The need for increased equitable female political participation in Ghana is a genuine concern to all key stakeholders dedicated to women’s rights promotion. ABANTU for Development with support from African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) have therefore embarked on a nationwide campaign to strengthen advocacy for the passage of the Affirmative Action Bill into Law in Ghana.
Ghana, like many democracies, faces the challenge of identifying and implementing strategies for leveling the equal representation of women and men in public decision-making. Barriers such as bias in institutional structures, socio-cultural attitudes and practices have worked against women’s quest for equal participation in politics and decision-making. Attempts to support women’s agency to address the inequalities have been largely ignored by policy makers who must act to support women’s rights. Efforts in Ghana, including civic education, have not significantly changed the situation.
This is in spite of the fact that Ghana has signed on to various protocols and conventions to ensure women’s equal participation in decision making spaces. Ghana is signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which provides that, Parties must take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country. In particular, women are to be promoted on equal terms with men, have the right to participate in the formulation of government policy and the implementation thereof and to hold public office and perform all public functions at all levels of government. The Beijing Declaration also calls on member states to ensure equal participation of women and men in decision-making. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also state that gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.
The 1992 Constitution of Ghana, in Article 35(6) states that, “the State shall take appropriate measures to achieve reasonable gender balance in the recruitment and appointment to public offices.” Article 17 adds that no citizen shall be discriminated against on the basis of gender, race or religion. These provisions therefore mandate Ghana to ensure women’s active participation in governance and decision making spaces.
The situation on the ground does not provide a favourable picture on women’s representation in the decisions of the state. Ghana ranks 141st in the world in terms of women’s representation in Parliament, with only thirty-eight (38) women out of the two hundred and seventy-five (275) Members of Parliament, representing a woeful 13.8%. At the Local Governance Level, the situation is no different as women have less than 7% representation. In the area of ministerial appointments, even though progress has been made in appointing women into high level positions, their representation is still inadequate as it stands at 19.35%.
It is obvious that the minimum threshold of 30%, mandated by the United Nations (UN) has not been realized in Ghana. It is therefore critical for all stakeholders to act decisively on the passage of an Affirmative Action Law in Ghana. An Affirmative Action Law presents itself as the guaranteed way for increasing women’s participation in governance, public and private spaces.
As it stands now, The Affirmative Action Bill seeks a 50/50 percent representation and participation of both women and men in governance, public positions of power and all decision-making spaces of the country. It also requires all sectors to reserve a percentage of their employment for women. Political parties are also to be encouraged to adopt voluntary party quotas to promote women’s participation in party politics. The Bill mandates all public institutions to adopt gender policies, including recruitment policies, aimed at achieving a balanced structuring of those institutions in terms of gender. The Bill proposes that anyone who insults a woman just because she is vying for public office should be liable for prosecution. Clause 38 of the draft bill provides that, a person who victimises, obstructs or exerts undue influence and submits a female politician to verbal attack, among others, commits an offence.
The passage of the Affirmative Action Bill is critical to women’s participation and representation because, it also provides for sanctions for non-compliance and its provisions transcend to the private sector as well. It is a temporary measure that seeks to correct injustices and the exclusion of women over the years. The Law has proven to be most effective as it has worked in various countries and has enhanced the development of those countries as a result of women’s inclusion and participation.
Rwanda and South Africa are currently the leading democracies in Africa in terms of women’s political empowerment. Both countries have used laws and political innovations to make tremendous gains in empowering women politically. Currently, Rwanda ranks first (1st) in the world in terms of women’s representation in Parliament with an astounding 56.3 percent in the lower house and 34.6 percent in the upper house. The Rwandese Government turned its political commitment into concrete, practical action, which has transformed the political landscape for women in that country. With the active involvement of women and civic groups, the appropriate political and institutional mechanisms have been put in place to sustain the representation of women in the political space of Rwanda.
South Africa recently gained a 50/50 representation of women and men in its Cabinet by a Presidential Directive. The Constitution of South Africa spells out universal suffrage, equality and non-sexism among the fundamental values upon which the country was founded. Even though the Constitution does not explicitly provide quotas to increase women’s political participation, steps have been taken both by the legislature and political parties to institutionalize women’s equitable political participation.
For democracy to take root, the issue of women’s equitable participation needs to be addressed pragmatically. Countries like Rwanda, Ethiopia, Senegal, Guinea and South Africa have used appropriate legal frameworks and other innovative approaches to increase women’s participation that have imparted valuable and applicable lessons. An Affirmative Action Law is Ghana’s only way of attaining gender equality with respect to women’s participation in decision making. This is because it provides legally mandated systems, structures and policies to ensure women’s equal participation in all decision making spaces.