Thursday, August 7, 2008

Enhancing the status of Women

Enhancing the status of Women
-Ghana’s efforts over the years
Daily Graphic, Thursday, August 7, 2008. Page 11 (Gender and Children)
Salome Donkor

THE launch of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Combined Reports on Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), in Accra, recently provided a forum for the enumeration of measures taken over the years to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women in the country.

The reports cover the period 1993 to 2003 and highlight progress made over the decade in achieving gender equality, as well as challenges and efforts being made by the government towards the realisation of women’s empowerment, equality, equity and sustainable development. It is being disseminated to all stakeholders who have a role in the implementation of the Convention.

The first section of the reports provides an update on Ghana’s socio-economic and political environment. It also discusses the position and status of women in Ghana since the submission of the first and second reports in 1991 and 1992, respectively.

The reports further evaluates what was achieved with regards to the implementation of the “ Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies for Promoting the Advancement of Women”, and “ The Platform For Action” adopted after the Beijing Conference.

The Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs (MOWAC) submitted the combined report, which was considered by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women in August 2006.

State parties are enjoined under provisions of CEDAW to submit periodic reports to the committee on the elimination of discrimination against women and the three reports provided additional information on questions and issues raised in the report and offers a lot of issues for discussion.

The compilation of the report and other related documents of Ghana’s implementation of CEDAW has been made possible through the support and inputs from ministries, departments and agencies and civil society organisations in conjunction with development partners namely, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) which provided financial and administrative support.

The 1992 Constitution of Ghana provides a framework for equality of all persons and outlaws discrimination on the basis of gender/sex. It promises to protect and promote all human rights and also prohibits all harmful customary practices.

Chapter 5 of the constitution deals with fundamental human rights and freedoms which conform to the international human rights framework. In addition, to the rights accorded to all persons, articles 22 and 27 deal specifically with women’s rights.

The Minister for Women and Children Affairs (MOWAC), Hajia Alima Mahama rightly pointed out during the launch of the reports that Ghana has made giant strides in the fulfilment of its national, regional and international commitment adding that Ghana demonstrated its commitment and political will by not only signing the convention, but also through the implementation of various strategies with the view of empowering women.

She was reported to have observed that the government and the people of Ghana had demonstrated their commitment to the tenets of the convention by ensuring that the Constitution and other policies and legislation were consistent with CEDAW.

She said sections of the 1992 Constitution, which guaranteed the fundamental human rights of every Ghanaian irrespective of race, place of origin, gender and freedom from discrimination, which she said were conformity with provisions of CEDAW.

In addition to these, the setting up of the National Council on Women and Development, now the Department of Women, after the 1975 Conference on Women, as a national machinery for women, the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs in 2001 with a cabinet status, the passage of the Domestic Violence Bill and the setting up of the Women and Juvenile Unit, now the Domestic Violence and victims Support Unit of the Ghana Police Service, are all positive steps adopted over the past decade to enhance the status of women.

The report points to progress made in women’s health, education and economic empowerment, covering the period under review during which Ghana has seen three consecutive terms of constitutional rule. Despite these achievements the reports assert that some challenges remain in the area of politics, administration and medium and large-scale industrial development, while the percentage of illiterate women remains high, as compared to men.

Although some harmful traditional practices, such as widowhood rites and female genital mutilation have been criminalised under the Criminal Code Amendment Act 1998 (Act 554), women are still a long way from achieving equality and these practices persist in some communities due to existing stereotyped conceptions of women caused by socio-cultural factors which perpetuate discrimination based on sex.

For instance the reports mention that one of the thorny issues that needs to be dealt with is polygamy, which it said was an entrenched socio-cultural and religious practice that remained a big challenge to legislators and policy makers.

Nana Oye Lithur, the African Regional Co-ordinator of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHI) said polygamy was still an issue and explained that sometimes it was difficult to determine who was the wife in a polygamous marriage after the husband with multiple wives, died intestate. She said that also raised a lot of issues in relation to property rights. Nana Oye also said although there had been a lot of interventions since 2006 when the reports were submitted, to address issues of maternal health, mentioning, the National Health Insurance Scheme and the recent introduction of free medical care for pregnant women, the issue of unsafe abortion was still outstanding.

She said people needed to be informed and provided with a comprehensive care to ensure that those who qualified under the law, had safe abortion.

She also mentioned the issue of witch camps in some parts of the country and explained that although it had traditional ramifications, efforts must be made to ensure that women perceived as witches, enjoyed their fundamental human rights, stipulated under the constitution.

Ms Gloria Ofori Boadu, President of the Women Assistance and Business Association (WABA) pointed out that women must be sensitised to encourage and support fellow women who aspire for positions in decision-making.

Ms Ofori Boadu, who contested and lost the Abuakwa South Constituency primaries on the ticket of the New Patriotic Party, indicated that although there were no laws in Ghana that bar women from participating in politics or in other areas of economic and social life;the cultural perception of women as inferior to men has been a major hinderance to women in politics and public life.

She said after all these years of advocacy, it was unfortunate for some people to think that women who got to decision-making positions would relegate their traditional roles to the background.She said there was still the need for increased women’s participation in decision-making at the district level, ministries, department and agencies since they formed about 52 per cent of the country’s population.

The reports also mentioned financial constraints to ensure wide publicity of the convention, for example, translation of articles of the convention into local dialects and incorporation of articles on the convention into the laws of Ghana.

They therefore stressed on the need for all stakeholders, as well as the international community to do more to support the implementation of all articles of the convention to enable the nation achieve the aspirations of gender equality, development and peace.

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