On May 25, 2021, the website of Ghana’s Parliament published the following: “The Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon Alban S. K. Bagbin has today opened the Second Meeting of the First Session of the Eighth Parliament with a firm commitment to see to the passage of the Affirmative Action Bill into law.” Fast-forward to 2023, the first item under Bills for Presentation on the published Draft Agenda for the First Meeting of Parliament commencing 25th January 2022, was the Affirmative Action Bill. Yet, with 2022 ended and Parliament having gone on recess, the Affirmative Action Bill, we are told, “has not come before parliament. It’s not been laid yet.” Another year has gone by, and the Affirmative Action Bill will not be passed into law.
Passing new legislation, amending, or repealing existing legislation is always a function of the vision of political leadership, socio-political activism, and/or political and economic self-interest of the ruling elite. If it takes years or decades for a piece of legislation or legislative reforms to materialise, you will often find that there is either lack of political will by the ruling elite to pass that legislation or there isn’t enough socio-political and economic pressure brought to bear on the political elite to pass such legislation or embark on such legislative reforms. For example, the Right to Information Act, 2019 (Act 989) took over 17 years to finally get passed, and only after sustained pressure and activism by the Right to Information Coalition and other civil society organisations.
A government’s vision and priority programmes for each year are given expression in their legislative priorities either through the government’s budget and Appropriations Act and/or the Bills sent to Parliament. Parliament’s priorities are given expression in what business the leadership of Parliament schedules on its Agenda for the various parliamentary meetings of the year. Never mind public statements of support from the Speaker or any government officials, if a particular Bill is not laid in Parliament, and does not make it on the business of Parliament, it is not one of their priorities. Even when the bill finally makes it on Parliament’s Agenda for a particular meeting, it takes further sustained pressure to ensure it would finally get passed. Parliament is able to pass a bill under a Certificate of Urgency, when both the Executive and Parliament press the Urgency button. So, we cannot and must not accept any excuses to explain away why Government and Parliament could not work together to pass the Affirmative Action Bill all these years, and especially in 2021 and 2022 when the Speaker gave “a firm commitment to see to the passage of the Affirmative Action Bill into law”, and even had it on the Draft Agenda of Parliament for 2022.
Actions speak louder than words, Mr. Speaker
The Speaker of Parliament effectively makes a living out of ‘speaking’. This is not an attack on the current Speaker of Parliament. If anything, he has done more than others to push for the passage of the Affirmative Action Bill. That said, nothing said or promised can underlie the relevance of the Affirmative Action Bill other than its passage into law. Nevertheless, it is worth reminding ourselves why it is imperative that the bill is passed into law, from the perspectives of the 1992 Constitution, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the NDC, the NPP, as well as the Memo attached to the Affirmative Action (Gender Equality) Bill, 2020.
- 1992 Constitution
Article 35(6)(b) provides as follows:
“Towards the achievement of the objectives stated in clause (5) of this article, the State shall take appropriate measures to—achieve reasonable regional and gender balance in recruitment and appointment to public offices.” The State “shall” take appropriate measures to achieve gender balance in recruitment and appointment to public offices. That is our constitutional imperative. We don’t have a choice. We must do it. The 1992 Constitution is over 30 years old. This provision is 30 years old. That is one whole generation. How much longer does our political elite need to actualize our collective will as a people, expressed in this provision of the Constitution? We have long implemented Article 71 for the financial benefit of the political elite. Why should it take more than 30 years for them to implement a provision of the same Constitution that seeks to empower all sections of society to accelerate the development of the country for the benefit of all of us?
- Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5
“His Excellency, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, President of the Republic, was appointed in 2017 by the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as Co-Chair of the Eminent Group of Advocates for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The group of Advocates was established by Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in January 2016 to raise global awareness of the SDGs and the need for accelerated action. The advocates consist of a group of seventeen (17) inspiring and influential persons drawn from diverse areas of life, to support the Secretary-General in his efforts to generate momentum and commitment to achieve the SDGs by 2030. His Excellency co-chairs the group of Advocates with the Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.” (Source: https://sdgsadvisoryunit.org/the-co-chair/) .
Goal 5 of the 17 SDGs is titled: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. Goal 5.5 specifically provides that countries must, “Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.” This UN-SDG is firmly in accord with the key goals in Ghana’s Affirmative Action Bill. So, it begs the question, why would a country led by a President who is a Co-Chair of the Eminent Group of Advocates for the Sustainable Development Goals not do everything to pass an Affirmative Action Bill that seeks to achieve one of the goals of the SDGs?
According to the UN, “despite women’s leadership in responding to COVID-19, they still trail men in securing the decision-making positions they deserve. Commitment and bold action are needed to accelerate progress, including through the promotion of laws, policies, budgets and institutions that advance gender equality.” Will Ghana show the commitment and take the bold action needed to “accelerate progress, including through the promotion of laws (i.e., an Affirmative Action Law, emphasis ours), policies, budgets and institutions that advance gender equality”?
We must not look at SDG 5.5 in isolation. Any critical and objective analysis would show that achieving SDG 5.5 (i.e., Ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life) would provide a catalyst for achieving many, if not all, of the 17 UN-SDGs!
