Gender is not synonymous to women, but refers to both women and men. It also refers to the unique roles and responsibilities of both gender groups as defined by society. These social roles and responsibilities influence profoundly the relationship between women and men in the society and, in most instances, determine the resources available and accessible to women and men.
The society, in shaping the expectations men and women are to fulfill, sometimes creates an unleveled playing field for men and women. An overview of Gender in West Africa shows a disparity in the socio-economic status of women as opposed to men. Women, and their needs, are observed to be less represented in decision-making; they work more with less to show for it, and generally do not enjoy the same quality of life as men. The statistics is that there are more literate adult men (89.4%) than women (78.8 %), unemployment rate is higher with women (27.2 %) and lesser with men (15.5%), and unsurprisingly female headed households are more likely to be poor (56.3%) compared to male headed households (43.7%) (ECOWAS Gender Strategy, 2010-2020)
Clearly, there is a huge gender gap in the region. Addressing this issue is necessary in building a socially inclusive and sustainable economy, and gender mainstreaming is the means to achieving this end.
Gender mainstreaming is an approach, or strategy, in policy formulation, legislative drafting, project or programme design and development that has incorporated to its core, the varying attributes and needs of men and women with the objective to ensure that the benefits or impacts of the intervention are not disproportionately felt between the gender groups. The watchword here is equality.
The ECOWAS community is committed to promoting gender equality. The region adopted a Gender Strategy (2010- 2020) which will enable the ECOWAS region move towards a participatory approach involving men and women as equal stakeholders in its developmental agenda and equal beneficiaries in the outcomes of the region’s developmental efforts