Why are there so few women in Ghana's Parliament?
From insults from the media to unsupportive husbands threatening divorce, Ghana's women face many barriers in their strive for power. But if women are not fairly represented in parliament, inequality will grow and development will be stagnant. On International Women's Day, Stacey Knott looks at the low numbers of women in parliament and what is being done about them.
This Tuesday is International Women's Day, and the campaign theme is #PledgeForParity which includes calls for women to be better represented in leadership roles across the world.
This is something Jemima Anita De Sosoo has been fighting for in Ghana. For four years she was the NDC womens' organiser and is now a vice chairperson for the party.
She worked hard to increase the number of female NDC members of parliament, raising the numbers from five in the last two terms, to 14 currently. But she's fighting a prejudice against women, and to overcome this women need to be strong and determined to go into the political sphere, she says.
“As women when you enter into politics you need to be courageous, because of insults like 'you are a prostitute, you are this, you are that,' so first of all I have to build their confidence to assure them I am also part of the system, though they have been insulting my name, but because I have a vision that is why I am here. I want them to learn from me.”
“You have to assure yourself that 'no I will not allow anybody to destroy my future.' You focus.”
Aside from fearing insults, female politicians have to overcome the financial and family demands of running a campaign De Sosoo says.
In some ways, society also discourages women from joining politics, she adds.
“If you are married and your husband does not understand politics he can discourage you or even threaten you that either you take care of the home or you walk out of the marriage.”
To encourage more women into politics, the NDC reduced the filing fee for women in the primaries by 50 percent and is working on programmes to get more women involved in the party.
Aside from in her party, De Sosoo wants to see more women step up across the political spectrum, or things may get worse.
“We need to continue. As women, people see us as enemies...Until we keep on lobbying each other, discussing our problems, trying to resolve those challenges then I am afraid the number may decrease.”
And those there already need to speak up as well.
“We want to hear more of them debating on the floor of parliament. Not only in parliament but to have programmes, to come on radio, come on TV debating among women.
“It's only in parliament we can come up with policies to help the women. If women in parliament are few it will be very difficult for us to come up with policy that will enhance the women.”
While it doesn't look like the numbers of women will change much in this year's election, de Sosoo is optimistic about the future.
“This is what I have been fighting for. I want more women to be in parliament because I believe if there are more in parliament then our needs will be addressed but if there are few, I am afraid.
“We are the majority but in terms of decision making we are the minority and it is not good for this world.”
The Ministry of Gender Children and Social Protection working to increase the number of women in parliament and across the public sector.
Its Affirmative Action Gender Equality Bill, expected to be passed into law this year, seeks to empower women across Ghana.
It calls for there is to be a quota of 40 per cent women in governance and decision-making positions, in the public service generally and Ministerial positions, the Council of State, the independent constitutional bodies and boards of state institutions. It calls for each public sector institution to have a gender equality policy.
The Bill seeks to identify and redress areas of social, cultural, economic and educational imbalance in Ghana, especially as they relate to discrimination against women, and to promote the full and active participation of women in public life by providing for a more equitable system of representation in electoral politics and governance.
It aims to ensure the progressive achievement of gender equality in political, social, economic, cultural and educational life within five years, address the gender imbalance in the public and private sector, calling for gender balance in the recruitment and appointment of public officers and appropriate measures are to be taken in the public and private sector for the full integration of women into the mainstream of economic development.
The Bill is currently before Cabinet, and it is expected it will go through its readings to Parliament this year, to be passed by the end of 2016.
Non-Government Organisation Action Aid Ghana has been working with the Government to try and increase numbers.
Benjamin Tawiah, a spokesperson for the NGO that works to end injustice and poverty, said Ghana's 29 women in power shows inequality, and that needs to be overcome.
“It's a patriarchal society where men have been in charge for a long time and that has implications on development,” he explains.
Action Aid supports the Affirmative Action Bill, and wants to see it passed into law.
“If Ghana wants to grow it needs to build the capacity of women,” Tawiah says.
