There have been much efforts over the years to ensure gender equality in all spheres of society globally. These efforts have however come with setbacks and there remains much to be done to achieve gender equality. Globally, the largest gender disparity is on political empowerment. According to the Global Gender Gap Report (GGGR) 2018, political empowerment still maintains a gap of 77.1 percent. The economic participation and opportunity gap is the second-largest at 41.9 percent, while the educational attainment and health and survival gaps are significantly lower at 4.4 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively. Out of the 149 countries assessed by the GGGR 2018, globally, there are just 17 of them that currently have women as heads of state, while, on average, just 18 percent of ministers and 24 percent of parliamentarians are women. For Ghana, there are only 35 women parliamentarians out of a total of 275 parliamentarians. Also, Ghana is ranked 117th on political empowerment and 89th on the overall Global Gender Gap Index, out of the 149 countries being assessed in the Index.
Women have been under-represented in national legislatures and for a long time have struggled to make a breakthrough to have greater legislative representation despite their potential to contribute to national development, in bringing to politics a different set of values, experiences and expertise. From the Global Gender Gap Report 2018, besides the economic gender gap, the political gender gap is the most challenging to close which will take 202 and 107 years to close respectively. Currently, women constitute 24.3 percent of all national legislatures in the world, 23.9 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, and 12.7 percent in Ghana’s Parliament.
Regardless of efforts and strives made to reduce the poverty level in Ghana, there is no doubt poverty and inequality are still prevalent in the country. Both men and women in Ghana are expected to contribute equally to the country’s development, however compared to their male counterparts, women who are currently about 52 percent of Ghana’s population have struggled over the years to be equally represented in key decision making bodies in society especially in the legislature. The Global Gender Gap Report 2018 recommends an urgent and proactive approach towards ensuring gender equality in parts of the world where there has been a struggle for gender equality and women empowerment. Again, the sustainable development goals (SDGs) recognise the need to end poverty and other deprivations to ensure peace and prosperity for all people everywhere. The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 which specifically aims to promote gender equality and women empowerment as part of its objectives demands an increase in women representation in legislative bodies. However, women are still lagging behind in legislative representation in many parts of world with Ghana not an exception.
The constitution of Ghana gives women the freedom to participate and represent in politics. Thus, women in Ghana can freely cast votes, express their support for aspirants or candidates and can compete for any political office. There is enough empirical evidence that shows how Ghanaian women have been active in politics since the struggles for independence and have contributed to the development of Ghana. However, the level of women representation in parliament in Ghana does not reflect its democratic credentials and the exemplary status it has been accorded in Sub-Saharan Africa over the years. Women have been under-represented in Ghana’s legislature and for a long time have struggled to make a breakthrough to have greater legislative representation despite their potential to contribute to national development, in bringing to Ghana’s politics a different set of values, experiences and expertise. There is enough evidence from history that shows how Ghanaian women who were given the opportunity in politics have been active since the struggles for independence and have contributed to the development of Ghana. However, the performance of women legislative representation in Ghana in seven consecutive electoral cycles is nothing to write home about. The inability of women to lead successful campaigns for political positions which has led to a disproportionately low representation of women in major political positions in Ghana is a sad reality. The results of women performance in seven consecutive elections in Ghana should raise general and serious concern by those who advocate equality of women’s legislative representation.
Although Ghana is making some progress in bridging the gender inequality gap through government, political parties, civil societies and other stakeholders targeted policies and interventions, the progress has been slow and there are still more to be done to achieve gender parity in Ghana. I believe the quest to finding lasting solutions to the problem of gender inequality in Ghana starts with ensuring greater women representation in parliament. The key question or argument about having more women in politics has been, what difference or impacts they will make. Several studies focusing on the impacts of women legislative representation in different countries have observed a relationship between increased women legislative representation and policy outcomes that advance the interest of women and society at large. Women representation in political process has been seen as an important empowerment strategy, to ensure effective development policy, for women to protect and advance their rights and secure opportunities by ensuring that they are enshrined in national laws and constitutions. If a greater number of women in a country represent in the legislature and participate in formal decision-making, the more likely it is that the decisions made would be working in favour of women and to achieve gender equality. When women increase in numbers in decision making process they will be able to work more effectively together to promote women-friendly policies and to influence their male colleagues to accept and approve legislation promoting women’s concerns. This is because women voices will affect parliamentary debate or discourse. This stands to enhance the passage of women related bills and affect the quality of legislation passed. The Affirmative Action Bill before Ghana’s Parliament currently has not been passed partly because it has not received the needed support from the members of parliament who are predominantly males.
It is expected that an increased in the number of women in legislatures will lead to a positive alteration in policy outputs, and the livelihoods of people in society, mostly women, will improve. A more compelling reason why women should have equal representation in legislative bodies is for them to protect and advance their rights and secure opportunities by ensuring that they are enshrined in national laws and constitutions. As in all constitutions and national laws, the legislature’s statutory duty is to promote equality and ensure equal opportunities. It is parliamentarians’ role to initiate debate on gender equality issues and ensure that women concerns remain the subject of parliamentary deliberation in the floor of parliament. There are several accounts that discuss the fact that legislatures with high proportions of women introduce and pass more bills on women’s issues into law than men, and as the number of women increases, the number and rate of enactment of such bills also increases. In actual fact, women’s experiences and needs cannot be adequately addressed by men. The existence of a greater number of women in legislatures can therefore help increase and transform the value of discussions and decision-making process. Since the economic, social and cultural conditions that tend to exclude women from politics in Ghana and Africa are the results of, in part, legislative actions and national policy within the jurisdiction of parliament or the legislature, the importance of women legislative representation as a means of improving gender equality cannot be overemphasised.
Women legislators are in a strong and a better position than their male counterparts to engage in and initiate policies on issues of most concern to women in order to advance their well-being. It has also been shown that women representatives use their life experiences to inform policies and acts to promote women’s and societal interests than their male counterparts. So, women are expected to promote the concerns and needs of women, children and families at large in areas such as health care, social welfare, education and the environment, as it has been seen in other parts of the world with high women legislative representation.
An increased women presence in the legislature in the case of Ghana will boost women cabinet representation as well. Ghana’s constitution stipulates that a majority of ministers should come from parliament. This means that the majority of ministers are required to be parliamentarians in Ghana. This requirement given by Ghana’s constitution should suggest that less women should be appointed into cabinet looking at the low representation of women in Ghana’s Parliament. In past elections in Ghana, both the NPP and the NDC parties said they were committed in achieving at least 40 percent of women in government positions. However, when they got the opportunity to come to government, they could not fulfil their promise, with the argument that only few women from the respective parties made it to parliament, and with the constitutional requirement for a majority of cabinet appointments to come from parliament, it would be difficult to fulfil their promise. Thus, an increased presence or representation of women in Ghana’s parliament will further help increased women representation in the cabinet.
In fact, with women constituting only 35 parliamentarians, representing 12.7 percent of the total number of parliamentarians, women in Ghana’s Parliament are not likely to have a major impact on legislative outcomes until they increase in number into at least a considerable minority of all legislators. Thus, to fast-track progress in achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment in Ghana, I strongly suggest that women political representation and for that matter legislative representation should be given the needed attention and should be on the forefront of national debate. Undoubtedly, women’s political leadership has been recognised as key in advancing gender equality. Countries that understand this issue at hand have taken proactive measures to increase women legislative representation and they are now reaping the gains. These could serve as a lesson for Ghana in order to achieve gender equality for sustainable development.
This article is written by:
Daniel Kennedy Amoah
Monitoring and Evaluation (M & E) Associate
Junior Achievement Africa (JA Africa)