Oumou is a young activist in Mauritania, a country where women are far from being equal to men both within the family and outside the home. In her community, where girls are raised to get married and have children, Oumou was the first to study abroad after high school. She had the blessings of her father, who had also studied abroad. So, against her community’s objection, she was able to pursue her quest for an education in neighboring Senegal. Her years in Senegal showed her how disempowered women are in Mauritania and how women can have strong voices. She vowed to be an agent of change in her own country.
Oumou was a participant in a Women, Business and the Law workshop in Nouakchott, Mauritania this year. The workshop convened about 30 representatives from civil society organizations (CSOs) working for women’s empowerment in the country, with the objective of increasing awareness of the economic impact of gender-differentiated laws and building their capacity to use data and evidence to advocate for gender equality reforms. “This type of capacity building and access to information is key; it helps us understand that as women we often do not know our rights. I was able to learn about women’s rights in other countries and how progress is being achieved. It enabled me to see how others started the process we are trying to undertake in my country, and build on the examples,” said Oumou, who has gone on to start the first ever women’s soccer team in Mauritania.
Women, Business and the Law works with CSOs to increase their capacity to more effectively advocate for evidence based and data-driven gender equality reforms. And over the past year, these efforts have been intensified through a series of workshops throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, such as Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania, Mozambique, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. And work is planned to continue to reach additional countries in the region. Through the workshops and knowledge exchange, countries can build capacity to promote legal reform and the adoption of laws, public policies and initiatives promoting gender equality, with the goal of enhancing the empowerment of women and girls.
Sharing knowledge between countries is critical in implementing change
In Senegal, the workshop organized in collaboration with the Senegalese Association of Women Jurists included a session by a representative from the sister organization in Côte d’Ivoire, who spoke about how recent reforms of Côte d’Ivoire’s Family Code were carried out, many of which the Senegalese are seeking to undertake, and participants benefited from the practical experience of their peer. “The workshop was an opportunity to build relationships and learn from Cote d’Ivoire and the experiences of others, which can help us in our work of advancing gender equality,” said Fatou Bocoum, who represented the Senegalese National Network of Rural Women at the workshop.
Women from all corners of these countries sign up to attend the Women, Business and the Law workshops to learn about their laws and how they can better advocate for the rights of women in their country. “Our women and girls are not aware of most of their rights. And we can’t promote change in laws without learning about what our neighbors and other countries have done that can have a positive impact on women. We don’t always have access to this type of information, and learning about laws that can promote women’s economic empowerment and more inclusive policies for women is critical for our advocacy work”, said Helena Neves, president of the Guinea-Bissau Association of Women Jurists, Women, Business and the Law’s key partner in the Guinea-Bissau workshop. “We still face great challenges in our initiatives, but the experience and learning through the workshop gives women courage.”
Indeed, the work has had practical impacts
Oumou’s empowerment through sharing of experiences is now helping other women. After starting the first ever women’s soccer team in Mauritania, she continues to work to enhance women’s empowerment and also runs the Multicultural Association for a Better Future, an organization , which brings together her experiences abroad and from knowledge exchanges, such as the Women, Business and the Law workshop. “With the workshop, we were able to enhance collaboration between the organizations and establish a network to share information and promote women’s entrepreneurship.” Oumou is now a role model for other women in her country.
The workshops have showed the importance of the World Bank Group’s convening power and the role it can play in enabling peer-to-peer learning opportunities, creating or strengthening networks between CSOs within a country, and enhancing their capacity to use data and evidence in their efforts to push for gender equal reforms.