Gender inequality - In relation to issues of insecurity in West Africa

Security as a concept is very integral in guaranteeing stability and development of a nation as well as the safety of its citizenry. Thus, it is the duty of every state to provide adequate security to its people and communities in a way that holds them accountable in order to ward off conflict and advance sustainable development.


Africa and for that matter, the West African sub-region have over the years experienced major security concerns as a result of weak governance and depleting economic growth, piracy and terrorism, religious extremism, transnational organized crime like drug and human trafficking, the proliferation of small arms, climate change, disputes over land, water and other natural resources, chieftaincy disputes, and so on. The recent turbulence in Mali and Nigeria are some cases that portray the existence of lingering human security threats within the sub-region.


It is interesting to note that when listing factors that threaten national and international security, the idea of gender inequality as a growing security issue is greatly overlooked. As a matter of fact, even with studies having to continually highlight gender inequality as a “global concern, linked to domestic and international conflict…and troubled economies”, it is still regarded more as a social justice and feminist headline rather than that of a security issue.


Gender equality is, first of all, a human right known as equally appreciating the roles both men and women play in society. The notion of gender equality is basically to tackle prejudices and stereotypes in our societies. Thereby, allowing both sexes to equally contribute to and benefit from social, economic, cultural and economic developments in the society. Gender equality does not mean that men and women are the same, however, it simply implies that their interests and priorities are accorded equal value.


It is against this backdrop that scholars from a gender perspective assert that a society that looks down on a section of its members as potential contributors to its security agenda and sustainable development, do so at their own risk. According to research findings, Africa’s growth can only materialize when everyone is equally involved in the process- where women can participate fully in economic, social and political activities.

According to UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI) on gender inequality between men and women, all countries in West Africa excluding Cape Verde, Senegal and Ghana have an alarming magnitude of inequality between men and women with regards to the economic sector and development agenda. Again, UNDP’s 2017 Gender Inequality Index (GII) reports that the West African sub-region is the most male-dominated region on the continent.

That said, it is no surprise why the West African labour market is controlled by men. Based on a report issued by the Institute of Economic Affairs in Ghana, 61.4% of females interviewed confirmed that they had no formal education unlike the 39% of males interviewed. This goes on to show that the majority of women are mostly self-employed in the informal sector due to their low level of education.


Likewise, although there is no structured data on the contribution of women to Africa’s agricultural labour force, the UN projects that women account for 60-80% of Africa’s agricultural labour force and contribute about 70-80% of food production in Africa. In most cases, women contribute substantial amounts of labour in the agricultural sector yet lack access to their own lands and are paid poorly. This only heightens financial dependency on their spouses/family members and further worsens socio-economic issues of women in West Africa.


Similarly, gender inequalities are present in political representations. In Nigeria’s parliament, for example, women constitute 5.8% of elected representatives while Mali and Benin record 8.8% and 7.2% respectively. However, Senegal has made even more progress in terms of women’s representation in its parliament in the past few years. In spite of this, equal political participation continues to be a challenge in the majority of West African countries.


In addition, the issue of gender-based violence, particularly, sexual violence, of which the majority of the victims are women and girls is prevalent in West Africa. This act is common in conflict-prone and post-conflict surroundings resulting in sexual slavery and gang rape of women and girls and in few instances, men and boys. In Liberia, to be precise, about 40% of the populace experienced sexual violence during its 14 years of conflict. Also, approximately 250,000 women in Sierra Leone, according to a report by UNICEF were raped during its conflict period. As such, on 27th March 2010, H.E President Koroma apologized publicly to women following the incident. Sexual violence against women and girls is rampant mainly due to weakened rule of law and justice processes, and impunity for acts of sexual violence.


Although few countries are committed to ending gender inequality, the majority are not, and this slows down the process within the sub-region. The way forward would be to reform legal systems and policies in individual West African states and collectively at the sub-regional level (ECOWAS) in order to achieve better results. For instance, policy reforms on land and property rights for women should be implemented and put into practice since policies in that area are not well-established as compared to those of men.

More so, urgent attention should be given to closing the gender gap through the practice of good economic governance for rapid development by ensuring that gender goals are reflected on national and international economic strategies while budgets allocated for this are planned, approved, monitored and audited in a gender-sensitive way.


The African society does not appreciate views of women and this has transcended even to the political space. A lot more women should be allowed to take up high positions in the political sphere, public and private sectors. Equal representation of women in these areas will produce more innovation when it comes to decision-making. Also, issues of sexual violence against women will be effectively spearheaded when there is a substantial number of women at the legislative arm of government. Thus, a parliament with more men than women are likely to make decisions skewed to the greater benefit of men as opposed to when there are equal representation on both sides.


A growing number of women continue to live in poverty, discrimination and abuse, thereby making them more susceptible to insecurity. It is imperative to note that gender inequality penetrates into every aspect of society, threatening the economic well-being and security of every state. And to prevent this, it is the responsibility of every state to provide safety and protection to all and sundry from all forms of insecurity- and not just a section of the citizenry.



References


Alaga, E. (2011). Gender and Security Policy in West Africa. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

Marc, A., Verjee, N. and Mogaka, S., 2015. Challenge of Stability and Security in West Africa. The World Bank Group.

Johnson-Freese, J. (2019,). Gender Equality as a Security Issue.

Rolleri, L. (2013). Understanding Gender and Gender Equality. Act for Youth Center for Excellence.

Johnson-Freese, J. (2019,). Gender Equality as a Security Issue.

The West Africa Inequality Crisis. (2019).

Asante-Apeatu, T. (2018). West African boardrooms and the gender gap - GGA.

The West Africa Inequality Crisis. (2019).

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