The Progressive Organisation for Women’s Advancement (POWA) has held its first ever forum aimed at broadening the national debate on women’s inclusion in politics through conversation.

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The NGO, which was founded in 2011 by Victoria Lakshmi Hamah, seeks to encourage women to take up leadership roles and to make national leaders accountable to their responsibility towards women.

On Tuesday, October 31, the organisation held its first forum, dubbed “The POWA Forum”, as panelists from diversified backgrounds were brought together to speak on the barriers that hinder women’s inclusion in politics.

A massive turnout was witnessed at the British Council, where the programme was held, with diplomats, senior political figures and some religious leaders all present to grace the forum.

The topics discussed centred on why we have few women in Ghanaian politics and the possible ways to get more women aspiring to become politicians.

The panel was made up of Rev. Dr Lawrence Tetteh, an economist and the founding president of the Worldwide Miracle Outreach, Nana Oye Lithur, former Minister for Gender, Women and Social Protection, Madam Christine Churcher, Chairperson of the Ghana Gas Company, Dr Vladimir Antwi-Danso, Director of Academic Affairs at the Ghana Armed Forces and Prof Ellen Bortei-Doku Aryeetey, a research and social advocate on gender – with Eric Don-Arthur being the moderator.

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The aforementioned personalities discussed extensively the challenges confronting women and the way forward with regards to moving women from marginalized to limelight politics.

Rev. Dr Lawrence Tetteh insisted that the foundations must be created to empower women to take up leadership roles. According to him, the fact that women are underrepresented in most areas does not mean they are incapable of being leaders. He therefore called on women to find a balanced way of aspiring to reach greater heights without seeing it as a competition between themselves and men.

Former Gender minister Nana Oye Lithur was also of the view that women could contribute to the significant development of the nation if they were into politics. She urged women to grow a thick skin in order to be able to withstand insults and derogatory comments that may come their way when they decide to take leadership roles.

She added that it is high time Parliament considered an affirmative action law to create that enabling environment for women to aspire to lead without being subjected to vilifications.

Dr Vladimir Danso-Antwi also pointed out that the problem of having fewer ladies in politics is structural, insisting society and government systems have been structured to place women on the periphery.

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According to him, even the constitution has made it unfavourable and impossible for women to enter into Parliament due to the monetization of the whole process. He called on all stakeholders to institute radical changes in our governance and societal structure to empower women in the field of politics.

Prof Ellen Bortei-Doku Aryeetey also focused on the stereotypical nature of our societies towards women. In her view, women have failed to aspire for positions because society treats them as always being second-fiddle to men. She explained that what men do and they are praised, women will do same and they will be called arrogant or bossy.

She, therefore, suggested that women are trained right from infancy, saying learning leadership roles must start from childhood rather than waiting till they grow.

The panel discussion was concluded with remarks from Christine Churcher, who challenged women to stand up and compete with men for leadership positions. She compared politics to marketing, insisting women are better sellers than men and that that should be motivation enough for them to aspire.

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She cited the story of the brave Queen Yaa Asantewaa, who led the Ashantis to war in the 1800s, as one of many reasons why women can also achieve even better than their male counterparts. According to her, insults should not be a barrier for women aiming to venture into politics.

Executive Director of POWA, Victoria Lakshmi Hamah, expressed gratitude to all and sundry who participated in the discussion, while also emphasizing the need for Ghana to adopt affirmative policies to bring women to the limelight.

She added that the psyche of the public must be shaped to accept the fact that women do not belong to the marginalized, but rather can also aspire for greatness.

Also present as the forum was Prof Abena D. Oduro from the Centre for Social Policy Studies at the University of Ghana, who preferred to touch on the issue of unequitable representation of women in government. According to her, the fact that only 35, out of 275, Parliamentarians are women says enough about the task at hand to ensure there is balance.

This was the maiden edition of the POWA Forum, but there are plans to organize such programmes quarterly. The forum was brought together by a collaborative effort between POWA and the Centre for Social Policy Studies at the University of Ghana.