Strengthening WHRD Protection Networks in West and Central Africa: A Consultation on Accountability and Gender Responsiveness

The West and Central Africa Consultation on Women Human Rights Defenders, a collaborative effort by the African Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD Initiative) and Réseau des Femmes Leaders pour le Développement (RFLD), convened in Porto Novo, Benin, on November 10, 2023, marking a pivotal moment in the collective pursuit of women’s rights and human rights defender protection.

Kicking off with poignant opening remarks from RFLD President AGUEH Dossi and WHRD Initiative Co-Directors Mary Pais Da Silva and Constance Mukarati, the event aimed at delving into critical facets of WHRD protection networks. Their introduction set the stage, emphasizing the crucial need to fortify networks supporting Women Human Rights Defenders. This meeting was not just a gathering; it was a strategic initiative to explore avenues for heightened accountability and gender responsiveness within the context of WHRD protection networks.

Structured with presentations, interactive sessions, and insightful testimonials from WHRDs, the consultation covered a spectrum of vital themes. From delving into actionable strategies for transparency and accountability to scrutinizing the unique challenges faced by WHRDs through the gender lens, the event created a comprehensive dialogue. The agenda also touched upon global perspectives, emphasizing the significance of building bridges in protection networks and strengthening ties with platforms within the African Union and Regional Economic Communities.

The West and Central Africa Consultation on Women Human Rights Defenders witnessed the powerful convergence of voices and experiences as women activists, advocates, and leaders from 20 countries across the region came together. This inclusive approach not only reinforced the importance of regional collaboration but also underscored the collective commitment to fostering more resilient, accountable, and gender-responsive protection networks for WHRDs across the continent.

Central to the success of the West and Central Africa Consultation was the active participation of WHRDs who shared their stories, challenges, and triumphs. Esther Tawiah, leading the session on “Accountability in Action and Accountability to the Frontlines,” provided a deep dive into strategies ensuring transparency within WHRD protection networks. The session delved into the role of philanthropy, reimagining funding models to better support these networks and holding perpetrators accountable.

Rene Nwones, facilitating “The Gender Lens” session, brought forth testimonials and interventions from WHRDs, addressing the unique challenges and needs of WHRDs across various spectrums. Emphasis was placed on leveraging regional synergies, overcoming obstacles, and ensuring gender responsiveness in the face of crises and conflict.

Stephanie Wamba, leading the session on “Building Global Bridges in Protection Networks,” explored connections with regional and global networks. The session discussed opportunities and challenges for WHRD-led protection networks globally, sharing success stories and addressing potential barriers.

The collaboration with the African Union and Regional Economic Communities was a focal point in sessions led by Marthe Coulibaly and Haddy Jatta, providing insights into building and plugging into regional protection platforms.

Laurence Ahissou and Lucrece Avahouin, steering the “Monitoring, Evaluation, and Impact” session, shed light on effective methods for measuring and maximizing the impact of WHRD protection networks. The insights garnered from this session contribute significantly to improving accountability and effectiveness.

The closing session, led by Mary Pais Da Silva and Asnat Aisso, drew from the day’s discussions, outlining actionable strategies and next steps. This collaborative effort, enriched by the diverse experiences and expertise of participants, is poised to drive positive change and set a precedent for the future of WHRD protection networks in the region.

The outcomes of this consultation are anticipated to be transformative. By prioritizing accountability, gender responsiveness, and global engagement, the event addressed the contemporary challenges faced by WHRDs in an increasingly complex environment. The participants, consisting of key stakeholders, have collectively laid the groundwork for actionable strategies and next steps, setting the tone for the development of resilient, accountable, and gender-responsive WHRD protection networks in West and Central Africa. This marks a significant stride towards fostering an environment where the rights and contributions of Women Human Rights Defenders are not only recognized but actively protected and amplified.