The third edition of the annual Young African Women Congress (YAWC) held at the University of Ghana, in Accra has come to a successful end. The congress which lasted a 5-day span from Sunday 22nd to Thursday 26th July, 2018 witnessed participation from seven countries on the African continent with varied boardroom and outdoor activities. It was marked by insightful discussions and exciting engagements including keynote address, panel discussions, group brainstorming sessions, structured conversations, notes of personal perspectives and a breath-taking tour under the theme, “Economic Empowerment of Women: A Prerequisite for Continental Development”. It also featured well renowned speakers from various backgrounds including academia, business, politics etc. The aim of the congress was to empower African women by stimulating fruitful discussions and promoting African culture and tourism to create an enabling environment for African women to thrive in their endeavours.

The first day of the congress, also known as the arrival/orientation day saw the safe arrival and registration of all delegates for the Young African Women Congress (YAWC) 2018. A night of documentaries of African women and their strides prepared the minds of delegates for interactions ahead for the congress.

The Young African Women Congress (YAWC) 2018 was however officially opened on Monday 23rd July 2018 with a ceremony at the Faculty of Law auditorium at the University of Ghana, Legon where all conference activities took place. Daniel Osei Tuffuor, Executive Director of ExLA Group gave the welcome address for the commencement of the programme that was moderated by Lily Mohammed of Accra based Metropolitan Television. He outlined the vision for YAWC and the journey made so far in achieving the vision while emphasising the need for delegates of the congress to move out of their comfort zones to impact the world with the knowledge they acquire from the congress.
This was followed by short remarks by the Lead Promoter for YAWC 2018, Carol Annang, Managing Director for New Times Corporation. She welcomed everyone while enumerating the progress made since the start of the congress in 2016. She acknowledged the efforts of individuals and organisations towards ensuring that the congress is successful while admonishing the delegates to take keen interest in whatever was going to be discussed throughout the congress so that they can impact their societies.

Graced by a number of dignitaries, the ceremony received solidarity messages from members of the diplomatic corps as well as top officials of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Ghana and the Gender Ministry of Ghana and was crowned with a thought-provoking keynote by the Guest Speaker for the event, Dr. Josephine Darwuni, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Howard University, USA. Members of the diplomatic corps included His Excellency Sir Mouhamed de Miliano, Benin Ambassador to Ghana; H.E Augusto da Silva Cunha, Angolan Ambassador to Ghana; Her Excellency Claudia Turbay Quintero, Colombian Ambassador to Ghana; Claire Maizonnier, Third Secretary of the Australian High Commission in Ghana; H.E Olufemi Abikoye, Nigerian High Commissioner in Ghana; Ms. Abigail Foaty, Representative of British High Commission in Ghana.

Prior to that, the leaders of delegation for each of the seven African countries that participated in the congress including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Ghana all delivered quick solidarity messages to demonstrate their commitment to the YAWC objectives and women empowerment agenda in their respective countries.

Giving her remarks, the Guest of Honour, Hon. Akosua Frema Osei Opare, Chief of Staff of the Republic of Ghana was full of praise for ExLA Group, organisers of YAWC 2018 for the initiative and commended delegates for taking advantage of such initiative while welcoming foreign delegates to Ghana on behalf of the President of Ghana. She revealed government’s commitment to women empowerment, citing important initiatives taken by H.E. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and his government to empower women and girls including the famous free SHS policy that ensures access to at least Senior High School education for every girl.

The Guest Speaker delivering the keynote, made allusion to a number of assertions for which the African woman is ready to take over the mantle of leadership and development in Africa. She generated four hashtags which marked the core of her presentation: #IBelieve #ChangeMaker #TheAfricaWeWant #YoungWomenLead. She however suggested the use of the word ‘enhancement’ in place of ‘empowerment’ for women. According to her, women are already empowered and endowed and therefore only need to enhance what they already have.
The afternoon after the opening ceremony was lit with a presentation by Rev. A. Buabema Ofori-Boateng, Country Manager for ILF Consulting Engineers Ghana and Founder and Managing Director of Sabine Solutions Limited, on “Women in Non-Traditional Occupations and Changing Mind-sets”, a presentation which sought to enlighten women and inspire them to take up unfamiliar roles and survive in spite of the stereotypes and negative comments which accompany them. This was immediately followed by a panel discussion on “Women in Private Sector Leadership”. This session opened up discussions on the major challenges in the Private Sector for which many women struggle to excel. Moderated by Selikem Acolatse-Apaloo of Ghana Television, the panellists, Agnes Emefa Essah, Former Marketing Director of Vodafone Ghana; Stella Agyenim Boateng, Group Human Resource Director for GLICO and Barbara Agyeman, Director and Principal for Jenisi Associates, outlined ways through which women could confront the issues and make strides in their chosen fields of endeavour in private sector leadership. There was a sharp presentation on the topic “Building a Career and Family is Possible” by Mabel O.J. Darko, a Personal Development and Management Consultant, in the late hours of the afternoon.

