By Justina Auta
A group called West African Feminist (WFF) has decried what it calls “shrinkage of civil spaces and regression in women’s rights advocacy in West Africa.”
The group made its position known on the sidelines of a two-day West African Feminist Conference with the theme “Feminism as Practice: Movement Building and the Rise of Fundamentalisms” in Abuja on Monday.
The conference was organised by Alliance for Africa, in collaboration with African Women’s Development (AWDF) and the African Feminist Forum (AFF).
Ms Abena Benewa-Fosu representing Ghana, said salient points raised from the conference included the need for self-identified feminists to tackle emerging issues in the feminist movement.
Benewa-Fosu added that it also gave insight to how younger generation of feminists could benefit from the movement.
According to her, the conference seeks to address the collective shrinking of civic spaces within the West African sub region.
This, she said, had reinforced the need for constructive discussions, engaging everyone on the way forward to stem the regression of wider women’s human rights.
She added that the conference was to enable feminists to analyse previous and contemporary trends in the movement, which include economic justice, feminist leadership and power.
Others, she explained, include Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR), climate change, bridging the intergenerational gap between feminists, as well as understanding the African Feminist Charter.
Ms Theriyeh Korima-Nenneh representing Sierra Leone said women have contended with patriarchy for a long time, stressing the need for collaboration and mentorship between older and younger feminists to exchange ideas in tackling it.
She said the conference provided a platform for feminists to discuss issues affecting African women and the intersectionality such as feminist identities, disabilities, among others.
“We also spoke about women’s sexual reproductive health and rights. We talked about abortion rights. We talked about access to family planning; we talked about body autonomy and how women can have full control of their bodies.
“We talked about laws and policies that have to be in place and implemented properly to protect the rights and dignity of women.”
On her part, Mrs Bunmi Dipo-Salami represented Nigeria said that the end goal of the feminist movement is to ensure the inclusion of women in every sphere of life.
She added that “in Nigeria, for instance, all the gender bills were thrown out. Well, we were talking about constitution review recently; for us, we are not giving up, it is to restrategise and say we are equal citizens.
“The constitution says there is no discrimination on the basis of gender, religion and any other distinction,” she said.
Liberian representative, Ms Naomi Tulay-Solanke, stressed the need for safe space to enable women express themselves without discrimination and denial of their rights.
She said “we want a world that is free from violence. Where the rights of women are respected and protected.
“We want a space where healthcare services are available to everyone.”
Ms Iheoma Obibi, the Executive Secretary of AFF and member, Nigeria Feminist Forum (NFF), said 145 feminists from Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, The Gambia and Nigeria attended the hybrid conference.
She said “we tend to push the envelope around things that are sensitive, difficult to articulate and nuances in our communities.
“When we do that, it encourages those working on women’s human rights, gender and development extractive industries around the agenda to begin to address other issues.” (NAN)