Cablegate: Third Spain and Africa Women's Conference - Empowerment Of

DE RUEHNM #0534/01 1411513
R 201513Z MAY 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

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1. Summary. The Government of Niger (GON) played host to the 3RD
annual Spain and African Women's Conference, held May 12-13, 2008,
in Niamey. GON President Mamadou Tandja (the only male speaker),
Government of Spain (GOS) Vice President (VP) Maria Teresa Fernandez
de la Vega and GON Foreign Minister Aichatou Mindaoudou, co-hosts
for the event, delivered opening remarks together with Liberia
President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and PanAfrican Congress President
Gertrude Mongella. An estimated 450 conferencees, including
Swaziland Vice Prime Minister Constante Simelane, several other
African nations' cabinet ministers, judges, lawyers, writers and
women's activists participated in the event that received wide media
coverage. Soprano Barbara Hendricks, a goodwill ambassador for the
United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), invited as a
special guest, sang in a cappella a moving chorus of the Negro
spiritual "Freedom Land" at the closing ceremony. Women from several
United Nations organizations (e.g., UNIFEM, UNDP, UNESCO, UNHCR),
the International Organization of Migration and a number of
non-governmental organizations from across the African continent
served as roundtable panelists. Women heads of diplomatic missions
(USA, Germany and Spain) and international organizations (World
Bank, UNDP and FAO) accredited to Niger were granted observer status
for the conference. The Niamey conference followed prior women's
conferences in Maputo (2006) and Madrid (2007). Windhoek, Namibia
is scheduled to host the 2009 conference and Valencia, Spain is
scheduled to host the event in 2010, concurrent with its assumption
of the European Union (EU) Presidency.

GOS VP Fernandez de la Vega took advantage of the Niamey visit to
officially open Spain's Embassy in Niger and provide a bilateral
assistance package, and announce a 90 million US Dollar assistance
package to fight hunger and address climate change in five African
countries, including Niger. End Summary.

Keynote Speakers

2. GON President Mamadou Tandja opened the 3RD Spain and African
Women's Conference on May 12 under the theme, "Empowerment of Women
for a Better World." He noted that the conference coincided with
the 17TH anniversary of Niger's historical date of May 13, 1991,
when Nigerien women marched on the capital of Niamey to demand full
representation within the national conference.

3. Liberian President Johnson-Sirleaf's remarks described some of
the daunting challenges she faces as head of state after many years
of civil war. She reported steady progress is being made in her
country; that she remains energized by the ambitions of many young
girls who, when asked about their life goals, now respond that they
have set their sights on becoming the President of Liberia.

4. Spanish First Vice President Fernandez de la Vega noted that
women make up more than 50 percent of the Spanish Parliament, a
significant advancement for the women of Spain. She also credited
Spanish President Rodriguez Zapatero for advancing the cause of
women with his selection of women to fill senior cabinet positions,
including her own. She underscored that the rise of prices for
basic staples will severely hit developing nations and that women
will likely suffer the most since men and children are usually the
first fed in families.

Round Tables

5. Three round tables conducted over the two-day period featured the
themes: "Peace and Governability", "Social Rights and Citizenship",
and "Women's Empowerment and Efficiency for Development."

6. Panelists on the Peace and Governability round table were
Minister of Equality Bibiana Aido (Spain), Women's Network of Rio
Mano for Peace representative Saran Daraba Kaba (Guinea-Conakry),
public prosecuter Amina Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso) and jurist Gazobi
Rahamou (Niger). The panelists noted there must be peace to
alleviate poverty, that bad governance leads to conflict, which
ultimately hits women and their children the hardest. Minister Aido
stated that Spain may introduce a resolution at the U.N. General
Assembly to promote a culture of peace. The panelists called for
more solidarity of women, regardless of class, stressing the need to
put instruments of law into local languages to increase rural
women's knowledge of and accessibility to the law. They added that

NIAMEY 00000534 002.2 OF 003

women perform most of the agricultural work, yet men generally reap
most of the profit. They stressed that something must be done to
ensure that women have equal access to nutrition. Jurist Rahamou,
stating that Africans are victims of the totalitarian states
inherited under colonization, must now manage several sources of
conflict: natural resources (profit sharing), land usage (nomadic
herders vs. sedentary farmers), arms, religious intolerance, social
society (trade unions) and institutions (political parties). The
panel emphasized that the United Nations was envisioned to deal with
conflicts between states, such as border issues, but now with most
African countries accepting the African Union's recognition of the
borders established under colonization, most of the current
conflicts in Africa occurs within states. Panelists cited as
examples of women's progress on the continent the successful
lobbying by the Liberian Bar Association (with the aid of UNIFEM) a
rape law in Liberia, women occupying 49 percent of the
parliamentarian seats and 45 percent of the judicial bench in
Rwanda, the election of 14 women parliamentarians in 2004 vs. only 1
woman parliamentarian in the 1999 election in Niger.