Action Aid works to advance the political influence of women and to reduce the hours of unpaid work they are expected to do, so they have time to focus on politics and leadership.
“Men are always ahead of them because women have to finish house chores, care for sick, fetch water for the house, so at the end of the day they don't have enough time to peruse their vision in life.”
Action Aid has a range of programmes to encourage women into leadership, including a young female's parliament where they teach participants how to engage in decision making processes, leadership and communication skills.
There's also a young urban women's project, where 2000 girls in Accra and Tamale have worked to build their confidence to engage with policy makers. Action Aid has also focused on girls from rural and deprived communities where it runs a camp each year to encourage them to be leaders in their communities.
“We get girls the free space where they can operate and and get into decision making spaces where they can impact society.”
When women are ready to campaign, Action Aid supports them by helping design posters and campaign material and helping with communication and building confidence.
They also work to get men to support women in politics, rather than threaten them with divorce at the mention of contesting a seat.
A woman in power is good for everyone, but if it remains the status quo, everyone will suffer, Tawiah says.
“Once women are not given that position to impact whatever happens in terms of decision making it will mean that the inequality will always remain,” he says.
“Once women speakers are not catered for it means that things that concern women the most will not be catered for because women are best able to articulate what concerns then than men can do.
“So if we still have that imbalance where women are only found in small spaces and there isn't a lot of space for them to function and also impact decision making, it will also mean they will always be kept where they are, they will be involved in unpaid work where their rights will be trampled and where domestic violence will be increasing.”
There's a long way to go, but Action Aid is holding out hope for a more equal future.
“It's been a man's world for a long time. Even though we are hopeful, its not going to change immediately - it will still take a lot of work.”
Also heavily invested in the fight for female empowerment and getting more women into leadership roles is the Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre (GSHRDC).
Based in Accra, the centre runs training workshops throughout Ghana to inspire and encourage women to become leaders.
“One of the things they [the women] talk about is a lack of confidence and skill. We equip them with the skills so they will be able to better perform if they are selected as leaders,” Programme manager for the centre, Evelyn Nuvor says.
There are many barriers that stop women getting into power in Ghana, sometimes political parties do not support women.
“There's only limited support for women candidates,” Nuvor finds.
She says some parties do not deem it important to support women to get into power.
And like De Sooso says, finances are also a barrier.
“Campaigning is very expensive in Ghana, it requires a lot of money. There are huge demands on candidates.”
Female representation is a human rights issue and a pillar of democracy, she adds.
She was pleased to note that in last year's District Assembly elections through Ghana some districts increased numbers of women which could be attributed to the Centre's work.
The Gender Centre ran a 12 month project in the Wenchi municipality to increase women’s participation in governance and increase the assembly’s responsiveness to issues that affect women in the Wenchi assembly.
The centre worked to train and sensitize community members on actively participating in governance and other decision making positions and on holding their leaders accountable to being responsive to their needs. The participants were trained on human rights, gender based violence, leadership and assertiveness.
The women then went into their communities to educate others on their human rights, domestic laws and the need for women to actively participate in governance and decision making processes.
The centre said the project empowered women to speak out and demand accountability from their assembly members.
But for all the work and talk about needing more women in power, in this year's election, numbers do not look set to change drastically.
The Special Representative and head of the United Nations’ Office for West Africa late last year expressed disappointment in the lack of female representation for Ghana’s 2016 election.
Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas said that with the completion of the primary selections of NPP and NDC candidates for the 2016 election, he was concerned about the lack of female representation, which could mean a drop in the number of women in parliament this year.
“We are most likely going to see fewer women in our next parliament. This is one area in which Ghana does not provide good democratic practice. We must challenge ourselves and come up with creative and innovative approaches to get more females political and at a decision making level.”
De Sosoo, Nuvor and Tawiah are all placing their hopes in new generations coming forward, with the work the political parties and NGOs are doing, aiming to make an impact in the future. Until then, over half of Ghana's population will have 29 women to look to to speak out on the issues particular to them.
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