In a country where high professional and academic qualifications have been used by many as stepping stones to mouth-watering jobs, being highly successful in a prestigious field of study and turning down high profile jobs to serve humanity is a rare choice.
However, this is exactly what Mrs Angela Dwamena-Aboagye, an astute lawyer with impressive academic credentials did; she turned down corporate offers in preference for a volunteer role as a human rights advocate.
In that capacity, she now fights for gender equality, secures justice for abused women and children and helps give economic and social empowerment to the vulnerable in society.
Much as the nature of Mrs Dwamena-Aboagye's current work as a human rights advocate and the Executive Director of the Ark Foundation, a human rights NGO based in Accra, makes her a public figure, not many people know of her accomplished academic and professional background.
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The half-a-century-old multiple award winner holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from the University of Ghana Law School, a Master of Laws (LL.M) from the Georgetown University in the USA and another Master of Mission and Theology (M.A, M.Th.) from the Akrofi-Christaller Institute for Theology, Mission and Culture (ACI) Ghana. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology from the same institute.
Mrs Dzamena-Aboagye told the host of Springboard on Joy FM, Reverend Albert Ocran, when she took her turn on Leaders' Digest on October 12 that she was motivated to choose human rights advocacy over corporate practice and has since devoted over 22 years of her life to gender-based campaigns in fulfilment of her passion to do God's work.
"It is about serving humanity. There is no better person in this world who typifies service to humanity than Jesus Christ who came basically as a servant. So anytime I am serving humanity, I see it as working in the Lord’s vineyard," she said, quoting copious scriptures from the books of Isaiah and Mathew in the Bible to buttress her point.
"Yes, in the past, I may have defined it differently but today, I am very convinced of the fact that it is divine destiny that God has given me the opportunity to help serve others," she added.
Core values of Mrs Dwamena-Aboagye
Angela Dwamena-Aboagye was the sixth guest on the Leaders' Digest, a series on Springboard that provides diverse leaders with the platform to share their life stories.
The programme, which started on September 7, will run till the end of the year during which renowned leaders, heads of institutions and people of repute in society will share the secrets of their successes, their core values and the lessons learnt from their respective areas of operation.
It is aimed at motivating people, especially the youth to pursue their individual goals in life.
The executive director of the Ark Foundation holds three core values dear, namely excellence, empowerment and equality. "These three are subsumed under the broader rubric of doing the will of God and fulfilling His purposes in my life. I do not let go of integrity; that always comes in there as the foundation," she stressed.
The progress so far
It is not uncommon for women fighting for equality to be branded and subjected to stereotyping, a challenge Mrs Dwamena-Aboagye has dealt with over the years.
"When we began, a lot of people thought we were crazy and we were called all sorts of names; marriage breakers and things like that. When we talked about the fact that violence against women was endemic, people thought that we had come from abroad to brainwash people and things like that," she recalled.
The Ark Foundation went on to build the country’s first and only shelter for abused people. "With the opening up of the media and increased reportage, things changed because people suddenly realised that if girls had to go to school, someone had to shout; if women had to go into politics and share their ideas and experiences, people had to shout and all these were not peculiar to Ghana."
"Today, the success of their efforts is evidenced by the rise of women on the corporate ladder, in politics and society in general. Currently, there are more women in the corporate boardrooms. People no longer expect the women just to rise and make the tea because everybody there can make the tea; male or female,” Mrs Dwamena-Aboagye stated. She added that the issues they fought so hard for were now being taken seriously, saying “there are changes, though slowly in Ghana."
Also a strong advocate of marriage, Mrs Dwamena-Aboagye is married to Kwame, a union they have enjoyed for 23 years. They have been blessed with three daughters and a son. Asked how the two relate in the house, Mrs Dwamena-Aboagye said, "we serve each other coffee in the house. I often say that God's ideal marriage is two servants in a relationship serving each other.
There is no sense of boss in marriage and that is why the man has to be the sacrificial person who lays down his life for the woman as Christ did for the church and the woman is easily able to submit to that kind of man," she explained. This, she said, should be the bedrock of every marriage, no matter the level of qualification of the partners involved.
Sexual harassment in the corporate world
On the treatment of female employees in the corporate world, Mrs Dzamena-Aboagye said the tendency by some corporate executives to force their female staff to dress in a manner that would attract business from customers was equivalent to sexual harassment and must be stopped.
"In Ghana, we don't have policies on sexual harassment and this one is direct sexual harassment. Once you are telling women to use their bodies to your company's advantage, it is sexual harassment.”
Unfortunately she said, “when we are doing things like 100 top companies, we do not factor in these things.” She warned that companies that did those things would soon be paying millions of cedis in fines.
“They should just wait for a few young women to file law suits against them and they will be shocked at what will happen," she said.
Going forward, Mrs Dzamena-Aboagye said the indicators for awarding top companies should include indicators such as treatment of their human resource. She also advised ladies who are victims of such acts to be bold to speak out about such things and also called for public support.
Angela's 10 Commandments
1. I see my advocacy work in gender or women empowerment as a calling from God.
2. I did not set out to be a gender advocate. I have always been passionate about equal opportunity and correcting what I saw as an imbalance right from my home as a child. As I begun, studying about it, I ended up pursuing it all the way to Master's level in the Georgetown University in the USA.
3. In our early days in advocacy, we adopted a radical approach because we read Karl Marx and other socialist writers. However, as I grew older, I adopted a more balanced, refined and holistic approach to my work.
4. My three core values are excellence, empowerment and equality.
5. When people are empowered, they can become all that they were meant to be. Until then, you can never know what is inside them.
6. At the base of my three core values or pillars is a non-negotiable foundation of integrity. Standing at the top like a roof is a commitment to do the will of God and fulfill his purpose for my life.
7. Being a gender advocate does not make you a "marriage wrecker" as some people initially labelled us. I am blessed to be happily married to my husband Kwame for the past 23 years.
8. There are many women achievers doing great things and who can serve as speakers, panelists and role models. They need to be encouraged to come out. Organisers need to make the extra effort to find them and factor in their peculiar responsibilities when inviting them.
9. Companies that pressurize their female staff to dress provocatively in order to attract customers and make sales are actually committing sexual harassment. As we become more informed, companies like that could find themselves paying millions of cedis in law suits.
10. Life is all about serving humanity. There is no better person in this world who typifies service to humanity than Jesus Christ who came basically as a servant. So anytime I am serving humanity, I see it as working in the Lord’s vineyard.