In line with the global strategy for promoting gender equality, in the platform for action adopted at the United Nations fourth world conference on women held in Beijing(China ) in 1995, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs and the National Gender Mainstreaming program yesterday commenced a three day forum on women’s development at the Cabenda hotel, Congo cross in Freetown, to transform an unequal social and institutional structure in to equal and just structures for both men and women.
In her opening remarks at the forum, the UNFPA representative Mariama Diarra said that, the need for clarity on what gender mainstreaming is all about needs to be discussed exclusively by participants of the forum, with the ECOWAS module that was presented to them and also urged them to recommend issues that will be submitted to the gender strategic plan which will be reflective of the poverty reduction strategy paper (PRSP).
The Director of Statistics in Sierra Leone Lawrence Kamara noted that, statistics indicates that gender equity is becoming harder to achieve in Sierra Leone because what benefits men do not replicate to women in the areas of employment, economic and social benefits and poverty alleviation programs, as data on gender mainstreaming indicates low in certain countries, adding that it is the responsibility of government to report on data regularly on gender sensitive issues in the country.
Mr. Kamara highlighted, some of the problems facing women which include the lack of capacity building, gender response management, fair power, micro economic, pregnancy related deaths and gender based violence coupled with the lack of protection and interest of women is part of the major challenges facing women in the country which is responsible for the economic and social challenges.
The ECOWAS Representative at the forum Ahmed Gumah spoke about the ECOWAS Gender Development Center which has been very instrumental in devising modules for gender training which explores the many areas of key concern for gender practitioners to the extent that it examines contemporary as well as emerging issues of the gender dynamics.
The Deputy Minister of Economic Planning and Development Richard Conteh said that Government has embarked on a noble idea of adopting gender issues in to the mainstream development of the country, and urged participants of the forum to contribute meaningfully and submit their recommendation to the Government, as his ministry will ensure that women issues are addressed.
Dr. Richard Conteh maintained that, Government is committed to empowering women with funds and technical expertise to build their capacity, adding that the Government has already allocated $800,000 from the peace building fund to the Ministry of Gender and other women organizations to improve on the welfare of women in Sierra Leone.
In her key note address the Minster of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs Haja Musu Kandeh said that the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programms at all levels, noting that gender mainstreaming is a strategy for making the concerns and experiences of women as well as of men forms an integral part of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programs in all political, economic and social activities, so that women and men benefit equally.
She intimated that, the responsibility of executing the mainstreaming strategy is at the highest levels within the Government and non-governmental organizations, bilateral and multi-lateral including the African Development Bank and ECOWAS which focuses on the advancement of women and manifestation of social justice with improvement of women’s access to resources through national development plans relating to gender mainstreaming.
Minister Kandeh noted that the forum is timely as it will create an innovation in developing its own material and method which will make gender mainstreaming easily understood, because gender training is a sensitive and sophisticated field of work to raise awareness, knowledge and skills that will bring about behavioral change in relation to gender.
She noted that gender mainstreaming is not about adding a woman’s component or even a gender equality component in to an existing activity, as it goes beyond increasing women participation but also requires changes in goals, strategies and actions so that both women and men can influence, participate in and benefit from development processes, taking in to cognizance of age sex status and wealth, adding that clear political will and allocation of adequate resources if necessary, are important for translation of the idea of mainstreaming in to practice.
The First Lady Sia Nyama Koroma officially declared the forum open and also spoke about the significance of women in national development, she however noted that gender mainstreaming are usually bolted on after policy or development initiatives have progressed to advanced stages before someone brings out the question about the Gender perspective otherwise it is forgotten or ignored she stressed.
Participants of the forum were drawn from across the country in collaboration with women’s group and other organizations, the forum is expected to end tomorrow with submission of a comprehensive report and recommendations that will be presented to Government and development partners.