“For me, a better democracy is a democracy where women do not only have the right to vote and to elect but to be elected.”—Michelle Bachelet, head of UN Women, former president and defence minister of Chile.
The struggle for women’s liberation dates back to the early 18th century during the 1st wave of feminism when both the right to vote and access to equal political power was established in the United States (also known as the suffragette movement). With different experiences across the globe, women’s rights in Ghana and their struggles have been rooted in the lack of political representation, struggle for equal opportunities at the workplace and for recognition as equal social partners. The scanty history of women’s role in Ghana’s politics and independence struggle shows the importance of promoting the inclusion of women in all facets of life and to have literature on the importance of increasing women’s participation and representation.
The struggle for gender equality and the lower representation of women in politics and governance in Ghana is a democratic deficit that needs everyone’s commitment. Post-independence, 63 years later, Ghana has not elected a female president or vice president, and there remains a significant gender disparity and representation in parliament. It is important to note that democracy is also rooted in the promotion of equal political participation for both men and women through social inclusion, representation, active participation and involvement in governance.
Gender has been noted by Adatuu & Apusigah (2018) as “how the social roles, responsibilities and expectations of males and females are valued, accounted for and represented in society and its systems and structures”. It can determine how the privileges or position of the different sexes affect the status in politics and other aspects of social lives. Gender equality is achieved when there is an equal opportunity for men and women across all sectors including social and economic opportunity, political participation and decision making.
Women’s political participation in Ghana
With no Affirmative Action law in Ghana, the country is noted to have varying degrees of success in its efforts to ensure women’s representation in decision-making at all levels. There continues to be a decline in women’s representation at local governance level and in parliament. Recording 20 women in the 5th parliament of 230 members, we presently have 36 females in a house of 275 members. Similarly, representation at the local governance level is disappointing as confirmed in a release by the Abantu for Development that, while there were 909 female candidates only 216 female won in the 2019 District Assembly Elections. This, they posited, signified the second-lowest number of women contestants in the history of the district assembly elections after the 547 women contestants and 196 winners in 1998.
This is in comparison to the “17,601 male contestants in the more than 6000 electoral areas countrywide.” Meanwhile, the abandonment of several developmental projects like markets, boreholes, pipes, and crèches has been as a result of the low representation of women in local governance. This is as a result of the lack of women’s voices in planning, programming and implementation.
The local governance system
According to Adatuu and Apusigah, the local government system of Ghana in the context of decentralization, also known as the District Assembly has become the “basis for development planning and resource mobilization and a basic level of formal decision-making. The assemblies remain key in the development of interventions to drive development at the local level in communities etc. They noted further that, “since starting in 1988, significant progress has been made in empowering actors to take up and play key roles towards the development of their jurisdictions. As social systems, the assemblies have not been insulated from the gender inequalities confronting the Ghanaian state”. This is because elections in Ghana are “failing to deliver district assemblies that are devoid of gender marginalization against the desire to institutionalize political legitimacy and fulfill promises of equitable, sustainable and effective local governance which requires gender sensitivity”.
Why is it important to have women elected in politics?
“Success without democracy is improbable and democracy without women is impossible” Madeleine Albright
While it is important for women to be represented in decision making; their active involvement and participation is key to ensuring that decisions reflect the needs of all genders. Also, it is important to ensure that the status of women in decision making is not reduced to being observers, as this restricts their potential efforts in contributing to both voting and policy formation procedures. This also helps in ensuring that women’s strategic and practical needs are prioritized.
It is important to be inclusive, considering that policies and legislations affect women and men differently. Having women represented in decision making also reflects who we are as a people, and it is the right thing to do as humans. When women are actively involved, they advocate more in gender-salient issues including women’s health, reproductive rights, childcare and responsive economic policies. Women tend to be more responsive to constituents and other vulnerable groups. Similarly, women tend to also focus on inclusive developments and cooperation and less on hierarchy.
Women’s participation in decision making and in all aspects of life is evident in Malala Yousafzai’s quote, “So here I stand, one girl among many. I speak not for myself, but so those without a voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights. Their right to live in peace. Their right to be treated with dignity. Their right to equality of opportunity. Their right to be educated.”
It is imperative that the gap in women’s representation is addressed through elections and the passage of the Affirmative Action Bill. For its importance, the speaker of parliament Professor Michael Oquaye, bemoaning the low representation of women, called for more efforts on passing the Affirmative Action Bill to maximize the political influence of women in terms of decision making in the country.