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Of the President’s Vancouver remarks and the controversy

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari
Native Daughter
Of the President’s Vancouver remarks and the controversy

President Nana Akufo-Addo has recently been at the centre of a furore about remarks he made in Canada, regarding the status of equality and the empowerment of Ghanaian women. One of the most trenchant was the reaction of Nana Oye Lithur, a former Gender Minister.

Of course there are many who have voiced support for the President’s observations. But just what did he say to attract so much anger and biting criticisms from empowerment advocates, gender campaigners and feminists?

His remarks were made during a panel discussion at the ‘Women Deliver 2019 Conference’ in Vancouver, Canada. President Akufo-Addo said, among other things: “We are not seeing enough dynamism and activism on the part of (Ghanaian women).

“I am talking about dynamism where it matters … electing people to Parliament, controlling political parties because they are the instruments by which our societies make decisions. The most important thing is power: that you sit at table whereby decisions you make are enforced and become the norms by which the society lives.

“We are talking about decisions, not wishes and hopes; we are talking about decisions that are going to make the difference,” he added.

The Women Deliver conference, described as the world’s largest gathering on health, rights and well-being of women and girls, takes place every three years. This year’s, held June 3 - 6, was under the theme, ‘Power, Progress, Change’.

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Other Heads of State who attended were Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau; President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and President Sahle-Work Zewde of Ethiopia.

What President Akufo-Addo’s critics seem to be censoring him for is his statement that Ghanaian women are not assertive enough in the equality campaign, notably in the political arena. But was he telling a lie?

If their furious response stems from a belief that as President he could do much more, does it mean that he had no right to say how he views the situation?

Mrs Lithur was Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, 2013 - 2017, during the administration of President John Mahama and the National Democratic Congress. She said memorably on GHOne TV: “President Nana Akufo-Addo made me cry. I cried yesterday.

“To see my President, the country that has in its Constitution equality before the law, non-discrimination; to have a human rights lawyer speak and address the issue of gender in the way that he addressed it. Very regrettable ….” Even the data the President provided was wrong, she stated.

She continued: “The President … is enjoined by the law to adhere to the tenets of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana. He has a legal responsibility and obligation under the Constitution of Ghana to ensure that as a woman in Ghana I have equal opportunities.

“I do not need to mount a platform! I do not even need to do any advocacy to get President Nana Akufo-Addo to do what he has to do in terms of creating opportunities for me as a woman in Ghana (emphasis added), ” she said.

I found Mrs Lithur’s biting, scornful comments all the more astonishing because as Gender Minister she made at least two outrageous, anti-empowerment and rights decisions.
The Ministry she headed, has among its objectives: “The achievement of gender equality, equity, the empowerment of women and girls ….”

Yet what did she do when her Ministry was required to nominate somebody to the National Media Commission, as the Ministry’s representative? She chose to nominate a man!

The following are excerpts from what I wrote about that decision in this space in 2014:

“The irony of the Gender Ministry making this appointment on a body that is already clearly suffering from gender imbalance can’t be overlooked …. “ (The 18-member NMC was thus left with only two women on it.)

“Surely we haven’t got to the stage where the Ministry of Gender should give its only seat on any commission or body to a man just to show that it is gender sensitive or that it represents both men and women.” (Issue of March 7, 2014, ‘A curious decision by the Gender Ministry’.)

Secondly in 2016, there was the atrocious episode in which Mrs Lithur played a shocking role, the ‘Montie 3’ radio case. I wrote:

“Not only were there death threats made against the Supreme Court Judges … there was also the scandalous warning that someone was “ready to marry” the Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Georgina Wood, in the event of turmoil in Ghana.

“A clear threat of rape!

“Yet, incredibly, there are people who have signed a petition pressurizing President Mahama to pardon them! Gender Minister Nana Oye Lithur is the last person I expected to sign such a petition; but she did.” (August 5, 2016, ‘The Montie FM saga and matters arising’.)

The trio had threatened the Chief Justice with rape, clearly because she happened to be a woman, to intimidate her from doing her work as Chief Justice. Just because she was a woman.

Would they have threatened a male Chief Justice with rape?

But, Mrs Lithur, women’s advocate and human rights lawyer of repute, apparently felt that the four months prison sentence was too harsh for the notorious Montie 3.

And she now condemns President Akufo-Addo for saying he wishes Ghanaian women were much more spirited in fighting for their political space?

It made me wonder whether she spoke as she did out of convenient amnesia, political expediency or playing to the gallery – or all three.

Anyway, going by her words, is it just recently that Mrs Lithur has realised that women don’t have to lift even a finger to get the Government to give them their due?

If, as she implies so stridently, women should get their due automatically from the government of the day, why the need for a Gender Ministry, or a Ministry with a Gender component to push for opportunities for women?

Strange that she didn’t decline the position. Why didn’t she advise President Mahama that the Ministry should be scrapped because the Government should do its duty, per the national Constitution, of creating opportunities for women?

Is it only now that Mrs Lithur has discovered what a government is supposed to do for its female population, even if they don’t “mount a platform” or “do any advocacy”?

I’m still trying to understand her. Perhaps it’s now the turn of Ghanaian women, too, to weep.

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