Africa’s prospects, in this 21st century, depend on the ability and willingness of her leaders to fully include women in local, national and international decision-making processes. This is one of the many principles envisaged by the Beijing Platform for Action and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. Ghana is a signatory to most international conventions that seek the promotion and empowerment of women in the political landscape. However, Ghana still lags behind in demonstrating her commitment to representing women as voters, leaders and elected officers at the national and local level.
Affirmative action, in the form of quota systems, is said to have led to an increase in women’s participation in politics in many African countries. Rwanda remains in a class of her own with 56.3% of her Members of Parliament being women; South Africa has 44.5%, Mozambique 39.2%; Uganda; 34.9%, Burkina Faso; 15.3% and Niger 13.3%. Sadly, Ghana has only 8.3%. At the local government level in Ghana the figures are no better. The 2010 Local Government elections managed to get only 10% of women either as elected or appointed Assembly Persons.
Ghana is not only bound by international rights-based frameworks but has a directive from its Local Government Act of 1993 to reserve half of the 30% appointed member positions at the District Assemblies for women. There has been some progress in women’s political participation in Ghana with women such as Justice Georgina Wood appointed as Chief Justice and Samia Nkrumah’s recent victory as leader of the Convention People’s Party (CPP). As well as the CPP’s signatory to the African Union’s Declaration of 2010 - 2020 as the African Women’s Decade to support all measures to end the marginalization of women. Within the National Democratic Congress (NDC) women hold positions on the National Executive Council with one of its members (former first lady Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings) the first president of the 31st December Women's Movement from 1982 to date. She was also the first elected Vice Chairperson of her party in 2009.
Regardless of all positive indicators a number of questions still beg for answers: where are the Ghanaian women, who make up more than 50% of the entire population of Ghana, in politics? How are prominent women in leadership positions using their positions to encourage and ensure gender inclusion in governance? Why is the 50% of the 30% quota system for District Assembly women not really working?
Women’s participation in political processes is either limited or facilitated by social and cultural circumstances, economic situations and the political context or systems. The factors that are commonly identified as barriers to women’s participation include: limited support for women aspirants to carry out campaigns; cultural norms that have little or no regard for women who go into politics; the lack of confidence amongst women; politicization of gender issues.
Some proposed solutions to the above challenges include:
Increasing support for women aspirants. It is inspiring to have renowned women’s rights groups and individuals embark on a course to promote women’s leadership in governance. However, such visions can only materialize through joint collaborative efforts with a focus on grooming more women to hold positions and participate in decision making processes within political parties and at the local government level.
Women aspirants are often supported through gender development funds through the work of non-governmental organisations and training institutions. Support offered could be in the form of capacity building, training, mentoring and linking them with former and incumbent Assembly Persons and the production of campaign materials. On the other hand, young female aspirants who are supported, especially by traditional leaders, at an early age can develop the confidence and skills needed to assume leadership positions within their communities, schools and associations.
Making collective efforts to maximize women’s involvement in policy making. Organising women’s groups to network and form alliances to increase their bargaining power is crucial. In order to ensure effective advocacy for gender sensitive policies, women pressure groups are better placed to change the status of women in deprived areas. For instance, the Savannah Women Empowerment Group Ghana (SWEGG), which is a registered pressure group mainly made up of successful assembly persons and business women across the three northern regions of Ghana, is currently advocating for the reform of the dowry system in Nandom, Upper West Region.
Institutionalising the role of gender officers. Much power within the Ghanaian local government structure is vested in the District Chief Executive (DCEs), therefore there is a need for political will among DCEs to enhance women’s participation. DCEs could effectively advocate for gender sensitive policies by allocating at least half of every budgetary allocation to address women related issues in all regions.
As Ghana heads towards the greatly anticipated December 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections, much of the public’s choice for a new government will not only hinge on free and fair elections but also on the assessment of every candidate’s gender sensitive development strategies for the country. Part of President Kwame Nkrumah’s popularity was because he realised there were no women amongst the 103 Members of Parliament, and appointed 10 women into parliament.
Currently, the immediate future of gender inclusion in Ghana politics looks bleak. It does not look as if there will be any impressive difference with the coming 2012 elections. The New Patriotic Party (NPP) has organized its primaries for 220 constituencies with only 63 women contesting, out of which 23 were successful. Out of the 23, 11 are sitting Members of Parliament (MPs). The NDC has not completed its primaries and we wait to see what will happen with the CPP and PMC. Unless there is a deliberate attempt to reverse this trend, women’s under-representation will continue.
This is the last elections before the final assessment of the MDGs in 2015. As such, Ghana’s effort to contribute towards the MDG’s gender equality goal depends on our ability to engage various stakeholders especially at the grassroots level to effectively implement gender sensitive initiatives through effective collaboration. If Ghana wants to contribute effectively to halving the poverty rate by 2015, she needs to create an enabling environment for potential women aspirants to use already existing natural resources for the development of their communities.