An expert on gender studies, Prof. Amina Mama, has said that militarism in the sub region ; a high level of influence by military personnel and ideals on the government or policies of a country or state in West Africa, has made and continue to make gender equality difficult.
According to her, perceived supremacy of the military and power of the uniform have wide implications on how societies have grown. " The barrack culture has affected the society around it and gender relations are changed consequently. "
Prof. Amina, who is the Director of Women and Gender Studies at the University of California, was speaking at a research planning workshop in Accra on " Strengthening Women ' s Activism in Post Conflict Contexts: A Research and Capacity Building Project ."
Organizers say the overall goals of the proposed three-year project are to contribute to the strengthening of women ' s activism and redress the negative effects that conflict and military rule have had on gender relations, democratization and development in diversely affected West African communities using activist research methodologies.
Giving an overview of Militarism, Underdevelopment and Feminism, Prof. Amina noted that in the 1950s when numerous African countries gained independence there was optimism as all expected the continent to be ahead than what is seen today.
She said the role of military institutions / militarism has been an integral part of Africa ' s history and experience, likewise colonial regimes as they had the same goals which were anti-counter aspirations of the region.
However, she said African history does not recognize this fact and worse of it is the fact that recruitment into the military is done along ethnic lines and on class basis. She said that gender transformation began around that same period.
She recalled that in mid 70s armies had ceased power in several African countries and the governments formed were composed of males.
" There is the need to take our understanding of militarism beyond dictatorship. Manifestations of para-military forces is an indication that we need to look beyond the surface of the armies, the conflicts and all must be part of it in a responsible manner and not leave it in the hands of so-called security institutions " she stressed.
Abantu for Development, a women ' s advocacy group, is setting the stage for a broader research on Gender, Conflict and Militarism in West Africa. The research forms part of the three-year activist research project which seeks to strengthen women ' s activism in post-conflict and post- military contexts.
The workshop was held against the backdrop that militarism was a daily experience in Africa, especially West Africa, and that there was the urgent need to address the issue from a gender perspective.
The Global Fund for Women (GFW) and the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) provided support for the four-day workshop for international and locally based researchers and activists from Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana to design action oriented women ' s rights tools for undertaking research in the sub-region.
Another object of the workshop was to strengthen and reinforce women ' s movements and civil society organizational capacities for gender advocacy and activism around issues of militarism and conflict.
The Director, Conflict Security and Development Group of kings College of London, Dr. Funmi Olonisakin, in her presentation on " Conflict, Security and Security Sector Reform African Experiences " , emphasized that security was the important entry point to development.
She noted that even when men suffer insecurities they could retreat to traditional forms of protection / protest such as vigilantes, but women had no such chance since traditional justice systems discriminate against them.
" Security is the first point before we can have development. Why are women not sitting there . We must interrogate who governs security. Our voices should be there. "
Prof. Funmi said although post conflict reforms had given a measure of progress, women ' s power base was more at an informal level and that transformation could only happen when women were sitting at high level decision-making tables.
" As an approach to remedy the trend, women activists must research or else we will not move from placard carrying area. It is not only about numbers but participation. To make change happen we must have the skills to challenge the structures of oppression. "
She added that the daily lives of women were living researches and that many more women should be involved in empirical research to make them feel a sense of belonging.