Be bold for change! the Ghanaian woman at 60

As Ghana chalks a whopping 60 years and joins the rest of the world to commemorate international women’s day, it is important to reflect on the struggles of our gallant women who some 60 years ago worked assiduously to increase the worth of women.

This year international women’s day focuses on the theme Be Bold for change, a shift from awareness creation to concrete action for gender parity.

Originally celebrated as International Working Women’s Day, it metamorphosed to commemorate women throughout history and across nations and to create a platform to unravel and discuss the challenges that women are faced with each day of their lives especially in a patriarchal society where men dominate economic, political, religious and social affairs.

As Ghana celebrates its Diamond jubilee, can the Ghanaian woman be proud of the same celebration?

Indeed women's emancipation predated Ghana’s independence with the earliest women’s day marked in New York by the Socialist party of America, in 1909. A year later, an international women’s conference was organized which agreed to propositions to institute an international women’s day as a grand design to promote equal rights including suffrage for women. Subsequently in 1911, the first International Women’s Day (IWD) was marked by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland; characterized by demontsrations, strikes, parades and marches to demand a myriad of rights including the right to vote, the right to hold public office, and an end to economic discrimination amongst others.

The IWD otherwise known as the United Nations (UN) Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace has since gained international recognition and celebrated world wide in different forms and even gained the status of a holiday in some countries such as Ukraine

The day has also been marked under various themes encompassing peace and security, human rights, gender based violence, conflicts and hunger, education, gender equality, empowerment and affirmative actions, inclusion of woman in decision making, the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) and many more.

In Ghana, the IWD has equally been commemorated year after year to demand for a myriad of rights and freedoms but one will ask, at 60 years of independence, can the Ghanaian woman be proud of a diamond jubilee?  Indeed, there has been great transformation in the life of the pre-colonial and colonial woman. The post-independent Ghanaian woman has undergone a semblance of transformation from her hitherto traditional role. Women today are considered to be part of economic activities, participants in development, role players in governance process, education, social mobilization and are now involved in decision making.

However can the level of transformation be justified in a 60-year term?

Government after government appears to have defaulted on campaign and political promises to advance the course of Ghanaian women. The involvement of women in politics and leadership roles still leaves much to be desired. Women representation at the 6th Ghanaian parliament was 10.5%, meaning only 29 out of the 133 women who contested in the 2012 parliamentary elections were elected. This figure rose marginally to 13% in the 2016 election where 37 women were voted into the legislature. Albeit this is the highest so far recorded by Ghanaian women in legislature, it is worthy of note that it falls far short of the 30% threshold by the UN following agreements and satisfactory targets reached at the fourth UN World Conference of Women in Beijing 1995.

Series of gender dialogues and platforms have tackled bits and pieces of women advancement and discussed affirmative action as a major strategy to achieving gender equality and thereby a desirable involvement of women in governance process and decision making. However, the journey seems nothing more than a utopian ideal.

Following bold steps taken by Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s government to consciously involve women in the governance process it is sad to note that succeeding governments are yet to gain the same momentum to advance the fortunes of women. It is also noteworthy that women played very significant roles in the struggle for self-government; mounting campaign platforms alongside their male counterparts and organizing women. The CPP Women’s League worked sedulously to organize women to be part of the independence process and governance, championing formal education for girls and educating Northern girls against prostitution.

Certainly, the urge to get women involved some 60 years ago cannot be downplayed with the involvement of Dr. Nkrumah himself in affirmative action policies and appointment of women propaganda secretaries and organisers right from inception of his government,

It is remarkable that parliament under the CPP in 1960 passed Representation of the People (Women Members) Bill into law which amongst others made it possible for women to stand for parliamentary elections unopposed and subsequently saw the election of first ten female parliamentarians into the first session of the first parliament.

They included Susana Al-Hassan, Ayanori Bukari, the first woman to hold cabinet portfolio and Victoria Nyarko who represented the Northern Region, Mary Koranteng and Sophia Doku for the Eastern Region, while Regina Asomany represented the Volta Region. Also Grace Ayensu and Christiana Wilmot represented the Western Region, Comfort Asamoah - Ashanti Region, and Lucy Anim for the  Brong Ahafo.

Later Dr. Nkrumah appointed Susan Al-Hassan as deputy Minister of Education and Minister of Social Welfare and Community Development between 1961 and 1967. During the same period, other women were also appointed into various positions such as commissioners and to serve on boards and local councils.

