Growing up as a very curious young Ghanaian woman, I was concerned about our political space, concerned about the wrangling I heard on Mama’s radio about Union Government, the economic growth of our country and passbooks for essential commodities during the revolutionary era, the gaps in gender equality, and the cupped voices of women.
As I sat in the Medical School bus to Ridge Church School every morning, I was very curious about this Ghana Bar Association that was always making political pronouncements about General Kutu Acheampong and the Supreme Military Council. I was curious then, and I am still curious today.
So I am curious about the statement made by our President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo at the 2019 Women Deliver Conference in Vancouver.
What do I make of the levers of power in Ghana politics? Are they genderised enough? Who can influence control of these levers?
I was fortunate to have strong female role models who charted the course of gender empowerment in their own unique ways; the two empowered matriarchs of my paternal and maternal families.
My paternal grandmother, Elisabeth Naryi Mensah, a trader at the Makola Market and a Convention People’s Party (CPP) women’s activist of Ododiodoo, and my maternal grandmother, Maame Adjoa Mansa (Mary Plange) of Shama, a fresh vegetables seller and ‘chop bar’ operator at the Railway Station Market, Accra Central.
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Women of valour
As I helped Maame Mansa grind pepper, peel cassava and plantain for our lunch at Court A Zoti flats, I learnt at first hand, a lot about the women of valour in my community.
They were noble, accomplished, empowered, independent and illiterate women who knew their worth and rose up to the occasion of the embodiment of who a woman was.
Their ‘herstories’ greatly galvanised and inspired my curiosity and framed my perception of the empowered Ghanaian woman.
I recall Theodosia Salome Okoh who captured our journey into nationhood and our aspirations through the colours red, gold, green and black, and produced our national flag which has been flying high ever since.
Professor Ama Ata Aidoo, an educationist who has spent her life teaching women the skills of writing. I have been blessed to see the works of Efua Sutherland, a playwright and activist who transformed the theatre space to give women a stake.
I recall and relate to vivacious women such as the Late Hawa Yakubu and Theresa Amerley Tagoe, political rock stars who debunked the general perception that Parliament was an all-boys club.
In terms of political activism, I recall our own Ama Benyiwaa Doe, Mrs Cecilia Johnson and recently, our indefatigable Araba Tagoe.
Affirmative Action Law
The post-independence regime under Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first Prime Minister, who became President in 1960 when Ghana attained a republican status, instituted affirmative action programmes that led to the creation of 10 parliamentary seats for women in Ghana's first Parliament.
During the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) era, President Jerry John Rawlings and his wife, Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, led the process for the passage of the Intestate Succession law.
President John Agyekum Kufuor introduced free maternal health care and created the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs.
President John Evans Atta Mills expanded the Microfinance and Small Loans Centre (MASLOC) programme to create access to micro finance for women. President John Dramani Mahama adopted the Gender Equality and Affirmative Action Bill, the Gender Policy and Social Protection Policy.
Against this backdrop, I find it alarming that a President tasked with the welfare of all citizens will make comments about the women in his country to the effect that he has not seen those levels of activism and dynamism that would propel women into positions of power and influence.
With the abundance of women role models and their inspiring stories, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo, in his moment of truth in Vancouver a week ago, could not leverage on the experiences of these women and present a more dignifying case for Ghanaian women.
The President casually placed the responsibility of gender equality back on the shoulders of women and indemnified government of any responsibility whatsoever. In his words; for women to earn gender equality, there was a standard of measure of which the matrixes would include advocacy and a good level of dynamism.
I have had some teeth gnashing moments in my life, however, the disappointment I felt after hearing the President speak at the 2019 Women Deliver Conference tops it all.
What level of dynamism must a man show to earn a seat at the table and hold a ‘lever’ of power? I question the advocacy that was done by those men to earn those high offices. Why then do we demand that women must galvanise a swell of activism before they will be handed keys, levers of power and places at the tables of power in Ghana?
The underlying import of the constitutional provisions in Article 36 (6) and 37 (1) of the 1992 Constitution, places a duty on government to actively address any inequalities that may exist.
In the absence of advocacy, dynamism and placards mounted on every street corner, government has the sole legal and constitutional responsibility of ensuring that equal opportunities are provided for women and men and indeed all Ghanaians.
The purpose of advocacy within our context, has always been a reminder to government to uphold the provisions as stated in Chapters 5 and 6 of our Constitution and develop the right policies and frameworks.
It is ironic that a President who campaigned on a 30 per cent representation of women in his appointments and affirmed women as the tools that would usher the country into economic freedom, can today question the character and will of these same women on an international platform and ask for activism and dynamism before he engages the levers of power in their favour.
I am curious and so I have seen and witnessed the sustained levels of gender activism by women over the decades.
I have not only seen, but I have been part of this activism. Under the Federation of International Women Lawyers (FIDA), we marched and got better protection for women’s rights.
Under ‘Sister’s Keepers’ we marched and advocated for an end to the serial killing of women, Under the Domestic Violence Coalition, we marched and advocated for the passage of the Domestic Violence Act.
Under the Network for Women’s Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT), we demanded for women’s rights and presented a Women’s Manifesto. Under the WiLDAF ‘We Know Politics’ project, we advocated for women in politics, and the list of activism goes on and on.
In recent times, we have seen Oheneyere Gifty Anti who has engaged women through her TV show the StandPoint, Dr Felicia S. Odame, a Gender Specialist who is touching lives through the Alliance for African Women Initiative, Shamima Muslim and her Alliance for Women in Media Africa (AWMA) just to mention a few.
Our distinguished women representation also includes Hannah Tetteh and Charlotte Osei who through their wits and sheer determination, are making the country proud on the international platform.
I believe the President’s comments are unfortunate and sadly a reflection of the state of governance we find ourselves in, a government that is only moved by public action.
In the midst of this heavy cloud I am still curious and I am hopeful. Without education, my grandmothers made it happen, so with education, much more is expected of me.
I urge all women to forge ahead, untainted and more resolute than ever. This statement by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo is an indication that we have more work ahead of us if we truly want a society that is free of misogyny and sensitive to gender issues.
Curiosity killed the cat and not me Nana Oye Lithur. The levers of power are not genderised enough and you control the levers.
Mr President, reflect on your Oath of Office, apply the 1992 Constitution and hand over an equal number of the levers of power in Ghana to its women with or without dynamism and activism.