Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Parliament Misses Women

A Parliament Misses Women
Daily Graphic, Tuesday, March 17, 2009. Page 9 (Features)

Leigh S. Ranck
The elections in December have brought about change, some good and some bad. The bad news is that the number of women in the Parliament has been reduced from 25 to 20 out of the 230 seats in Parliament. The good news is, of course that for the first time in the history of Ghana, a woman is Speaker. Retired Supreme Court Justice Joyce Bamford-Addo holds such a powerful position in Parliament.

“Any elevation of women into position of power and leadership must be celebrated,” Senior Porgamme Officer for ABANTU for Development, Hamida Harrison said. “We all look at them and say we can all get there, but we recognize that one woman cannot make a difference.”
Like most countries, women make up 50 per cent of the population of Ghana, but women represent only nine per cent of members of Parliament, down from 11 per cent in the 2004 Parliament.

Many women groups are calling for this to change. Like ABANTU for Development, the Regional Inter-sectoral Gender Network (RISEGNET) called for Parliament and President John Evans Atta Mills, to ensure that women have equal opporunit to serve in their government in a press briefing in early February.

Only 102 women ran for seats in Parliament according to ABANTU. That is almost have the 230 seats available. However, only 20 women won seats. “We (ABANTU) advocate for policies that are gender sensitive,” Ms Harrison said. “We focus mainly on district assemblies. They offer more space [for women] because they have about 5000 seats within the local government compared to 230 [in Parliament].”

District Assembly seats are more interesting to women, because it allows them to stay close to their families and still run the household, according to Harrison. When women win seats in Parliament, they are forced to move away from their families to Accra. This is especially important to women from farther away regions up in the North and West.

The Upper West Region suffers from a serious lack of representation of women. Women make up 52 per cent of the Upper East Region’s population but it has had very few women in commanding roles in Parliament. They have had two deputy ministers, only one district chief executive and one presiding member.

“There has never been a woman regional minister for the Upper East Region and only few women have been in assemblies,” Dr. Daud James Abang-Gos, Chairman of RISEGNET said at the press briefing. “This does not ensure equitable development.”

To combat unequal representation of women in government, in 1960, the Representation of the People’s bill or Women’s Members Bill was passed. It required 10 seats be set aside for women representatives. Almost 50 years later, only 10 more seats have been won by women. “Looking at the cases of other countries, studies have shown that where quota systems have been used, women’s participation in government has increased dramatically,” Ms Harrison said.

Thirty of the world’s 190 countries apply some form of quota for women in government. The African National Congress in 1994 as well as others institutions such as the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995 and Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), agreed to have women’s representation at 30 per cent in all forms of government.

Some issues can only be raised and solved by women according to Ms Harrison. That’s why they are called women’s issues. Issues like child care, school fees and birth rights are issues that are important to women. “Policies have different impact on women and men,” Harrison said. “If women are not there, they cannot say whether the policy is gender sensitive.”

ABANTU has a mentoring programme for young girls so that they realize that they too can be involved in government. “Politics is our lives, we can’t leave it to other people. We must make conscious effort to direct the minds of the young people back to politics,” Ms Harrison said. “We have grown up believing that policy making is a man’s job.”

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