Further, the Nkrumah led government introduced equal pay for equal work concept which abolished employment sex discriminatory practices.

Arguably, “the most enthusiastic supporters of the CPP were women, including market women, who contributed generously to party funds (R. N. A. Akomfrah, Chairman CPP UK, 2012). This indicates that women are a force to reckon with even in economic terms

Not only did Dr. Nkrumah recognize the enormous role of African women in the struggle for freedom and African Unity, but also recognized the power of women in negotiations and decision-making. During a major international conference for African Women and Women of African descent held in Ghana, 1960, Dr Nkrumah called on women to ‘bring their feminine influence to bear in persuading their brothers, husbands and friends of the importance of Africa unity as the only salvation for Africa

He further charged women that they had a great responsibility to compliment efforts of the men. “They must realize that the men alone cannot complete the gigantic task we have set ourselves. The time has come when the women of Africa and of African descent must rise up in their millions to join the Africa crusade for freedom.”

It is however sad that Dr. Nkrumah did not live his dream of improving the total worth of women following his sudden overthrow in 1966 and the subsequent relegation of the CPP to the peripherals of political lime light.

Despite a requirement for affirmative action in the 1992 Constitution, government after government is yet to pass an Affirmative Action Bill, which pushes a 40 per cent quota for women in governance and decision-making process and other national roles. The bill further seeks to rectify discriminatory practices on the basis of sex by addressing political, social and economic gender imbalances. Campaign promises on special quotas for women have in the past remained a political rhetoric.

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo has promised to fulfill a 30% representation of women in its government as well as work with the 7 parliament to pass the Affirmative Action Law which will ensure equal participation of women at all levels. The Mahama led government missed narrowly the opportunity to pass the bill, which was at the consideration stage. With a new parliament in session, the process has to commence all over following a lapse with the 6 parliament. The bill when passed will also stimulate Ghana’s effort in achieving Goal 5 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SGDS)  - Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Perhaps it would have been weightier to celebrate a diamond jubilee with clear-cut affirmative action policies, which consciously compensates for the slow pace of women advancement in Ghana by focusing on programmes that encourages equal opportunities, and consciously reserve quotas.

Indeed, some women have made it to the top echelons of political and national affairs and have performed creditably, an indication that if given the chance women can equally perform. Mention can be made of the Speaker of the 5th Parliament Joyce Adeline Bamford-Addo, Chief Justice Georgina Wood, Electoral Commissioner Mrs Charlotte Osei, former CEO of the Ghana chamber of Mines Joyce Rosalind Aryee, and other women ministers such as Hon. Hannah Tetteh, Gloria Akuffo and others, also high commissioners and ambassadors including ambassador Mrs Mercy Yvonne Debrah-Karikari (now a cabinet secretary) amongst other great women. First female presidential candidate Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings is equally worth the credit.

However, in as much as these roles are commendable, the level of achievement within a 60-year touchstone is woefully depressing. The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM) monitoring team during the 2016 election noted that various factors account for the low participation of women in front line politics and for that matter the governance process, chief amongst which is “hostile political terrain” that results in mudslinging, name-calling and insults or use of vulgar language. Other factors include traditional roles and religious inhibitions, economic freedom, child bearing amongst others.

Reflecting on the international theme ‘Be Bold for Change’, it is a wake up call for women all over the world to extricate themselves from an imbalanced patriarchal society. The IWD platform calls for a “pledge of parity campaign that challenges conscious and unconscious biases; gender-balanced leadership; value women and men's contributions equally; and create inclusive flexible cultures’ starting from awareness raising to concrete actions.

In Ghana, the day will be commemorated under the adapted theme  “Economic empowerment of rural women: A tool for sustainable development in a changing world of work,” which according to the Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, Ms Otiko Afisah Djaba, was chosen to help rural women and girls to achieve their ambitions and also challenge the negative traditional and socio-cultural practices, discrimination and difficulties that confront the rural woman by changing the world of work for all women in Ghana.

As Ghana chalks a whopping 60 years and joins the rest of the world to commemorate international women’s day, it is important to reflect on the struggles of our gallant women who some 60 years ago worked assiduously to increase the worth of women. The boldness with which they started the fight is the same boldness and momentum required in tackling the challenges that confront women in all spheres of life. The strides achieved are noteworthy however, upsetting to celebrate on a diamond jubilee.

By Akua Dapaa Amanpour



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