- Perspectives of the National Democratic Congress (NDC)
The 2012 Manifesto of the NDC provided as follows:
“Work with the Legislature to prioritise the passage of the Freedom of Information Act, Broadcasting Act and the Affirmative Action Act.” Well, needless to say, the NDC were elected to office for four years, but the Affirmative Action Bill was not passed into law during their term in office!
- Perspectives of the New Patriotic Party (NPP)
The 2016 Manifesto of the NPP provided as follows: “appointment of women to at least 30% of available public office positions.” We know that that target was not achieved, and the government got criticised for failing to achieve what was promised in its election manifesto. The party was however emphatic in its 2020 Manifesto about affirmative action:
“We will also, in line with our social development philosophy, ensure the enactment and operationalisation of the Ageing Bill, as well as the Affirmative Action Bill.” As of the date of writing this article, 7th December 2022, we are told that the Affirmative Action (Gender Equality) Bill, 2020 “has not come before parliament. It’s not been laid yet.”
- Memo to the Affirmative Action (Gender Equality) Bill, 2020
In synthesising positions of the Constitution, the UN-SDGs, the NDC and the NPP with regards to the relevance of affirmative action, the Memo attached to the Affirmative Action (Gender Equality) Bill, 2020 highlights the following key issues:
- “The purpose of the Bill is to effectively redress social, cultural, economic and political gender imbalance in the country, based on the historical discrimination against women emanating from persistent patriarchal socio-cultural systems and norms in spite of de jure equality of men and women. The resulting unequal participation in both development and outcomes reinforce the unequal status of men and women, and undermines sustainable development of the country.”
- “The Bill also seeks to promote a progressive increase in the active participation of women in public life from a minimum of thirty percent to fifty percent by the year 2030 per the Sustainable Development Goals target by providing for a more equitable system of representation in electoral politics and governance that is in accordance with the laws of the Republic.”
Time is of the essence
The Affirmative Action Bill has since 2011 seen various versions but none has yet been passed by Parliament. The Affirmative Action (Gender Equality) Bill, 2020 was expected to be laid in Parliament in 2022 and even made it to the 2022 Draft Agenda of Parliament, but alas, it was not even laid. We cannot allow the Executive and Parliament to snail-pace themselves into passing the Affirmative Action Bill into law. We cannot wait for another 17 years like the RTI Bill suffered. The 17 UN-SDGs have to be implemented by 2030, a mere 7 years from now. In 2023, Ghana will hold District Assembly elections. If the Bill is passed, it will for instance empower the NCCE and the NMC to demand resources from the government and the media to create a level playing field for all female candidates in the 2023 district assembly elections, to give the candidates’ media visibility, finance, and access to platforms to reach out to voters. This is essential in getting more women interested in contesting in the 2023 elections. It is important to note that, in the 2019 district assembly elections, out of a total of 18,510 contestants, there were only 909 female contestants (a mere 4.9%), as against 17,601 male contestants (95.1%). For a country that is seeking to achieve 30% to 50% participation of women in public life by 2030, there remains a huge task ahead of the 2023 district assembly elections without passing the Affirmative Action Bill into law.
The district assembly elections will be followed by the 2024 Presidential and Parliamentary elections. Passing the Affirmative Action Bill before the 2024 elections will empower the Electoral Commission and other stakeholders to hold political parties to account for the provisions in Clause 24 and the Sixth Schedule to the Bill. Once again, it is important to note that following the 2020 elections, there are only 40 female Members of Parliament in the 275-member Eight Parliament, constituting a mere 14.5%. And again, let us remember that this is a country that is seeking to achieve 30% to 50% participation of women in public life by 2030!
We are convinced that passing the Affirmative Action Bill before those elections will afford all stakeholders an opportunity to respond to the provisions of the new law and to work to achieve the objectives and targets therein, thereby taking giant strides towards achieving Goal 5 of the UN-SDGs by 2030.
There is a lot of urgent work to do by all stakeholders. Key lessons must be learned from the efforts that eventually led to the passing of the Right to Information Bill into law. We propose the following measures, among others, to pressure the Government and Parliament, and to galvanise support for the passing of the Affirmative Action Bill before the 2023 District Assembly elections and the 2024 Presidential and Parliamentary elections.
- Occupy Presidency and Parliament. The Affirmative Action Bill Coalition should consider organising an Occupy Presidency and Parliament demonstration that is designed to push the Executive to lay the Affirmative Action Bill in Parliament in the New Year, and to urge the leadership of Parliament and the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee to take up and work on the Bill during the First Meeting of Parliament in 2023. There is an urgent need for strong and targeted action aimed at eliciting a direct positive response from both the executive and the legislature.
- Sustained Advocacy and Activism. The Coalition needs to mobilise Ghanaians and financial resources to sustain its advocacy for the passage of the bill. Sadly, the challenge of the present economic situation means that many Ghanaians are rather more concerned about meeting their immediate daily needs than strategic long-term development goals. There is therefore the need for the Coalition to work harder to sustain its advocacy and activism to maintain pressure on Parliament and other stakeholders to get the bill passed, once it is laid.
- Women’s Wing of NPP and NDC. The Coalition must work with the Women’s Wing of both the NPP and NDC to pressure their MPs to support passing the bill. The Women’s Wing must be challenged to show they just don’t exist to help promote and achieve the interests of men in their political parties.
Source: This publication is made by ABANTU for Development, with support from the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF).