Some gender activists in the country yesterday used the celebration of the International Women’s Day (IWD) to rally stakeholders to demand for the passage of the Affirmative Action Bill into law, as a matter of urgency.
At a national dialogue held in Accra to mark the day, the activists stressed that the passage of the bill would be the best way to empower women and make them active participants in decision making.
Speaking at the dialogue, a former judge at the International Criminal Court, Professor Akua Kuenyehia, stressed that the time had come for women groups to act in unison and mount pressure on the government to pass the bill.
“The country’s statistics show that women constitute 51 per cent of the population but there is still discrimination against them in all spheres of human endeavour. We must come together and be committed as women groups to ensure that women have a say in the governance of this country," she stressed.
She also pointed out the need to educate and mobilise women groups and gender activists to help fight against regimes that impeded gender equality.
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The Affirmative Action Bill, which has suffered a number of setbacks for about 10 years now, was supposed to increase the participation of women in decision making.
It provides for a 40 per cent representation and participation of women in governance, public positions of power and decision making.
The bill also proposes that anyone who insults a woman just because she is vying for public office should be liable for prosecution.
For instance, Clause 38 of the draft bill says that: “A person who victimises, obstructs or exerts undue influence and submits a female politician to verbal attack, among others, commits an offence.”
A promise made by a former Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MGCSP), Nana Oye Lithur, to ensure that the bill was passed by the end of 2016 was not fulfilled.
In November 2017, the then sector minister, Mrs Otiko Afisa Djaba, also launched a campaign dubbed: ‘HeforShe’, an initiative that sought to push for Parliament to pass the bill.
Following the delays in passing the bill, many gender activists have been critical of the government for dragging its feet in the passage of the bill into law.
In May 2018, the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation called on President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to ensure that the Affirmative Action Bill was passed into law before the 2019 State of the Nation address, but that did not happen.
Against that backdrop, Prof. Kuenyehia observed that further delay would perpetuate the gender inequality gap.
She observed that if the bill was passed into law, it would help remove systems that impeded women participation in politics and decision making.
"We have a political system that encourages stereotyping of women and put men at the top. Women who dare to challenge the system and be active are insulted by the society and I think this must be looked at critically," she said.
She noted that although Ghana had made considerable efforts by putting in place legal frameworks such as the laws on domestic violence, interstate succession and child marriage, there was more work to be done to ensure that those laws translated into the empowerment of women.
Prof. Kuenyehia also said the issue of land tenure that put access to that resource in the hands of men must be given a second look if women were to be empowered.
Touching further on how to empower women, she said it was important to prioritise science,technology and mathematics education (STME) to ensure that women were equipped with skills to participate in the global space that was increasingly being taking over by technology.
The Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Mrs Cynthia Morrison, said the ministry was putting in place mechanisms to ensure that the Affirmative Action bill was passed.
In a speech delivered on her behalf by the Chief Director of the MGCSP, Dr Nafisah Zakariah, she said action towards women empowerment required an integrated approach, especially through collaboration by women and human rights groups.
She noted that the global theme underscored the need for space to be created for women to use information and communications technology (ICT) to better their lives.
Mrs Morrison also said when women harnessed the potential of ICT, they would be in a better position to boost their businesses and have access to relevant information to participate in governance.
A member of the governing council of Star-Ghana Foundation, Professor Agnes Akushika, called on the government to take steps to tackle peculiar challenges women and girls faced in the health and education sector.
The IWD is a worldwide event that celebrates women’s achievements from the political to the social spheres while calling for steps to be taken to ensure gender equality.
It has been observed since the early 1900s and is now recognised each year on March 8.
The global theme for the 2019 celebrations was: “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change,” and it focused on innovative ways in which gender advocates could advance gender equality and the empowerment of women, particularly in areas of social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure.
The event in Ghana was, however, on the theme: "Balance for better; examining progress and prospects for gender equality in Ghana."
The day was heralded by various activities which included an inter-school debate on gender inequality organised by the Ministry of Gender Children and social Protection.