First Ladies Move to Eliminate Obstetric Fistula and Protect Child Rights in West Africa

Original report by ECOWAS

Niamey, 5 October 2017. First Ladies of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have affirmed their resolve to eliminate obstetric fistula, female genital mutilation, as well as gender-, female- and youth-based violence.

The commitment was made at the end of their forum held in Niamey, Niger on 5 October 2017.

In order to eliminate obstetric fistula in West Africa, they decided to support the installation of equipment for fistula treatment, as well as allocate adequate financial resources to create awareness and support the economic and social reintegration of fistula survivors into their local community.

They therefore urged ECOWAS Member States to define harmonised indicators on obstetric fistula in their national health information systems.

Group Photo at the end of the forum of the 1st ladies of the ECOWA

“Obstetric Fistula is an issue of great concern which requires our joint efforts and continued action in the priority sectors” stated the Togolese Head of State and Chairman of ECOWAS Authority, Faure Gnassingbe, in the presence of his Nigerien counterpart and host, Mahamadou Issoufou.

He emphasised the urgent need to address the various issues raised in Niamey which border on human dignity.

On his part, the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Marcel de Souza, pointed out that the Community still has one of the highest number of cases of women living with obstetric fistula, about 100,000 cases a year.

He therefore appealed to the first ladies as well the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government, to ensure obstetric fistula is eliminated and child rights are protected, particularly in the light of child-witch phenomenon, which, he said, affects several West African countries.

Furthermore, in appreciation of her various contributions to the fight against obstetric fistula in West Africa, the first ladies conferred the title of “Good mother of West Africa” on Nam Hee Kim, a Korean activist.

Regarding child protection, the ECOWAS first ladies agreed to read the Declaration proposed by the ministerial meeting on child protection at their next forum scheduled for 14 to 18 October 2017 in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.

They commended the adoption by the ECOWAS Ministers, of the regional organisation’s Strategic framework for reinforcing child protection systems, thus enabling it to address and prevent violence, abuse and exploitation on the one hand and support implementation, on the other hand.

Dr. Fatimata Dia Sow receiving her honorary distinction from the hands of the First Lady of Niger, Dr. Malika Issoufou

Concerning gender-based violence, particularly female genital mutilation, the Niamey meeting decided to work towards the elimination of all harmful gender-based practices, such as child marriage, early or forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

ECOWAS Member States were also urged to take concrete and effective measures by 2020, to eliminate female genital mutilation through prevention, punishment and compensation for damages. In that respect, a Declaration was read by the first lady of Burkina Faso, Mrs Sika Kaboré.

Apart from adopting these recommendations, other measures were taken by the Forum including commendation of efforts by ECOWAS Heads of State and Government for the promotion of women and girls’ rights in West Africa.

They also urged West African leaders to allocate more resources to the implementation of action plans on child protection, elimination of female genital mutilation and obstetric fistula.

Also, in recognition of her achievements as head of her department, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender, Dr Fatimata Dia Sow, received an award of excellence from the first ladies in the Nigerien capital.


A view of the participants at the opening ceremony of the Niamey forum