Women’s issues have assumed international dimension over the years, particularly after the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing, China in September 1995.
The conference ended with the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights, which had remained a powerful source of inspiration and guidance to governments and institutions.
Platform for action
As a defining framework for change, the Platform for Action made comprehensive commitments under 12 critical areas of concern, which looked at women and the environment, women in power and decision-making, the girl child, women and the economy, women and poverty and violence against women.
Following from these critical areas of concern, gender equality and equity have become a global requirement for member countries of the United Nations (UN) to ensure that conventions on these matters are implemented to the full for the benefit of women empowerment.
Population of women
In Ghana, the 2010 Population and Housing Census showed that women constituted about 51 per cent of the total population and for that reason, all the political parties that contested in the last general election realised that leaving women’s issues out of their campaign manifestoes meant that about 51 per cent of the population were not being recognised.
They, therefore, came out with convincing and attractive declarations on how to empower women and to deal decisively with women’s welfare.
The National Democratic Congress (NDC), led by President John Mahama, is not an exception of these plans. It indicated in its manifesto to ensure the enactment of the Affirmative Action Bill, which is currently being finalised by the Attorney General’s Department, to provide a framework for addressing historical gender-related injustices, as well as work with the sponsors of the Women’s Manifesto to ensure that all metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies (MMDAs) mainstream gender into their programmes.
On Wednesday, July 22, 2015, President John Dramani Mahama scored another point in the appointment of women to key positions.
Mrs Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, a career diplomat, was sworn in as Ghana's Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN), the first time in the history of the country that a woman is occupying that enviable position.
The appointment comes not long after the first woman, in the person of Mrs Charlotte Osei, the immediate past Chairperson of the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE), was appointed to head Ghana's Electoral Commission (EC). Mention can also be made of Madam Grace Francisca Adzoe, the Controller and Accountant General, Mrs Matilda Baffour-Awua, the Director of the Ghana Prison Service, Dr Philomena Nyarko, the Government Statistician, and the Director-General of the Ghana AIDS Commission, Dr Angela El-Adas.
Role of UN permanent representative
The work of the UN permanent representative is a demanding job. And for Mrs Pobee, the work ahead of her is even more demanding as she doubles as the Ambassador to the UN.
Ghana's Permanent Mission of the UN is the primary channel for communications between the Ghana Government and the United Nations in New York City.
Through diplomacy, negotiation and daily monitoring of UN activities, she is expected to work to advance Ghana's interests, promote international development, security and human rights, and keep the government informed of developments in multilateral relations.
She also will lead the Mission to conduct relations with representatives of the other 193 UN member states, observer missions, non-governmental organisations and the staff of the United Nations Secretariat.
The Mission also works together with the New York-based UN programmes and funds such as the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).
It is, therefore, no wonder that at the swearing-in ceremony at the Flagstaff House, President Mahama advised her to put the best foot forward because the UN system demanded hard work.
Transformational power of women
The President has never hidden his admiration for the inherent transformational power of the Ghanaian woman, and has, since his swearing-in as President after winning the 2012 elections, appointed a number of women into ministerial and other positions in state institutions although there is still room for improvement.
History has shown that many of our women are excelling in national and international assignments.
Although many women are coming out with policies relevant to development, and entering policy-focused careers, these have, over the years, not translated into the realisation of the goals of the women development agenda.
Keeping to electoral promises
Reasons for this include our governments reneging on their electoral promises to keep a certain percentage of their appointments for women.
Besides, there is the determination of men to keep to the status quo by retaining control over management positions.
There is also the argument that women who reach top positions are much tougher on female colleagues than a male boss might be and would not wish to see their fellow women get to the top.
But the President's move to ensure respectable female representation at the top should not just be about securing fairer representation. It should mean better and progressive decisions from the women.
One cannot agree more with an American writer who said, “To appoint a woman for the sake of diversity is as insulting, if not more insulting, as not appointing them because they’re women.”
Women who are appointed should be able to make better decisions to ensure accelerated development of the organisations in which they find themselves and the nation at large.