Delegates then dispersed into their various groups to deliberate on specific gender related issues ranging from Entrepreneurship to Public/Private Sector Leadership, Sexual Harassment, Teenage Pregnancy, Politics and Social Inclusion to complete the afternoon session of Day 2 of YAWC 2018.

To enhance the marketing prowess of delegates for their endeavours, they were taken through an effective presentation on “Branding and Marketing for Start-ups” by Agnes Emefa Essah, a marketing consultant and Former Marketing Director for Vodafone Ghana during the evening session. Delegates dispersed right after the presentation into their groups once again to continue with their discussions. That was what completed the second day of the congress that was packed with very essential run of events.
The third day of the congress was full of intellectual discourse and the true demonstration of African culture and tradition. Starting off with a presentation on the topic, “Lifting Women out of Poverty through the Formalisation of the Informal Economy”, H.E. Rev. Dr. Princess Asie Ocansey, CEO and Founder of SOSJobs4Women, led delegates through a series of structures and establishments that keep women impoverished in African economies. She mentioned the various ways through which women could enhance the survival and sustainability of their businesses even in the informal sector in order to lift the living standards of their families and the continent as whole.
This was immediately followed by another group brainstorming session which focused on putting theories and realities into definitive perspectives. The discussions were led by leaders chosen within the various groups.

The afternoon was marked by two heated panel discussions on “Sexual Harassment in the World of Work” and “Women as Agents of Economic Development through Governance/Politics”. The former with Prof. Akosua Darkwa, associate Professor of Sociology and Kungaba Fongoh, a HeForShe Campaign Coordinator for Cameroon as discussants and moderated by Lawyer Rebecca Delong, critically assessed the effects of a canker that has truncated the career aspirations of many women throughout the world and informing delegates of the various channels to clamp it down. The later looked into a very critical aspect of development where women in politics/governance could use their presence to foster the economic empowerment of women through policy formulations and implementations. The discussions were led by Dr. Josephine Dawuni and H.E. Claudia Turbay Quintero moderated by Daniel Osei Tuffuor, Executive Director of ExLA Group.

The evening, being a drift from the usual indoor activities was full of colour, glitz, glamour and excitement as all delegates adorned traditional and/or national wears to represent their cultures and/or nations respectively. In a sequence of country by country presentation, delegates projected their cultures by explaining into details the reason behind their clothing, food, dance etc. It was a night full of excitement through music and dance.

The following day marked another exciting period away from boardroom matters. Delegates were taken on a full day tour to Kumasi in the Ashanti Region of Ghana where they experienced the rich culture of the Kingdom of Ashanti. Delegates were taken on a tour through the Manhyia Palace Museum, where they learnt about the history and culture of the Ashanti Kingdom. Delegates used the opportunity to grab and buy some rare historical objects of great value. They moved further to see the largest natural lake in West Africa, Lake Bosomtwe where they learnt about the history of the formation of the lake, the inhabitants and the usefulness of the lake for the people of Ashanti and Ghana as a whole.

The fifth day which is the climax of all activities and events at the congress commenced with a fascinating panel discussion on “Sexual Harassment in Schools” which was a special ExLA Group-Coalition Against Sexual Abuse (CASA) collaborative segment. Esther A. Armah, a renowned international media practitioner and her team delved into the intricacies of sexual harassment in schools while some delegates who have been victims of the act took turns to share their stories.

To climax the whole boardroom activities and concept for the 2018 edition of YAWC, the various groups took turns to make presentations on the conclusiveness of their discussions throughout the congress. This marks a very important aspect of the congress as it forms the basis for developing a whitepaper for the entire congress. Each group received questions and comments from other delegates which they addressed accordingly.

However, in between the presentations, the Liberian delegates took a glorious opportunity presented to them by ExLA Group, the organisers of YAWC to celebrate their independence which coincidentally fell on the same day, on stage in a very emotional way. They sang their national anthem and made a short presentation on what the independence meant for them and the future.
The congress was drawn to a close with an uplifting speech by Carol Annang, Lead Promoter for YAWC 2018, encouraging delegates to go back to their homes, communities and countries to make impact and cause the change that Africa so desire.
Participants subsequently received their certificates of participation to officially close the congress amidst various interactions and networking.