Ghana is ripe for a woman Vice Presidential Candidate and possibly a Vice President come January 7, 2017, but unfortunately the flagbearers of the two main political parties failed to take that advantage.
The main opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) failed gender advocates when it failed to nominate a woman as running mate to Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo for Election 2016.
The NPP has capable women ready and willing to take up that mantle of leadership, yet in a male dominated political environment, the woman was ignored.
With the NPP disappointment, gender advocates were patiently waiting for the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) to fill the gender gap at the highest level of political leadership and governance of the country by electing a woman to partner President John Dramani Mahama.
However, the NDC in spite of all the competent women in their stock woefully drove in the final nail of despondency on the gender agenda for Election 2016 by maintaining the status quo.
Gender advocates however see a small window of hope through Parliament to increase women representation in the decision making arena.
Women Parliamentary aspirants must be supported across board to win their respective seats; the gender agenda must be stronger than political affiliation as gender equality in political participation is a fundamental aspect of modern democratic governance.
Going by international standards both men and women should have equal rights and opportunities to participate fully in all aspects and at all levels of processes. In practice however, it is often more challenging for women to access and exercise these rights.
In all societies, power and influence on how political and economic processes are to be managed for development has continued to be exercised by and in favour of elite groups with majority being men. Many barriers and discriminatory practice against women hinder their ability to actively participate in all processes of decision making that affect their lives.
In this regard, there is acceptance that affirmative action policies be used to promote women’s political participation instead of leaving them to compete to obtain entry into such structures. One of such affirmative action measures that can be used is the quota system.
Studies have shown that countries that have achieved high representation of women in governance have done that through affirmative action using the quota system.
It is unfortunate that in Ghana after 11 years of the existence of the Women’s Manifesto coalition, there is still no Affirmative Action Law that would help increase the participation of women in decision making and governance.
For instance in the just ended District Assembly Election, a total of 18,938 persons made up of 17,783 men and 1,155 women participated and less than half of the figure were elected.
Women’s political participation is central to democratic governance since half of the world’s population cannot be excluded from either participation or representation.
Hence, equal participation of men and women in making decisions is the only way through which women can enjoy their rights as citizens of a country. It is therefore imperative for women’s groups and women activists to intensify advocacy for the use of the quota system as an affirmative action measure to ensure an increase in the number of women in the political process.
Historically, as far back as 1960, the Government adopted a quota for 10 women in the National Assembly in recognition of the significant role they played in the struggle for independence. Since 1992, when the country ushered in multi-party politics, women’s representation in Parliament has not increased in any significant way. This is in spite of the fact that there has been a steady increase in the number of women offering themselves as contestants.
Currently women account for only 29 of the 275 members in the nation’s parliament, representing 21.8 per cent , with only three women representing 6.5 per cent membership of the Council of State. There are also 15 deputy and ministers of state who are women, a lesser number of district chief executives, and an equally lesser number as presiding members at the various district assemblies.
Reasons for women’s low participation in politics:
Culture and traditions – Traditional norms militate against the advancement, progress and participation of women in any political process. Traditionally, men are the natural leaders of the society. As such, a woman entering into politics is seen to challenge the traditional order.
Women’s multiple burdens – women play many roles in the home and community including taking care of children, the sick and the elderly, and trading to provide food for the family. This leaves them with very little or no time to pursue other interests such as politics.
Due to the low socio-economic status of women in Ghana, women have had less access to education, employment and other sources of income. This means that they have few opportunities to run for political office where a certain level of education and income to fund a political campaign are required.
Lack of resources – Electioneering processes in Ghana involve a lot of money, material and human resources. Women’s access to and control of productive resources such as land and capital is minimal. In Ghana, women constitute the majority of the poorest of the poor and are therefore unable to raise funds to contest and win political elections.
The lack of affirmative action legislation – Affirmative action is a policy purposely designed to create equal opportunity to groups who have not only benefited from existing processes and structures but are affected negatively because of the situation. Its objective is to provide a means to address a problem which has been consistent over a long period of time such as the low representation of women in politics and public positions.
The lack of political support – Women play important roles in campaigning and mobilizing support for their parties, yet they rarely occupy decision making positions in these structures. The selection and nomination process within political parties is biased against women in that ‘male characteristics’ are emphasized and often become criteria in selecting candidates. You will always find a woman in the National Executive of the Party – usually at the deputy level or as the treasurer or welfare officer.
Women’s Participation in Politics in Ghana
Ghanaian women have always been interested in politics and have over the years demonstrated this. For instance in 1992, twenty-three women contested in parliamentary elections and 16 were elected to a house of 200 members representing 8.0 per cent.
In 1996 a total of 53 women contested but 18 were elected to the 200 seat parliament representing 9 per cent, with a marginal increase in the year 2000, when 95 contested and 19 were elected to the 230-seat parliament representing 9.5 percent.
In 2004 with 104 women candidates of which 25 were elected representing 10.9 per cent , the number decreased to 103 candidates in 2008 with 18 winning representing 7.8 percent and in 2012, a total of 133 contested and 29 were elected to the 275 seat parliament representing 21.8 percent
The statistics indicate that women’s interest in politics has been rekindled since 1992 as more women have shown interest to contest elections. This interest to contest is a proof of their willingness and preparedness to take part in the political process and should therefore be encouraged to participate through affirmative action which would help them overcome the challenges they face currently.
In spite of the fact that women’s interest in politics have been rekindled there was still the need for a quota system since the nations was Ghanaian society is still saddled with political illiteracy, negative stereotyping of women who engage in politics as well as complicated bureaucracies of political structures.
Focus on quota system
Only 19 countries in the world have achieved the goal of 30 per cent female representation in national legislatures. Given the uneven access by women to Parliament, special measures such as quotas have been implemented all over the world to increase their representation in Parliament.
Gender balance in Parliament and politics in general can be a reality if some form of quota system is implemented. Rwanda has achieved a remarkable 56% representation of women in Parliament due to the use of constitutional quota system. This ensures that 30% of seats in all leadership levels are occupied by women.
In South Africa, similar provisions have resulted in women occupying 45 % of the seats in Parliament and in Uganda, a parliamentary seat from each of the 39 districts is reserved for women, resulting in an increase in women’s political representation.
The question is, whether Ghana should go down that track at this point in the pursuit of our gender agenda? Personally, I think we have missed the boat on the push for quotas for women’s representation in Parliament – taking a critical look at the dynamics in the country’s leadership I don’t see that goal being attained.
In my view, we need to concentrate on carving the way forward at the local government level by assisting women at the district level to assume leadership roles.
(GNA feature by Justina Paaga)