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Women in Governance: Beyond the Equality and Empowerment Rhetoric

Tue, 8 Sep 2015 Source: Lomotey, Deborah

We have for some decades now been drumming and hammering-in on the importance of including women at the decision-making level in every sector of Ghana.

Across the world, our campaign is no different from the million other Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) that are advocating and aggressively pursuing this agenda.

The exclusion of women from all forms of decision-making - from their very homes, to the communities they live in - is a global issue that we have been fighting against for decades.

Women were only granted two of the most fundamental democratic rights at the beginning of the 21st century; the right to vote and the right to stand for elections.

55 years ago in Sri Lanka, Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the first woman to be elected President in the world, yet from that period until now, the global acknowledgement of women’s fundamental rights to vote and stand for election, is yet to see any real progress.

Until a few years ago, two countries in the world did not allow women to vote; Saudi Arabia and the Vatican City. With the oil-rich Muslim state permitting women to vote for the very first time in 2015, the Vatican City now remains the most sexist state in the world in terms of women’s involvement in politics. Although Saudi Arabia was noted for systemic gender discrimination before passing a law in 2011 to permit women to vote, the stance of the Vatican City has not received the same amount of negative press and will thus be unlikely to change its discriminatory practices anytime soon.

Policy-makers, as well as the Ghanaian educated and non-educated public, have constantly been bombarded by CSOs about the need to include women at every level of the decision-making process.

ActionAid has fought for and pushed women into projects that have required them to challenge stakeholders and lawmakers about the marginalisation they face and their lack of adequate access to education, health, sexual and reproductive rights, among many others.

The government and decision-makers have accepted this challenge and have consistently added their voice to the agenda of empowering women, but there are many challenges to overcome to ensure equality of opportunity and gender parity.

In Ghana, out of 275 seats in parliament, women occupy just 30. This inequality in the participation of women at the highest governance level does not only occur in developing countries. In the United States, just 20% out of 535 Congress members are women.

After intensive advocacy campaigns by women’s rights organisations and other CSO’s for several decades, the recent local level elections produced some results – and they are not good.

Out of over 18,885 candidates who contested for positions in the recent District Assembly elections held across the country this week, only 1,102 were women.

At the Unit Committees level, only 12,000 females contested, compared to 31,585 male candidates.

Following the release of figures of the participants in the District Assembly elections, questions have been thrown around, “Are CSOs really as effective as they claim to be in pushing young women to be part of politics and other decision-making avenues?”, “Are women even interested in politics at all?”, after all you can force a horse to go to the river side but you cannot make it drink.

It is safe to say that Ghana’s “support” of women in political participation has been stripped and laid bare for all to see.

But what truly is the underlying cause of the pattern that promotes the unequal representation of women in decision making and governance?

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) attempts to answer this question in what they call, “Masculine Model of Politics”.

According to the IDEA, “Men dominate the political arena” and thus formulate the rules of the political game; defining the standards for evaluation. The result of this dominance is; women either reject politics altogether or reject male-style politics. (Women in Parliament: Beyond Numbers, 2005. Pg. 32)

The United Nations recognises structural barriers that are implemented through discriminatory laws and institutions that limit the options of women to their low participation in politics. The UN also identifies capacity gaps in the predominantly patriarchal systems in the world that makes it less likely for women to have access to education, adequate resources, and the opportunities needed to become effective leaders.

To address some of these imbalances, ActionAid Ghana, has built the leadership capacity of many girls in the Northern Region under the Young Female Parliament (YFP) development model to engage in activism and challenge the disparities between young men and women at the local level decision-making process, while demanding and maintaining equal political power.

As part of our mandate over the past 25 years, ActionAid Ghana has dedicated itself to enlightening women and training them to be activists and participants at the governance and decision-making level by involving them in local community decision-making structures. As a policy, we prioritise women and motivate them to embark on advocacy and campaign programmes. This aims to build their capacity to claim their rights in decision-making and governance processes.

So what next?

The mandate now falls on government and law makers.

In a system that traditionally alienates women, restricting them to roles of mother, care-givers and home-makers, there is only one way to go: the swift passage of the Affirmative Action Bill.

This bill, when passed, will ensure that 30% of government appointees are women. It will also make it compulsory for all sectors within Ghana to employ a percentage of women.

Ms Hilary Gbedemah, a Board member of ActionAid Ghana, believes that the disparity gap between males and females is widened by women’s financial constraints, truncated levels of education, low self-esteem and confidence among others. She insists that the passage of the Affirmative Action Bill into an Act can help to bridge this gap.

ActionAid Ghana is calling out law-makers; PASS AFFIRMATIVE ACTION BILL NOW!

Deborah Lomotey

Communications Officer

ActionAid Ghana

Columnist: Lomotey, Deborah