Sheila Minkah-Premo, Convenor, Affirmative Action (Gender Equality) Bill Coalition
Sheila Minkah-Premo, Convenor, Affirmative Action (Gender Equality) Bill Coalition

Bridging the gender inequality gap through affirmative action

Women’s low participation and under-representation in governance and public service has been a lingering phenomenon the world over. 

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Indeed, gender inequality cannot be an exclusively women’s concern but should be considered as a human rights issue, the promotion of which is acknowledged as a condition or situation that  inures to the benefit of society as a whole. Gender equality and increased equitable female political participation is considered indispensable for a peaceful and sustainable development.

The implementation of strategies for bridging the gender gap in order to achieve equal representation of women and men in public decision-making has been a challenge in Ghana as well, with institutional obstacles and negative structural or outmoded socio-cultural attitudes and practices working against them.

Minimum threshold

The minimum threshold of 30 per cent representation of women in political decision-making circles or public office, mandated by the United Nations (UN), has not been realised in Ghana and under the circumstances, an Affirmative Action (AA) or gender equality Law presents itself as the most authentic or legitimate weapon, if not instrument, for expanding women’s participation in governance, public and even private life.

In an attempt to dismantle the institutional barriers and to foster and facilitate changes in the socio-cultural attitudes and practices that undermine or impede women’s aspirations to public decision-making in order to promote and enhance social cohesion and national progress and development, the global Conferences on Women in Mexico (1975), Denmark (1980) and Beijing (1995) demanded the involvement of women in all spheres of public endeavour.

It is indisputable that in a predominantly patriarchal society such as Ghana, the absence of interventions in the form of quotas for women, the contributions of a “critical minority” will elude the country at all levels of national development.

Notwithstanding the significant strides made in the fields of education, health and economics in terms of gender justice or gender equity, gender inequality remains a formidable hindrance to women’s emancipation, hence the need for measures and targeted approaches to readjust the imbalance.

In other words, while AA has made some impact, particularly in improving the male female ratio in primary education, evidence shows that it has failed to promote increased women's representation in political and public life.

Motivated by the principle that each citizen shares an equal right to self-development and that both women and men with equal abilities deserve equal opportunities and emboldened by the demands of the Global Conferences on Women, the Government of Ghana, in 1998, developed an Affirmative Action policy guideline that called for at least  40 per cent of representation of women in appointments to the public service and boards, among others.

Gender Equality Bill

Consequently, an AA Bill, designed to help eliminate gender inequalities, was drafted, with inputs by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, and approved by Cabinet for passage into Law. The Bill, which is currently before Parliament, if it becomes Law, is expected to bridge the gap between men and women in Ghana.

The AA Bill seeks a 50/50 per cent representation and participation of both women and men in governance, public positions of power and all decision-making processes of state. It also requires all sectors to reserve a percentage of their employment for women. Political parties are also to be encouraged to adopt voluntary party quotas to promote women’s participation in party politics.

The Bill mandates all public institutions to adopt gender policies, including recruitment policies, aimed at achieving a balanced structuring of those institutions in terms of gender.

The Bill also proposes that a person who insults a woman for vying for public office shall be liable for prosecution. Clause 38 of the bill provides that, a person who victimizes, obstructs or exerts undue influence and submits a female politician to verbal attack, among others, commits an offence.

The passage of the gender equality Bill is critical to women’s participation and representation as it provides for sanctions for non-compliance and its provisions extend to the private sector as well.

It is a temporary measure that seeks to correct injustices and the exclusion of women over the years. Women’s inclusion and participation by means of an AA Law has enhanced the development of countries which adopted the law.

The passage of the AA or Gender Equality Bill into Law is, therefore, long overdue and it is welcome news that the Bill is one of the items to be considered by the 4th session of the 8th Parliament of the 4th Republic. We hope the Bill, if passed into Law, will not suffer the same fate as the Anti Witchcraft and the Proper Human Sexual Rights Law. 

The writer is a Journalist and a Lawyer

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