Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Let’s protect victims of gender-based violence

Let’s protect victims of gender-based violence
Daily Graphic, Tuesday, 19th January, 2010; Page 6, (Gender and Children)
Adolf Awuku Bekoe

I was glued to my television set savouring the thoughtful and well-articulated responses to questions posed to President J.E.A. Mills by the media during his recent encounter with the press at the Castle.

Then came the turn of Eyram Acolaste of Metro TV. I was excited about her intervention because I had waited all morning during the encounter to hear something said for women and children.

Her concern to Mr. President was about the need for shelter for abused women and children and this was that I thought I heard Mr. President say, “We don’t have enough resources,” ‘what are our priorities?’ if what I heard was what he really said, then it is clear that victims/survivors of gender based violence are not a priority worthy of spending hard-earned national resources, on.

So it does not matter how often the Ministry for Women and Children’s Affairs inundates the Cabinet with the concerns of victims/survivors of violence, the Cabinet’s response would be “lack of resources.” The Cabinet must be a lonely place for Ms Dansua indeed! Many questions arose from the President’s comments.

Is the Cabinet-status position of MOWAC enough to secure women their fair share of the national cake? How influential is the voice of the minister? Is government really concerned about the safety of Ghanaians, particularly women and children? And finally, is there hope for the resuscitation of the Department of Social Welfare which has been in ‘coma’ for a long time and is now slipping off its life support?

If I were to rely on only the President’s interaction with the media for answers to the above questions, I would sink into a long period of major depression.

This is because, there was nothing to clutch on to optimistically respond to the above questions. The President’s responses did not offer hope for many women and children, who are wreathing in pain because of gender-based violence and homeless because they have no peace in their homes.

Worst still, others have become lifeless and bound for the cemetery because no one stood for them; Oh yes, with no money to build them safe houses, they could not defend themselves against the rage of their assailants, most of whom, unfortunately, are their intimate partners.

It is not my aim to proffer detailed answers to the above questions today, at a later date, I will attempt to do so, at least with the help of those who are in a position to tell me I did not hear the President right.

In the meantime, I would say that the President’s responses mean more than there is no money to build shelters. His declaration is a reflection of a deep-seated pedestrian attitude of policy makers to social welfare issues in the country.

Any wonder the Department of Social Welfare is in such a sordid state. The anguish, lamentations and sheer resilience of victims/survivors are enough to arouse any dead cell in me to stand with them. I am not alone in this regard; there are many advocates across the length and breadth of this country who are doing so much work with meager resources to affirm the humanity of victims/survivors.

I know some of you are busily finalising your work plans for the year and are devastating and humiliated by the President’s remarks as you dialogue with your donors.

To be fair to the President, every government must have priorities; so it is good to hear him talk about priorities. In the same vein, citizens have priorities based on which they are supposed to enter into a social pact with a political party that best articulates these priorities in an election year and vote them into government. Without doubt, I believe that the women of Ghana, convinced by their own plight and that of her children, voted for the Mills administrations so that they could be guaranteed safety. Safety, therefore, is a priority for women and children.

In the 2005 budget, the Australian government announced a Women’s Safety agenda programme at a cost of 75.7 million over four years. Five years down the line, a government under the leadership of a President, who not too long ago in New York extolled his government’s commitment to women’s empowerment, says there are no resources to protect women and children and protecting them is not a priority for his government.

Well, Mr. President, safety is a priority for Ghanaian women and children. Fortunately, your administration is not at the end of its term; in fact you are just a year into your term and you can quickly make protection for women and children a priority without losing focus.

Lest I forget, whilst the President says there is no money, the Dutch government has committed millions of euros over the next three years for the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act. Is domestic violence in Ghana the priority of the Dutch government? Why should the Dutch government sweat for the pepper Ghanaians have chewed? When at all shall we learn to put our money where our mouth is?

The President and his government must find money and build us shelters; this is what governments who care for their people do; they respect the laws of the land. Building shelters for abused women and children is a provision in the Domestic Violence Act 2007 (Act 732)!

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