Towards an affirmative action law in Ghana: The issues
By Phyllis D. Osabutey
Women’s concerns in seeking equality in the various aspects of public life, especially in governance, is one that is constantly under discussion, and would continue to be so until the desired results are attained.
Some successes have been chalked over the years, such that many more women are taking part in political activities and seeking political office, while others are excelling in the economic sphere.
However, in spite of the quick signing and ratification of protocols, charters, and even declarations by many African countries, and particularly Ghana, there is always difficulty in the enforcement of these policies to cause real changes.
Additionally, promises made by political parties and individual politicians when they are seeking political office often end up as cheap political talk, as they fail to fulfill those promises, after women support, campaign, and vote for them.
Thus, women’s groups and institutions are constantly looking for better ways to ensure the enforcement or other actions that would deliver results, and give true meaning to equality as an element of democracy.
As Ghana heads to another round of elections in December 2012, women’s expectations are again high in the hope that probably, many more women would be voted into Ghana’s Parliament to improve upon the current 8.3% representation of women in the 230 decision-making body.
Women’s groups concerns
Abantu for Development and Actionaid-Ghana are some of the organisations at the forefront of the campaign for women’s advancement in political life and other important areas.
According to them, it is imperative to continuously examine, scrutinise and interrogate processes that perpetually locate women in disadvantaged positions, and keep them out of political and economic processes for development.
The scrutiny includes putting a searchlight on national processes and methods, including electoral processes that have the potential to allow for a new social contract, in which men and women work in equal complementarity, recognising their differences, aptitudes and concerns.
The groups complain that while Ghana has been a signatory to global declarations and protocols that call for increased women’s participation and representation in decision-making, such as the Beijing Platform for Action, the African Union’s Protocol on Women’s Rights among others, women remain under-represented in decision-making platforms.
This makes it difficult for women to contribute effectively with their own experiences in national processes, which they believe is unacceptable, because “participation, as an approach, has become central to most development initiatives, and has been expected to result in the inclusion of political power-sharing and control of resources to the marginalised, especially women.”
Commenting on the new social contract for women, the Director for Abantu, Dr. Rose Mensah-Kutin, said the principles of political pluralism, democracy and good governance require the integration of women in equal numbers, where they could exercise power effectively.
According to her, the lack of concrete initiatives such as affirmative action to implement global, continental and regional commitments to the promotion of gender equality in participation and representation is hindering the enhanced involvement of women in national processes for development.
She pointed out that over the years, “women in Ghana have waited with anticipation, the fulfillment of promises made in political party manifestos, and that in creating the Ministry for Women and Children’s Affairs, enough budgetary allocation will be made to enable the ministry address the myriads of concerns of women of this country.”
However, women’s expectations have not been met in a desired manner, and furthermore, continue to wait for the fulfillment of the 40% increase in women’s representation in government.
Some initiatives for action
Elections and electoral processes present opportunities for women to exercise their franchise and offer themselves as candidates for elective office.
However, despite the increased numbers who contest for positions, especially as parliamentary candidates, it has not yielded the desired results, as fewer women emerge winners due to various reasons.
Thus, over the years, various women’s groups have taken some initiatives to improve the situation. An example is the publication of the Women’s Manifesto to serve as a working document for governments, because it brings out the various issues affecting women in all aspects of their life, and particularly, in the political sphere.
Generally, it was also to provide direction for actions to increasing women’s participation in politics, and for groups engaged in activities to ensure women’s empowerment in Ghana, from the grassroots level to the top.
Also in recent times, women’s groups have tried to support women interested in contesting elections at the district assembly and parliamentary levels, some of which have yielded results, including the reduction of candidacy filing fees for women, and some women winning elections.
In spite of all these efforts, progress has been slow, and so the use of quotas and affirmative action are strongly proposed to further increase the numbers, and quicken the pace to close the gender disparity gap that exist between men and women, especially, in politics and decision making.
Some arguments/ justification
A quota system is meant to recruit women into political positions, and to ensure that women are not isolated in political life, and thereby, increase the number of women in political affairs and governance.
Affirmative Action (AA), on the other hand, is taking positive steps to increase the representation of women and minorities in areas of employment, education, and business, from which they have been historically excluded.
Very often, people, and particularly, some men, have argued that the use of quotas and affirmative action defeats women’s quest for equality on a competitive basis, because it portrays a measure of favouring women, simply on the basis of their gender.
To this group of people, women must fairly compete with men, no matter the disadvantages or barriers that militate against them, to emerge as best in occupying whatever positions they seek in public life.
However, others believe that the political structures and systems in the country are not friendly to women, because politics have always been primarily seen as a male arena, hence, women do not get the chance to be elected into sensitive positions in political parties.
Women’s groups that seek these systems say they are only temporary to bridge the gap and achieve numbers that governments and political parties have committed themselves to, but are not putting in efforts to achieve them in reality.
Across Africa, the types of quotas practiced include constitutional quotas that are enshrined in the national constitution, and Election Law Quotas that are provisions written into national legislation by reserving a certain number of seats for women in political bodies.
