Thursday, July 24, 2008

Hearing Women’s Voices in Politics

Hearing Women’s Voices in Politics
- WiLDAF takes initiative
Daily Graphic, Thursday, July 24, 2008. Page 11 (Gender and Children)
Emmanuel Adu-Gyamerah and Gifty Appiah-Adjei

Barely five months away, Ghanaians will go to the polls to elect a President and 230 parliamentarians to be in charge of the country’s decision-making.

However, the issues of low participation of women in decision-making have been of critical concerns to women and civil society organisations.

Available statistics indicate that women occupy only 25 (11 percent) out of the 230 seats in Parliament, comprising 20 females from the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and five from the National Democratic Congress (NDC).

At the district assembly level, women constitute 10 percent of assembly members, while in Public Service, there are only five female chief directors as against 30 male chief directors.

The country also has three female members of the Council of State as against 21 males, four females ministers out of 30 and 14 female deputy minsters out of 49.

The situation has taken a nosedive as already six women out of the twenty five who are currently in Parliament are not contesting in the in the forthcoming parliamentary elections.

Female MPs such as Ms Anna Nyamekye (Jaman South) and Ms Hilda Josephine Adoo (Kwadaso) lost their bid to come to the next Parliament to males during the primaries, while Mrs Gladys Asmah (Takoradi), Ms Christine Churcher (Cape Coast), Ms Theresah Amerley Tagoe (Ablekuma South) and Mrs Grace Coleman (Effiduase-Asokere), all of whom did not contest during the primaries, have had their slots filled by men.

It will therefore, be a miracle, if women are to maintain the current 11 per cent representation in Parliament, let alone go beyond it.

But all is not lost as there has been a steady increase in the appointment of females in leader positions since 2001. Mention can be made of the Chief Justice, Mrs Georgina Wood; the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Mrs Elizabeth Mills-Robertson, and recently the Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast, Professor Jane Naana Opopku-Ageymang.

It is against this background that the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs and a lot of civil society organisations have stepped up their advocacy to push women issues to the forefront and make sure that women make an impact during the December elections and beyond.

One of such organisations that has [recently] launched a programme [aimed at increasing] the number of women elected into public office and highlighting gender equality and women’s empowerment concerns is the Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF) Ghana.

Dubbed, “We Know Politics: hearing Women’s Voices in Ghana’s 2008 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections,” the programme seeks to connect Ghanaians from all walks of life – including citizens from rural areas, aspiring presidential and parliamentary candidates, women’s rights non-governmental organisations, the media and legal literacy volunteers/paralegals- to ensure that women issues are raised during this year’s campaigning and the next four years.

The project will embark on a national capacity building leadership workshop for 40 leaders of women’s rights organisations and organise 10 regional consultations involving 500 women and gender advocates to include women’s concerns in the elections.

Again, the project will televise a live Women’s Dialogue between presidential candidates and women from all backgrounds across the country, to inform citizens of their civil rights, the roles of their parliamentarians and encourage them to vote for female candidates through public information and awareness activities.

There will also be an encounter with the leaders of the churches who worship on Sundays to impress upon them about the need to cut short their service to enable their members to have time to vote.

The “We Know Politics” project will organise training sessions for 200 legal literacy volunteers/paralegals from all the 10 regions of Ghana to educate citizens at the district and local levels on their responsibilities during the elections and lobby eminent Ghanaians and key media analysts to include gender concerns in election discussions.

The British Department for International Development (DFID) and the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Ghana are sponsoring the project.

Launching the project, a Member of the Council of State, Mrs Gifty Afenyi-Dadzie, stated that there were many issues of concern to women that must be tackled by politicians, the government, the private sector and civil society.

She mentioned some of these concerns as violence against women, health, economic, empowerment and property rights, among others, and noted that these could be addresses when women deliberated on them with one voice.

“I believe that because women’s numbers count during the elections, no politician would want to ignore what women are saying,” she added.

She explained that the collective agenda of women in Ghana was important, since “each one of us has a role to play in ensuring that issues of gender equality and women’s empowerment do not remain only in the books but are realities that transform lives of the very vulnerable in society.”

She called on women to act and not just talk, in order to achieve goals they had set for themselves.

In a speech read on her behalf, the Minister of Women and Children Affairs, Hajia Alima Mahama, called on women to improve their skills in public speaking, lobbying and communication as these qualities were critical within the political arena.

She advised women in politics not to allow problems such as low education and lack of financial and material resources to be a barrier in their bid to enhance their participation in politics and decision-making.

The Social Development Advisor of DFID, Dr Sonya Sultan, commended Ghana for giving much attention to issues such as girls’ education, women’s health and employment opportunities.

She however expressed regret at women’s participation in politics, explaining that it was not always easy for women to contribute to political debates.

“A robust democracy requires that political debates, especially at a crucial time such as the run-up to the general election include issues of general concern to women in Ghana, who, after all account for half the electorate,” she said.

The Dutch Ambassador to Ghana, Ms Lidi Remmelzwaad, expressed hope that the project would help deepen the debate on issues of gender equity and help address the existing imbalance to achieve a more equitable representation of women in all spheres of the Ghanaian society.

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