Abuja - Nigeria — The ECOWAS Commission will continue to pursue polities and programmes that promote gender equality and private sector participation in its regional integration and enterprise development efforts in accordance with its mandate, the President of the Commission His Excellency Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo has affirmed.
To this end, the President told a Private Sector Interactive Session held at the Commission's Abuja Headquarters on Thursday 10th January 2013 that ECOWAS was propelling a project on Business Incubators for African Women Entrepreneurs with assistance from the NEPAD-Spanish Fund for Africa. This is aimed at supporting women entrepreneurs in agri-business, agro-processing and handicrafts as well as provision of financial, technical and organizational capacity building. President Ouédraogo, represented by Vice-President Dr. Toga McIntosh at the Session held in honour of visiting Under-Secretary General and Executive Director, UN Women, Madam Michelle Bachelet, noted that "financing gender- sensitive and people-oriented development are key to ensuring sustainable development."
"We therefore have no choice, if we seek sustained economic, social and political development, but to recognise and adequately support the role of women in the process of nation-building," he said, expressing the hope that the interactive session themed "Financing Women Empowerment and Gender Equality," would yield significant dividends not only to business but also towards enhancing overall sustainable human development. The President said that ECOWAS looked forward to an outcome "which can be used to enrich our collective resolve to promote Gender Equality and Women Empowerment within our region."
In her contribution during the session, Under-Secretary General Bachelet noted that in the next ten years Africa's labour force is expected to expand by 122 million, and if these men and women could participate as equals in the economy, Africa would enjoy more talent, creativity and growth than ever before. She therefore urged leaders of industry, especially in the private sector, to help remove barriers to women's participation and to promote women to management positions based on merit while ensuring equal pay and benefits to all women and men employees and with more flexible work options.
There should also be investment in training and capacity building for women employees to advance within the industry, with a safe environment and zero- tolerance policy towards all forms of violence in the workplace, the UN Women Chief added. Madam Bachelet reiterated the UN Women's support to women in Nigeria while hoping for a future of strong, stable and inclusive economic growth that will lift all segments of the population to the top of the world's economies. The interactive session was attended among others, by Nigeria's Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development Hajiya Zainab Maina, the Ekiti State First Lady Erelu Bisi Fayemi and representatives of private sector stakeholders including women groups. Madam Bachelet is on a two-day official visit to Nigeria, part of a three-nation West African tour that had already taken her to Mali and Senegal.