It was asserted that the women of West Africa hold the key towards its development. The President of ECOWAS Female Parliamentarians Association (ECOFEPA), Sen. Stella Oduah (Nigeria) who spoke to us on the sidelines of the 2nd Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Parliament, stated that women constituted the larger population in the sub-region and could not be left aside in planning developmental projects.
Oduah, also the vice Chairman of the Committee on Women Affairs in the Nigerian Senate, said that participation of women in the politics of West Africa was still very low and urged for a change in that trajectory. She stressed that women were capable of contesting and holding any political office in the sub-region adding that African women should not play second fiddle but must rise up to the occasion to participate actively in politics, so as to develop Africa.
The ECOFEPA President was emphatic with her position that it did not make sense to disrespect or disregard women who constituted about 60 per cent of the population of the sub-region of West Africa. “West Africa cannot attain its intended developmental strides without the involvement and participation of women in politics and policy making and implementation. You lose their strength, their brilliance, their contributions and you lose their participation”, she asserted.
“If the women who make up more than half of our population do not participate in developing West Africa, it means that we are using less than half of our strength. Women do not have to beg to be allowed to participate, we constitute the larger population. We must participate because governance belongs to the people not to a particular gender,” she continued.
The female MPs caucus leader disclosed that the association was set to build a school for Women Leadership Training in the capital city of Nigeria, Abuja. She said that the school will impart on its trainees, leadership skills which is a requirement for emerging women leaders. Oduah added that ECOFEPA was currently collaborating with other international agencies to anchor on national and community development of women.
“Involvement of women in both elective and selective offices is cardinal to the goals of ECOFEPA,” she said.
Speaking further on the role of women, Oduah who runs a woman-empowerment programme in her constituency, said that it is a show of inadequacy on the part of any man who stands in the way of a woman’s progress. She therefore charged fellow female parliamentarians as well as the male counterparts to be advocates of women participation in politics and leadership in their respective countries.
She said that the ongoing segregation of women in politics should be stopped, stressing that it was unfair to tag a women who is in leadership as a “woman leader” while a man in a similar position is regarded as a leader without the gender prefix. She called for level-playing ground and equal opportunity for aspirants and candidates contesting elections.
“When that happens, the best of the women will emerge; women and men will vote for the female not because she is a female but because she is the right candidate for that job. Women are saying give us equal opportunity, give us equal right: we want gender parity. Until this is done, West Africa remains a long way to the development that it so desires,” she challenged.
Oduah cited the area of Agriculture as an economic sector where women have held sway, helping to navigate the continent away from hunger. Exemplifying with her constituency project, the ECOFEPA President said that women whom she had empowered in various fields of agriculture now earn a living on their own, adding that out of the 1000 people she had empowered in her constituency, women constituted the larger number because of their importance in building the family and the nation.