, you take decisions based on your care for the development and welfare of the masses, adding that, political leadership is social parenting.
Speaking further,she said, mothers should not enter into politics for monetary gains but with the conscience of rendering quality services to women and vulnerable children, noting that it is painstaking and very sacrificial.
Summarizing her presentation, Mrs. Sarah Jibril urged them not to relinquish their efforts despite the embarrassment, shame, accusations etc the men will put on them, for they, the women are the giants of Africa.
During question and answer time, most of the women who spoke agreed that, women are their own enemies citing the Speaker as an example, who lost the Presidential primaries, with the fact that women are the largest population in Nigeria. Participants also, encouraged and urged her to continue to champion the cause of the Nigerian woman as well as find a way of nurturing the young upcoming women who aspires to be in her shoes.
Other women leaders questioned the conscience of women and challenged them to be the change they want to see by changing their attitudes towards fellow women.
Ending her presentation, Mrs. Sarah Jibril stressed that, it is not information gathered that will make the change but what one does with the information gathered.
Regarding the role of the Social Welfare Department of Ghana, the Director’s Representative indicated that, the department lacked basic and requisite facilities to execute its mandatory responsibilities in ensuring the protection, development and growth of women and vulnerable children nationwide.
The Representative indicated that, the department is doing its possible best with the limited resources and funds to provide shelter for victims of domestic violence as well vulnerable children across the country.
Also, she said, the department gets support and assistance from other women and children related organisation in providing shelter, care, counselling among other basic needs.
Touching on some of the challenges they face, she hinted that, most of the victims are ignorant of their rights whilst most of the cases are taken from the police stations for family settlement which she said, does not help in ensuring the total being of the violated women and their vulnerable children.
Inadequate Domestic Violence & Victim Support Units at the various police stations nationwide, to her, is not encouraging enough towards the fight against domestic violence.
The way forward, the Representative revealed is that, the Ghana Police Service in collaboration with the Department and other donors are building a multi complex building for the accommodation of domestic violence victims as well vulnerable children within the country, Ghana.
Also, embarking and intensifying education of women to reduce the rate of domestic violence in homes, works among others and caring for the vulnerable children for a healthy nation.
She urged the delegates to continue the good works they are respectively doing in their countries to change the lives of women and children.
Taking her turn to address the delegates again, Mrs. Ethyl Mac Harrison showcased another video on a Slavery Shrine in Volta Region of Ghana.
According to her, young girls are taken to the shrine to serve the fetish priest, adding that, these girls go through numerous maltreating like the intake of liquid mixture of the priest dried faeces, blood of either a cow or goat and refusal to drink leads to lashes from the fetish priest of the shrine.
Furthermore, she indicated that, these girls are shaved with broken bottles which are later used to give them numerous marks at their back.
For the boys, she said, they are taken to the shrine to be trained to take over from the high fetish priest of the shrine.
However, she has been able to rescue majority of the girls from such awful acts as well as the boys, stating that, eleven of the girls are living with her along with a boy.
Delegates were privileged to have a glimpse of one of the girls, Joyce, whom is in the secondary level along with an elderly woman who was at the shrine for ten (10) years.
Nana Oye Lither, a vibrate Human Rights Activist in Ghana who took her turn to talk to the delegates thanked the organizers for organising such historic Summit for women in West Africa.
Delivering her script, she lamented at the rate at which women’s rights are infringed upon by men and the society.
Citing some, she revealed, some old believes, such as it is a taboo for women to cross some streams in Ghana during their menstruation period with the believe that, when they do, they will either be drown in river among others.
Discrimination, she said, is really hindering the progress, development and growth of the Ghanaian girl.
Though there are laws protecting the life of women and children, their rights are violated as well discriminated against especially when they declare to contest for leadership roles with the men.
According to her, over sixty percent (60%) of cases reported are related to girls which she believes is not good for the development and empowerment of women in Ghana.
Regarding to sex workers, she pointed out that, majority of them are practicing prostitution to provide for their households
It is important; she stressed for women leaders to have keen interest in the total wellbeing of their fellow women for their children not to be vulnerable.
Ending her presentation, Nana Oye Lither appealed to the women leaders at the Summit to educate other women to practice safe sex by insisting on condom use.
The Summit presentation sessions ended with delegates interacting, continuing the discussions and exchanging contacts to keep the fire burning even after the Summit in their respective countries, states, communities and societies.
The third and last day of the summit witnessed an awards gala night where distinguished women leaders across the West African sub region, who have contributed towards providing better futures for women and vulnerable children were recognised and celebrated for the work they were doing. The award recipients were drawn from the government, business and corporate leaders, the traditional institutions and civil society organizations, in an atmosphere of fun, relaxation, happiness and conviviality