Akosua Frema Osei-Opare — Ghana’s first female Chief of Staff
Akosua Frema Osei-Opare — Ghana’s first female Chief of Staff

The Affirmative Action Bill (III)

The purpose of the bill is described as “to effectively redress social, cultural, economic and gender imbalance in the country, based on historical discrimination against women emanating from persistent patriarchal socio-cultural systems and norms in spite of de jure equality of men and women”.

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To do this, the bill places several requirements on public and private actors. Below are examples to illustrate the nature of the requirements. 

Equality policies

All arms of government, public sector bodies and institutions, independent constitutional bodies, political parties, and private sector employers including media houses are expected to develop and submit gender equality policies and plans to the Gender Equality Committee within 12 months of the coming into force of the law.

The plans shall include targets for achieving gender equality according to a prescribed schedule by the bill as follows – a) 30 per cent by the year 2026; b) 35 per cent by the year 2028; and c) 50 per cent by the year 2030.

The bill also requires the submission of annual gender equality reports indicating the extent of compliance with the law to the Gender Equality Committee. 

Directory

The Public Services Commission is expected to maintain and update yearly a directory of qualified women from which appointment into the service will be made. In addition, if there are bodies for which there is a specific number of members required for appointment purposes, the commission is expected to reserve a specific number of seats for women.

The education sector is expected to a) review the curricula from basic schools to tertiary institutions and include courses on gender; b) monitor the progress of the girl child all the way from secondary school through tertiary; and c) lower cut-off points for female applicants to the university and reservation of slots for those from deprived districts.

The National Media Commission for example is expected to ensure that a) media programmes are gender sensitive; b) women are portrayed positively and gender stereotype is eliminated; and c) the reporting and analysis on the rights of women and gender equality issues are scaled up.

For private sector employers, gender equality policies and plans are expected to be a) made in consultation with their employees; b) part of their strategic plan; and c) submitted to the Gender Equality Committee for review.

Technology infrastructure

Undoubtedly, the dictates of the bill create new demands on all actors. To comply, actors will need a) a state-of-the-art technology infrastructure with appropriate software tools; b) human resources in terms of a compliance team with the requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities and who are positioned to shoulder the burden for the organisation; c) financial resources to build and maintain the compliance assurance system; and d) a new organisational culture where there is real commitment to gender equality.

The bill does well to incentivise compliance. As discussed in Part II, private sector employers who meet the quota targets will potentially receive tax incentives from the Ministry of Finance.

In addition, receiving a Gender Equality Compliance Certificate allows a private sector employer to be given preferential treatment in the award of government contracts. Hopefully, these incentives are strong enough to motivate private sector employers to commit to achieving gender equality. There is not an equivalent set of incentives for actors in the public sector though and this is something that must be corrected before the bill becomes law.

Prospects for Passage

There is no way to predict the fate of this latest attempt to legislate gender equality. The proposed legislation is yet to gain traction in public spaces including media platforms. Given the current public energy and enthusiasm observed, it may be tempting to downplay the importance and urgency of the legislation and conclude that there is a lack of interest among Ghanaians.

However, that is not the case. At least there is interest among Ghanaians to see government action on this issue. In Afrobarometer Round 9 (2022), fifty per cent (50%) said “government and elected officials should be doing more than they are doing now to advance the rights and equality of women,” with another seventeen per cent (17%) saying “somewhat more.”

 In the same survey, Ghanaians identified the following as the top three women’s rights and equality issues government and the larger society must address – a) too few women in influential positions in government; b) unequal opportunities or pay in the workplace; and c) gender-based violence.

 Lastly, the percentage of Ghanaians rating government performance well when it comes to promoting opportunities and equality for women has declined significantly from sixty-eight per cent (68%) as per Afrobarometer Round 7, 2019 to forty-four per cent (44%) as per Afrobarometer Round 9, 2022.

The current legislation therefore presents our policy makers an opportunity to respond positively to Ghanaians by working in a bipartisan way to finally legislate an affirmative action and gender equality bill.

The writer is the Project Director, Democracy Project.

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