The choice of name The Women’s Torch is intentional. In the physical sense a torch is an object that provides light, illuminating and showing the way through darkness. In the figurative sense it is a source of enlightenment, of guidance, of warming up to an idea or person. In the sporting world a torch is used as a symbol of unity and achievement, bringing people together under a common purpose.
Depending on the purposes for which it is used, a « torch » is multi-faceted and can be used for a multiplicity of purposes –to lighten up, to teach, to provide hope (light at the end of the tunnel), to save someone in distress (a beacon) and above all to spur people to action.
In the past two decades West Africa has made some significant strides in human development. More children are going to and staying in school, more people have access to water, basic sanitation and electricity, the incidence of conflict has reduced and more people are living longer lives. However, we are still lagging behind in our efforts to build a just and gender equitable society, conflict where it still exists continues to dis-empower women and, gender unequal communities continue to serve as a barrier to the development of our economies.
The Women’s Torch is a contribution to national and regional initiatives for the advancement and empowerment of women, and, to moving the West African Region towards the attainment of a gender equitable society. Such a move requires the concerted effort of all including women. To bring the change agenda forward, women need to be informed, educated and empowered.
West African women will always be vulnerable to exogenous and other factors that affect our lives and that of our families. As such, the Women’s Torch aims to address key issues that serve as obstacles to women’s effective participation in development by focusing on quality education at all levels; preventive and curative health care services; secure livelihoods, access to and ownership of productive resources ; economic empowerment programmes; violence against women and girls in the home, school and workplace especially in conflict and emergency situations; climate change; equal representation in political processes
By providing role models, highlighting their stories; giving examples of development initiatives that benefit women; exposing high risk activities that have a negative impact on women and girls; informing and educating women on existing opportunities (financial, education and training, health care, protection, support and legal services), and other important initiatives that empower women it is expected that women would be provided the ‘light” that enables us to claim, stand-up for our rights and speak out when the need arises.
The Women’s Torch intends to ignite the spark that brings ‘light’ to women from all spheres of West African life – the old and the young, the able and disabled, the educated and the uneducated, the rich and the poor, the urban and the rural. We seek to inspire women to re-examine our lives and relationships and to see how we want to improve our status as individuals, and, as members of a global community.
Globalization and technological advances particularly ICTs have set the way in which business is done, yet many women in West Africa are left behind in the use of these new technologies. While many have access to mobile phones, women are still excluded from using new technologies due to reasons ranging from poverty and illiteracy to lack of infrastructure.
The economic, social and cultural issues that need to be addressed are many and our hope is that will in highlighting these, the Women’s Torch will shine its beam on the many advantages that exist and at the same time illuminate the risks that go along with these developments.
There is demonstrated goodwill in many quarters for the advancement and empowerment of women. West African leaders have signed up to several regional and global instruments including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. The Women’s Torch will use these instruments as references to guide the women and girls on where to go, what to do, why and how to ensure that their rights are respected, fulfilled and maintained and to motivate them to change to become global citizens living in the 21st Century.