In 1996, the British Council sponsored a resource person Ms. Lesley Abdela to work with Nigerian women on developing strategies for promoting women's effective participation in politics and public life.
The workshops were organised at the British Council Hall in Kaduna. It featured sessions where communication and political mobilisation skills were provided to women from various Non Governmental Organisations from different parts of the country. The first session reviewed the participation of women in previous civilian dispensations, the impact of the long period of military rule on democratic development and the country's plan to return to democracy.
Some of the sessions also focused on providing women with the skills they would require to adopt issue based political campaigns, set a political agenda; develop strategies for mobilising voters, working with the media to provide publicity to women's campaign and also fundraising tips.
The participants were delighted with the outcome of the workshop and decided to establish a network of activists committed to mobilising women for effective participation in politics and public life. They named the network the 100 Women Group and the major objective was to continue skills sharing at grassroots level to ensure that the 100 women trained nationwide would return to the various states and train another 100 who in turn will move to the various Local Governments and train another 100 women thus creating a critical mass that will open up the political space for women's participation in politics and public life.
A Steering Committee was established to outline the strategy for organising the 100 Women Group. My humble self was a participant at the first workshop representing ABANTU for Development a Kaduna based Gender NGO. I was appointed later appointed as a member of the Steering Committee and also the coordinator of the 100 Women Group for Kaduna State. The other members of the Steering Committee were Nkoyo Toyo of Gender and Development Action GADA, Alhaja Lateefah Okunnu of FOMWAN, Late Princess Edith Mark Odu , Mrs Onikepo Oshodi.
They were supported by representatives of key development agencies and implementing partners. Among them were Late Dr Felicia Ekejiuba of United Nations Fund for Women UNIFEM, Felicia Onibon of British Council, Ime Udon of USAID, Enyantu Ifenne of Centre for Development and Population Activites CEDPA and others. The Committee organised a Post Beijing Workshop at the FESTAC Hotel in Lagos which was attended by 250 women from all states of the federation. The women developed a Political Agenda for Nigerian Women and launched the 100 Women Group.
In another part of the world, women were also walking along a similar path.
In 1995 a multinational group of 200 women from the 29 former Soviet Union and satellite nations travelled 8,000 kilometres aboard a half-kilometre-long train from Warsaw to Beijing for the UN 4th Global Conference On Women. Trainers and experts presented workshops on Human Rights, negotiating skills, conflict mediation and conflict resolution, how to change world trade agreements and create economic policies to suit the world's women. The train was sponsored by the UNDP and became known as 'The Beijing Express'. The Beijing Express Working Group was created from the 200 delegates and chaired by the UK delegate, Lesley Abdela. The UK's Lesley Abdela was sponsored by the British Council to conduct democracy skills workshops aboard the Beijing Express just like the one she facilitated in Nigeria.
The delegates developed and adopted the following Declaration:
The New '-ism': Neither Communism nor Capitalism has worked well for the majority of women in the world. We believe the new 'ism' will come from a new approach to world economics.
Many economic policies have been disastrous for women. It is often women who bear the brunt of economic restructuring policies made by organisations who too often overlook the way their policies could impact on millions of women.
Under both Communism and Capitalism the quality of people's lives is all too often sacrificed for the goal of wealth creation. Human development should not be sacrificed in the name of economic growth but rather economic growth should be used as a tool to help people achieve a healthy and creative life.
(This heading is symbolic - in certain Islamic countries, when a woman throws down her white scarf no person must pass. This has been used on occasion to stop men fighting)
The present system of peace-making and negotiations dominated by senior men at governmental levels has patently failed and is now discredited. We want women's full participation in conflict prevention, resolution and peace-keeping. Therefore we want women's organisations and Non-Governmental Organisations from all sides in all future peace talks and working with governments on developing and expanding 'Preventive Diplomacy'.
We want the United Nations' mandate to be expanded to include preventive diplomacy. As part of this we want a 'Hot Spot' Commission set up to try to prevent conflict where trouble is brewing. This Commission, consisting of women and men, would be set up to intervene in conflict prevention, resolution and settlement.
We want economic and political sanctions imposed on parties violating Human Rights - but humanitarian aid should be allowed.
We want men who commit rape as a war crime to be brought to justice and prosecuted as war criminals. We believe this will only happen if women are included equally with men on committees responsible for bringing these men to trial.
We want property rights recognised as Human Rights, and improved mechanisms for getting back property snatched away in conflicts.
Women's Equal Participation: We want systems of national political and public life reformed to include women's equal participation with men in political, economic and international decision-making at all levels, from local to national to global. This means also providing training and encouragement for women to participate in politics and public life.
We want government policies favourable to women. Many policies developed by governments either ignore women's needs or actually harm women. We want governments in transition economies to show what impact their policies are having on women. This would be a way to get policy-makers to develop policies that are more women-friendly.
Government Financial Support: We want governments to give financial support to women's groups. These voices must be heard
We want women's unpaid work measured and recognised in economic arrangements such as pensions. Nearly 50% of the US$23 Trillion global output is provided by women's unpaid work. We need fairer sharing of the work and equality in the home. Sakiko Fukuda-Parr of the UNDP says, "When we get world leaders to recognise that 70% of the world's GDP is unpaid work, they won't say women working at home can't qualify for pensions on an equal basis with men." As we ponder on how to re launch the 100 Women Group we invite all women aspiring for elective positions to get organised. The IRI workshop held last week in Lagos inspired them to blaze the trail. Details of the workshop will be shared next week.