There are also voluntary quota systems introduced by political parties on their own, because of some level of commitment on the part of the party’s leadership. However, there is no binding legislation to implement the provisions.
In African countries such as Rwanda, reserved seats in the 2008 election year gave women 45 seats out of 80, representing 56%. South Africa, through voluntary political party quota in 2009, gave women 172 of 400 seats, representing 45%.
In countries without legislation such as Sierra Leone, women had 16 seats out of 121, representing 13% in 2007. In Ghana, the 2008 elections gave women 19 seats out of 230, representing 8%, and in Malawi, women had 40 of 192 seats, representing 21% in 2009.
There is no doubt that following the normal processes would gradually ensure required or desired numbers of women in politics and governance. This stems from the fact that women’s status has gradually improved over the years, with many excelling in various professions and fields, but the proposed measures will help quicken the pace to achieving increased women’s participation.
Affirmative Action/Way Forward
Women’s groups and other stakeholders are looking for measures that will lead to quick action in transforming their dreams into reality, and this now seems to make an affirmative action law a necessity.
To this end, Abantu for Development and the Women’s Manifesto Coalition (WMC) have undertaken regional consultations on strategies to promote women’s political participation and representation in decision-making. The recommendations are being put together for the drafting of an AA Law.
This has been given a further boost by the drafting of a paper titled “Enhancing Women’s Representation in Governance Processes through Affirmative Action”, for consideration at various validation workshops.
The aim is to create space for critical actors on gender equality to comment on the AA paper, deepen knowledge and awareness on the subject, and to define and broaden the collaborative relationships needed to facilitate an inclusive and participatory process around AA promotion in Ghana.
Discussing the content of the document with selected participants from civil society groups, academia, women’s rights organisations, government agencies, parliament and political parties at a validation workshop, Ms. Hilary Gbedemah, who prepared the draft document, noted that the document would help to develop an AA law.
She said the document also aims to outline and propose a mechanism for facilitating the application of the AA principle, while outlining the specific components required under such an AA principle that would take into account the different levels and structures of the governance system.
She looked at the background of AA, its history in Ghana, and examined the rationale for it from the angle of its necessity, legal commitments and the value that women bring to governance in general.
According to her, the statistics of the number of women in decision-making and political participation, and the historical socio-cultural and structural inequalities of exclusion, confirm the necessity for AA.
Additionally, she argues that the successes of earlier first generation AA measures, from the 1950s to 1970s in politics and other facets of the nation’s life, make the demand for an AA law necessary.
She stated that AA places the burden of redress, not on the excluded (women) alone, but also on those who control the recruitment processes, that is, the men who are at the helm of affairs in many decision making positions.
In chapter two of the three-chapter document, she talks about specific components of AA, and strategies which recognise and express the need to change the status quo, looking at equal opportunity strategies.
This, she pointed out, requires training, awareness creation, and interventions to correct socio-cultural imbalances, and positive action strategies that target electoral systems and impose quotas at the intra-party, constituency and national levels, to ensure women’s increased representation in a readily enforceable manner. The chapter also discusses the arguments for and against quotas, quota types, and their levels of applicability.
The last chapter examines a mechanism for facilitating AA in Ghana, such as the domestication and compliance with international obligations like the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). These are believed to espouse gender equality, contain targets and impose the duty to take the necessary action to attain the prescribed 30 to 50 percent representation.
Thus, Ms. Gbedemah observed that “advocacy should acknowledge and stress impossibility of attaining these targets without deliberate and specific interventions.”
She added that interventions at the national level, particularly Parliament, have to show political will by ensuring that the legal framework is in place and resource the appropriate implementing institutions such as the MOWAC adequately for implementation.
With the hindsight of countries that have had successful strategies, electoral and legal systems would have to be reviewed to accommodate a shift to a system that promotes women’s increased participation, preferably, the proportional representation system, she noted.
According to her, other institutions that need to be targeted at specific levels include political parties, the chieftaincy institution as the traditional decision makers, capacity building within the judiciary, and various cross cutting measures to ensure sustainability.
Particularly, she stressed, engagement with political parties have to result in parties adopting voluntary quotas for both elective positions and representation within party structures.
To Ms. Gbedemah, the current electoral laws would have to be amended, but such changes may involve protracted legal processes, thus, short term measures, comprising constitutional and legal quotas, are recommended.
Therefore, what is needed in the meantime is an advocacy to commence for new legislation, a comprehensive AA law with gender equality components, and possibly an updated AA policy, as she pointed out.
From the processes so far, one can say that the process towards obtaining an AA law have started, and the arguments for its necessity include Ghana’s international obligations, constitutional requirements, and the history of social, economic and educational imbalances among others.
Thus, an AA law is expected to provide a framework to redress the systemic disadvantages suffered by individuals and groups due to past and present discrimination.
At this stage, one expects that the discussions would continue dispassionately, and the education of the masses and, particularly of men, would be strengthened for all to understand and appreciate the need to have an AA law, and the use of quotas to improve the situation of women in governance. Long live Ghana! Long live the women’s front in Africa!!
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