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PRIORITIZING THE RIGHTS OF CHILDREN AND WOMEN IN WEST AFRICA

In its role to be the watch dog of ECOWAS actions, on May 20TH 2021, WACSOF Organized a regional meeting on the thematic of  ‘’ PRIORITIZING THE RIGHTS OF CHILDREN AND WOMEN IN THE WEST AFRICA’’. Over 100 individuals and organisations registered and attended the meeting on the 20th of May, 2021. Amongst the attendees were representativies from the following organizations.

  • Mr Bertin SOME, Director of Paliamentary Affairs and Research, ECOWAS Parliament
  • Mdm Deguene Fall, UNICEF West and Central Regional Office’s, Regional Gender Adviser
  • Mdm Aissatou Ba, Women’s Economic Empowerment/ Capacity Building Program Officer, ECOWAS Gender and Development Centre
  • Jeannette AFOUNDE (MD,MPH), Regional Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights Technical Specialist, Plan International in West and Central Africa
  • Mdm Aida Gueye, Supervisor, Pan African States Accountability Programme (PASAP), Plan International
  • Mr Komlan Messie, General Secretary, the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF)

The meeting was organised and conducted by the West African Civil Society Forum, under the Pan Africa State Accountability Project (PASAP), run by PLAN INTERNATIONAL. On a front burner of the meeting, was the need to access ECOWAS Institutions on their work in ensuring the ECOWAS Child Policy, the Road Map to Ending Child Marriage and the HEADS OF STATES DECLARATION OF ZERO TOLERANCE ON GENDER BASED VIOLENCE (hereafter referred to as ‘the Zero Tolerance Declaration’), are implemented by all member states.

Mr Komlan Messie, the General Secretary of the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF), introduced the meeting, welcoming guests and thanking the ECOWAS institutions present, UNICEF and PLAN INTERNATIONAL. He reitereated the importane of the meeting, being to encourage engagement of CSOs with the ECOWAS on issues of Child Rights and to ensure that the ECOWAS stays accountable to civil society and to follow up on activities carried out by the ECOWAS, UNICEF and PLAN INTERNATIONAL to support the situation of delapidating Child Rights in the region.

The General Secretary, also referred to the relevance in jointly disseminating the 2017 ECOWAS Strategic Framework for Strengthening National Child Protection Systems to Prevent and Respond to Violence, Abuse and Exploitation against Children in West Africa, with the ECOWAS Child Policy was stated, as the Strategic Framework, acts as an overarching instrument, framing the regional approach to strengthening Child Protection Systems around five priority areas, including Child Marriage and Violence against Children.

Each panelist for the day was given about 10 minutes to speak. The five (5) panelists from the ECOWAS Parliament, UNICEF, the ECOWAS Gender and Development Centre, and PLAN INTERNATIONAL addressed the following topics:

  1. What has your organization done for the implementation of the following tools
    • ECOWAS CHILD POLICY
    • ECOWAS ROADMAP TO ENDING CHILD MARIAGE
    • HEADS OF STATES DECLARATION OF ZERO TOLERANCE ON GENDER BASED VIOLENCE (The Zero Tolerance Declaration)
  2. In your opinion, what can WACSOF and Civil Society do to help speeding the effective implementation of the legal tools at national and regional levels
  3. What are your main activities regarding this subject

The following are summary points given by each panelist;

Mr Bertin SOME, Director of Parliamentary Affairs and Research, ECOWAS Parliament

The Director established the fact that the ECOWAS  Parliament, currently plays an advisory and oversight role to the ECOWAS Community, rather than a fully legislative one as is expected from a Parliament. It is however, expected to assume full legislative functions in ECOWAS, to ensure that ECOWAS in its entirety, is seen to be an institution of people, rather than one of state.

The Director concluded that in order for the rights of the people to be kept and their needs met, there is need for frequent interaction at grass root levels. He, emphasized the need for legislative actions and decisions to be geared towards the consolidation of a democratic, pluralistic and participative form of government in ECOWAS that responds adequately to the needs of civil society. Finally, he encouraged that, civil society, continue advocating for the Child and Women rights on both national and regional levels and ensure they hold national and regional governments and institutions accountable.