7. The Social Rights and Citizenship panel featured jurist and
former Supreme Court President Salifou Fati Bazeye (Niger), Minister
of Women's Affairs and Social Action Virgilia Matabele (Mozambique),
Executive Director for the Women's Right Advancement Protection
Alternative (WRAPA) Hajiya Saudatu Mahdi Shehu (Nigeria) and
Secretary of State for International Cooperation Leire Pajin
(Spain). This panel noted that in many African countries, customary
law prevails over civil law in areas such as inheritance and rights
to land ownership. Citing Niger as an example, Magistrate Bazeye
remarked that "Islamized custom and traditional practices" favor
men, in areas such as consent to marriage, unilateral dissolution of
marriage, child custody and land rights. She said while Niger
signed a convention in 1964 related to marriage consent, there
remain many "traditionalists" who shun the law to follow customary
practices. WRAPA Executive Director Shehu added that in neighboring
Nigeria sharia law results in unfair, gender-based judgment. She
stated that in many African countries women are treated as second
class citizens, citing citizenship law as one of the inequities.
She remarked that in Nigeria women cannot to convey citizenship on a
foreign spouse, yet men can do so. She also noted that requirements
for women seeking political office are more stringent in some
Nigerian states, such as a requirement that a woman be born in the
same jurisdiction as her spouse to be eligible to run for office.
She pointed out that single women are denied the right to rent
housing in some Nigerian states. GOS Secretary of International
Cooperation Pagin spoke of political, social and civil rights as the
three legs of citizenship. She called for greater enforcement of
laws to secure women's rights, especially for the many women in
exile who remain invisible to society. She emphasized the need for
better education and health care for women and girls; stressed that
education in sciences and other disciplines are needed both to
prepare women for work other than low paying handicrafts work and to
ensure women are qualified for opportunities that may materialize,
including public office. Attendees spoke of women's need for
greater access to lines of credit and education, and highlighted the
lack of gender equality in many national constitutions.

8. The Empowerment of Women and Effectiveness for Development
panelists were President of the International Foundation of Women's
Issues Nuria Vinas (Spain), UNIFEM economic expert Yassine Fall
(Senegal) and Minister of Women's Promotion and Child Protection
Barry Bibatu Niandou (Niger). During this panel the attendees'
mantra was, "Fewer Declarations, More Implementation." Many
participants complained about the uselessness of creating women's
ministries in governments without the provision of adequate
resources to promote social development. During the debate, OIM
representative Ndiaye noted that studies have shown that corruption
diminishes with women in charge. She suggested that the GOS needs
to do more to ensure that persons picked up after being trafficked
to Spain receive better treatment. There was some frustration
expressed by some African women that projects and ideas promoted by
Africans are too often rejected. They complained about EU subsidies
that harm poorer countries and the need for crop diversificationa
and greater investment in agriculture. After a reiteration of a
call for more educational opportunities for women to ensure that
vital human resources are not wasted and are better prepared to
assume decisionmaking positions, one woman suggested that there is a
need for a U.N. Women's Development Index to complement the U.N.
Human Development Index.

9. The two-day conference closed with a declaration pledging further
collaboration between the women of Africa and Spain as follows:

-- establishment of a one million US dollar endowment to support
international campaigns to fight violence against women and

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establish a dialogue between Spanish and African women through a
web-based network;

-- in conjunction with the United Nations through UNIFEM, creation
of a multi-donor fund to promote gender equity in political life;

-- establishing at the Fourth Conference of "Women for a Better
World" an annual forum of Africa and Spain parliamentarians to
promote new laws aimed at abolishing abusive practices that infringe
upon the rights of women;

-- signing before the end of 2008 an agreement with the African
Development Bank to make available to women five million US dollars
to finance projects, business initiative and self-employment of
African women;

-- organizing before the next women's meeting an international forum
on sexual and reproductive health with the participation of UNFPA,
UNIFEM and the governments and womens' organizations of Spain and

-- launching during the course of 2009, the GOS-financed Mali
training center, to establish training for African governments and
African civil society and, studying the feasibility of opening
similar centers in other African countries;

-- signing agreements between universities and scientific and
cultural institutions to facilitate programs and promote cooperation
in these domains, including opening "Aulas Cervantes" to teach
Spanish at several African universities, starting with Senegal
before the next women's conference and progressing to other

-- giving priority to African women at the International Fair of
Contemporary Art of Spain (ARCO 2009) and, in order to encourage the
African cultural industry, organizing an international meeting of
African women creators at the Casa Africa;

-- organizing through a network of women, as well as African and
Spanish institutions, training courses for managers/executives, in
order to reinforce democracy in Africa, contribute to better
governance, and improve the social, political and economic
leadership of governments and African civil society;

-- launching in the coming months a Plan of Action on food security
and climate change along the lines proposed at a Forum of Reflection
on the subject that occurred in Niamey on May 11, 2008, to give
special attention to projects advocated by women.

10. Participants were reminded that the next conference is slated
to take place in Windhoek (2009) and the following one in Valencia

New Embassy in Niamey and Assistance Package

11. GOS VP Fernandez de la Vega took advantage of the visit to
officiate the ribbon cutting for the new Embassy of Spain, though a
GOS presence was establish in Niamey a year ago. At that ceremony
the GOS VP announced a 90 million US dollar assistance package to
help five African nations (Burkina Faso, Benin, Guinea-Bissau,
Sierra Leone and Niger) fight hunger and address climate change.
The plan is to help governments with water management projects,
fighting desertification, renewable energy projects and agriculture.
Niger also signed a bilateral cooperation agreement to alleviate
poverty (10 million euros or approximately 18 million USD),
reinforce border security (300 thousand euros or approximately 500
thousand USD) and build up Niger's food reserves (1.3 million euros
or approximately 2 million USD). (Exchange rate: 1 EURO = .654 USD)


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