The status of gender equality in Ghana
2017 is the 60th anniversary of our independence as a nation. It is a good time to reflect on gender activism and gender equality in Ghana.
At the beginning of the sixth decade of our existence as a nation, we need to focus on the most important single intervention that will ensure 50:50 representation of women by 2030, and guarantee equitable representation of women at all levels of government. That intervention is the passage of the Affirmative Action Bill in Ghana.
One of the high points of my career as a public servant and the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection occurred on June 9, 2016. Ghana took an important step in the path of gender equality. After hours of deliberation, Cabinet, under former President John Dramani Mahama finally approved the Affirmative Action Bill. This was indeed a historic feat and had taken years of hard work and advocacy to achieve.
Exemplary women leadership in Ghana, the socio-cultural context, political activism, the rebirth of constitutional democracy since 1993, and milestones of the international gender movement (Beijing, Nairobi, CEDAW, MDGs, SDG 5) created an enabling environment for this to occur.
Ghanaian feminists, activists, and advocates started the march towards equitable representation of women in national governance even before independence.
It is important to remind ourselves of the legacies that our foremothers have left in the sands of time in Ghana and the progress we have made towards gender equality in Ghana. We are currently benefiting from the legacies of exceptional women leaders who exhibited exemplary leadership.
We remember Yaa Asantewaa, Juaben Serwa, Naa Dorde Akaibi of Obutu who all blazed the trail as traditional female freedom fighters. During the six decades of our existence as a nation, women have ‘cultivated the land of gender equality’ and we, the present generation, are ready to plant the seeds.
The first decade saw two notable women leaders Mabel Dove Danquah, Hannah Kudjoe and Ghanaian market women as female champions of independence. Hannah Kudjoe, a prominent activist, was one of the first high-profile female nationalists in the struggle for independence.
She was the National Propaganda Secretary for the Convention People's Party (CPP). She was an active philanthropist and worked to improve women's lives in the northern Ghana.
Hannah Kudjoe was heavily involved with ‘Positive Action’, a campaign for mass civil disobedience that eventually led to the end of colonial rule, and she inspired massive support for the CPP throughout this campaign. She was an effective organiser, and mobilised many people, including women to join the fight for independence”.
“Mabel Dove Danquah was one of the first women in West Africa to work as a journalist, political activist and creative writer. She was a writer for The Times of West Africa, Ghana's first daily newspaper, she strongly advocated fundamental human rights while denouncing foreign domination.
In the general election of 1954, she was committed to organising women for the CPP, and she was subsequently put up as a candidate for Ga Rural Constituency, which she won beating Obsetebi Lamptey. Her election made her the first female member of the Legislative Assembly of the Gold Coast, and the first woman to be elected as a member of any African Parliament.
Our second decade female champions include Justice Annie Ruth Jiagge, the first female Justice of the Appeal Court of Ghana. She joined the Bench as Magistrate on March 1, 1954 and became the first ever female High Court Judge not only in Ghana, but the whole of the Commonwealth.
She became an appeal court judge in 1969 and contributed to the drafting of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) as Ghana’s representative.
Mrs Esther Ocloo turned a gift of less than $1 into 12 jars of marmalade which she sold for profit. She became one of the leading entrepreneurs in Ghana when she established Nkulenu Industry.
Third and fourth decade
Some notable women of our third decade were Gloria Amon Nikoi and Dr Mrs Mary Grant. At the age of 49, Mrs Nikoi became Ghana’s first female Foreign Minister under the AFRC. She held a lot of positions in the financial circles, including first Chairperson of the Council of the Ghana Stock Exchange. Dr Mrs Mary Grant was a member of the Council of State and elder of the National Democratic Congress (NDC).
I call the fourth decade of female champions ‘female crusaders for a new democratic Ghana’. It was the beginning of a new constitutional era after military rule, the beginning of the Fourth Republic. Some notable women here were Former First Lady, Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, and Madam Hawa Yakubu.
Nana Konadu championed the promulgation of the Intestate Succession Law and popularised women’s empowerment. Hawa Yakubu, a native of Pusiga, Bawku, was a politician par excellence who played a critical role in opposition in the First Parliament of the Fourth Republic.
Fifth and sixth decades
During our fifth decade, civil society activism for women’s rights re-emerged, and a strong women’s group, FIDA advocated and raised awareness of women’s rights throughout Ghana. Betty Mould Iddrisu, Prof. Akua Kuenyehia, Ms Elisabeth Solomon, and Mrs Victoria Addy (the Solomon twins), Ms Angeline Laryea, Mrs Dorcas Coker Appiah, Ms Emelia Artur, Mrs Chris Dadzie and several other female lawyers were members of FIDA.
In the sixth decade, Hilary Gbedemah, Esther Ofei Aboagye, Edna Kumah, Rose Mensah Kutin, Angela Dwamena Aboagye, Gloria Ofori Boadu, Dzordzi Tsikata, Bernice Sam, Mawuli Dake, Nana Asantewaa Afadzinu and several others continued with the advocacy. A remarkable achievement after years of agitation was the promulgation of the Domestic Violence Act in 2007.
Government boosted these efforts when in 2001, former President John A. Kufuor created the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs. The mandate of the ministry was expanded by former President John Dramani Mahama in 2013 when he created the Ministry of Gender Children and Social Protection. Under this ministry, ‘gender’ was institutionalised and the legal and policy framework for gender was developed and strengthened. We now have a Domestic Violence Act (2006), a Gender Policy (2015), and an Affirmative Action/Gender Equality Bill (2016).
In terms of ensuring gender equality we are on the right path. A comprehensive legal and policy framework to protect rights of women exists, including Domestic Violence Act, Human Trafficking Act, Labour Act, Children’s Act, Property Rights of Spouses Bill, Intestate Succession Bill, Affirmative Action Bill, Gender Policy, Child and Family Welfare Policy, Justice for Children Policy, Social Protection Bill etc.
Gender mainstreaming has been pursued vigorously with gender officers in each district assembly. Our national machinery for gender is 41 years old. Gender budgeting is being implemented. Our national programmes are not only gender sensitive, but disability friendly, incorporating the needs of the most vulnerable in our society. This is why we say the land has indeed been cultivated and is ready for the planting of seeds.
Women have, over the period of our nationhood, defied the odds to lead under difficult circumstances. Some of us have tried to surmount numerous socio-cultural, traditional, religious and economic challenges.
Some have been insulted and vilified for being women leaders. Others have been disgraced, and called names simply because they were women serving their nation. Some have suffered broken homes, and broken marriages and isolation. Our gallant women leaders have bequeathed a strong legacy to us after six decades.
At the start of the next decade of nationhood, the present generation need to take this activism a notch higher. Our efforts have been boosted by the Affirmative Action Bill. How high will we take gender equality in Ghana and in which direction?