Women and Elections – By Yussuf Daakyehene Bouda

The Majority of Ghanaians are Women: where are their candidates and issues at election time?

Accra:  As the 2012 elections heat up in Ghana, a leading civil society organization is calling on political parties to develop strong positions on issues that affect women who make up 51% of the population.

“After almost two decades of uninterrupted democratic governance, we all want to hear the voice of women in development that reduces poverty in Ghana,” says Afi Yakubu, Executive Director of the Foundation for Security and Development in Africa (FOSDA), working to increase the role of women in  economic and political life.  She was speaking in Tamale at a workshop on Gender Equality.

“For years, world experts have pointed out that improving the position of women in the family and the community is a key to economic growth,” Yakubu says.  “They are the strongest voices for better water and sanitation, health care and education for all children.  But our parliament, administration and political parties are overwhelmingly dominated by men.  For a brief time in the 1960s, Ghana had a law called the People’s Representation Act which led to the appointment of 10 women from across the country to Parliament.  They helped to pass some notable bills including those on Trade, Child Maintenance, Welfare and Health.  Those women were strong, creative and resourceful just as women are today and now, more and more of them are well educated.  We need to hear them in important positions at every level of our society, especially in the political parties,” she said.

Recent FOSDA Study documents the difficulties for women seeking office.

In a study of women in elected offices in Ghana, FOSDA discovered that, while 25 women were elected to parliament in 2004, the number of female MPs dropped to 19 in 2008.  It further revealed that women who want to get involved in the nation’s political parties are often given administrative positions outside the policy decision-making sector.  Until recently, apart from the NDC and now the CPP, no major political party has had a woman close to the top where policy decisions are made.  FOSDA is asking parties to bring women in, give them leadership experience and support them to run for office.

“It is amazing that political parties are unable to create space for women in the decision-making arena yet they need women’s votes to win,” Yakubu says.  “When women have a voice in policies and campaign platforms, candidates will have a better chance at gaining the votes of a huge block of potential women voters.”  She listed a number of issues that bear directly on the security and well-being of women:  the Kayeyei problem that draws rural girls to dangerous jobs in the biggest cities, maternal and childbirth mortality, domestic violence, and the negative effects of traditional practices in the modern context, including dowry, physical and legal abuse of widows and female genital mutilation.

In recent years, she noted, some parties have begun to tap the potential of women in politics.  Most dramatically, Samia Yaba Nkrumah became the first female Chairperson of any party – the Convention People’s Party (CPP) – in 2011.  Since the late 1990s, the NDC constitution has committed to allocating 40% of positions they control in government to women.  Former First Lady Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings also held high level positions there.  Both the NDC and the CPP have cut the cost of filing fees for women.  Recognizing women’s issues before 2008, the National Peoples’ Party, (NDP) inaugurated the Ministry of Women’s and Children’s Affairs.

“We need to extend this trend right down to the parties at the District level,” Yakubu says, “where women are intimately acquainted with the local problems and needs that limit their ability to increase education, health and economic development.”

News Media Should Tell the Story:  Women Politicians Have Made a Difference

FOSDA believes the news media could also play a major role in advancing the leadership of women.  “The few constituencies that recently elected women to parliament include Savelugu, Builsa, Bawku, Gushiegu, Mamprusi and Cheriponi, Yakubu says.  They saw that women representatives in Accra can bring significant benefits to their communities.  They faced big challenges and their stories are unique and inspiring.”

In Cheriponi, in the Northern Region, a District Assemblyman recently described the political career of Hon. Doris Asibi Seidu. “Thanks to her we now have electricity in town and most of our best recent development projects came thanks to her ability to get the attention of Parliament to fund them.  She was very popular and was strongly re-elected in 2004.”  Unfortunately, Doris Asibi died shortly before she could begin her second term in Parliament.

In the Upper East Region of Bawku Central, voters remember Hon. Hawa Yakubu who was  instrumental in the development of  hospitals and schools during her time in Parliament.

Untapped Voting Power Emerging

Across the northern regions, women have begun to create advocacy campaigns on issues that political parties might harness, says Yakubu.  The Savannah Women’s Empowerment Group – Ghana (SWEGG) kicked off a project in November 2011 in Nandom to gain reform of the dowry practices that are spawning negative effects for young men, women and families.  With a turnout of over 200 marchers during two days of the traditional Kakube Festival, the women received commitments of support for dowry reform from paramount Chief, Naa Dr. Puobe Puoure Kokuu Chirr VII and Hon. Ambrose Derry, Member of Parliament for Nandom.

Amina Montia is the convenor of SWEGG and a member of the FOSDA Board of Directors. “In our traditional society,” she says, “women have always had to be extremely resourceful in sustaining a family, being educators in raising children and hard workers in support of their husbands, often against huge challenges.  These are also some of the qualities that make successful entrepreneurs who can start and grow a business.  In some places, micro-lending programmes that put money in the hands of women have seen a blossoming of economic growth.  The developed world can look at under-developed countries like Ghana and see this huge, untapped part of the population.  Until our own leaders enable women to help describe the problems and find the solutions, we are like a population walking a long way on only one leg.”

FOSDA has been a registered civil society organization in Ghana since 2002.  It won recognition from the United Nations and international peace-building organizations for its successful campaign to limit small weapons trafficking in Ghana and other West African Nations.  FOSDA recently completed an in-depth study of the history, role and challenges for women in entering the arena of political office.  A copy of the Baseline Study: INCREASING THE ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN IN THE SAVANNAH REGION OF GHANA, is available from FOSDA.