Ms. Deguene Fall, UNICEF West and Central Regional Office’s, Regional Gender Adviser

Ms Fall, took the floor by thanking WACSOF for having created the platform between the ECOWAS and Civil Society Organizations to discuss on issues of Child and Women’s Rights. She pointed out that UNICEF, is the UN agency to protect and promote the rights and opportunity of adolescents and to ensure that gender equality is placed at the core of everything, especially, child protection, which is rooted in the Convention of the Rights if the Child and the Convention on the Elimination if all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

She proceeded to state that Child Rights remains a key area of concern in the region, under underlying contexts such as poverty, insurgency and associative vulnerability, which affects children, illegal and unsafe migration and the rise in sexual and gender based violence due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. She also referred to the strong influence of regressive social norms on child and women’s rights.       

Ms. Fall expressed her pleasure in the continued partnerships with ECOWAS and other Civil Society Organizations and the benefit these partnerships have had in the region, in ensuring the implementation of Child Rights and Women’s Rights Policies and laws.

Additionally, she encouraged CSOs to hold organizations accountable in ensuring that the ECOWAS Child Policy and the Roadmap to Ending Child Marriages are implemented and the Zero Tolerance Declaration used as a benchmark to violence against women in the region. She pointed out the need for CSOs to amplify the voices of grassroot organizations, especially women and youth organizations. Finally, she applauded the work of the ECOWAS and called for a meeting to be organized to review the Activation of the Strategic Plan of Action and the ECOWAS Child Policy, in which CSOs like WACSOF have a role to play. She stated UNICEFs willingness to journey with the ECOWAS Commission and all development partners and CSO partners, in stepping up the delivery and reenergizing the regional child and gender agenda that addresses the core vulnerability of children and women in our region.

Ms. Aissatou Ba, Women’s Economic Empowerment/ Capacity Building Program Officer, ECOWAS Gender and Development Centre

At Member State level, the ECOWAS Gender and Development Centre carries out the following actions to ensure the implementation of the discussed policies;

– Advocating for national policies for the promotion and protection of the rights and well-being of the child;

– Establishment of a monitoring committee for the rights of the child;

– Promulgation of the law on the ECOWAS Child Policy;

– Advocating for the adoption of a standard community-based child protection system;

– Pushing for the organization of national forums on child rights and

– Signing of bilateral and multilateral agreements and treaties relating to child mobility and protection.

Speaking on ways WACSOF and Civil Society can help in speeding the effective implementation of the legal tools at national and regional levels, Ms Aissatou Ba of the EGDC, emphasized the fact that WACSOF and CSOs are, indeed the key actors in the fight for child and women’s rights. She pointed out that CSOs have a central role in the planning, implementation and monitoring-evaluation of initiatives in order to promote the rights of Women and Children and to prevent and fight against sexual and gender-based violence.

Dr. Jeannette AFOUNDE (MD, MPH), Regional Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights Technical Specialist, Plan International in West and Central Africa and Mdm Aida Gueye, Supervisor, Pan African States Accountability Programme (PASAP), Plan International

Both Dr. Jeannette AFOUNDE and Ms. Aida Gueye spoke on the topics of the day representing PLAN INTERNATIONAL. Dr AFOUNDE began by reaffirming PLANs commitment on issues of child and women’s rights. She mentioned PLANs work in issuing of recommendations to help in the proper implementation of the discussed policy documents. Dr AFOUNDE went on to emphasize the need for adequate use of the ECOWAS Roadmap to Ending Child Marriage as a framework and reference document in implementing the ECOWAS Child Policy and other child and women’s rights related laws and policies. She finally mentioned that PLAN INTERNATIONAL will continue its work in supporting CSOs in their advocacy activities and campaigns for the promotion and implementation of the ECOWAS Child Policy, the Roadmap to ending Child Marriage and the ‘Zero Tolerance Declaration’.

Furthermore, Ms. Aida, the supervisor of the Pan African States Accountability Programme (PASAP), noted that there has been some progress made thus far in fighting for child and women’s rights in the region. She, however, noted that there is still room for the involvement of more actors, such as CSOs, especially women and youth organizations, in the fight for child and women’s rights.

She expressed the interest of PLAN INTERNATIONAL in continuing this fight through its advocacy at both national and regional levels. She pointed out PLAN’s show of commitment, through its organization of meetings and other engagement opportunities to speak about the dissemination and implementation of the ECOWAS Child Policy, amongst other key policies and to fight against gender violence.

Ms Aida, in emphasizing the importance of youth involvement, further shared on a meeting recently organized under PASAP that was geared at reflecting the voices of youths in the change process. Finally, she reiterated PLANs commitment in continuing its work with the Regional Working Group on Child Protection, the ECOWAS and WACSOF in fighting for child rights and women’s rights in West Africa.

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