Updated: Feb 14, 2019
By Emmanuel Nuetey Siakwa
As the Executive Director of Youth and Women Empowerment, an NGO based in Odumase Krobo, Ghana whose mission is to motivate and provide learning opportunities for all stakeholders to advocate for quality service delivery and hold duty bearers accountable, I recently had the honor of facilitating an event called “STATUS OF THE GHANAIAN WOMAN, EXAMINING PROGRESS, PROSPECTS FOR GENDER EQUALITY IN GHANA.” Our goal was to offer a safe space for women from difference backgrounds and experiences in Ghana to openly discuss issues that affect them, connect with each other, and brainstorm solutions.
The event was attended by 305 individuals, made up of 260 Women and 45 men. Participants were drawn from the security services, civil servants, artisans, market women, religious organisations (Christian and Moslem), and persons with disabilities among others.
Our two main objectives for the event were to 1) collate experiences of progress made by women and 2) develop a framework to work together in collective action to achieve Ghana’s development. In this article, I share how we organized the event, some of the key findings that were shared by the event’s presenters, and the ideas that were generated by participants during group sessions for the way forward.
The program was organized by the STAR Ghana Foundation in collaboration with the Ministry of Gender and Social Protection, and is focused on coordinating zonal programs across the country to solicit for inputs, challenges and gaps to feed into a national dialogue. For our zone, the organization I head, Youth and Women Empowerment, was honored to facilitate our zonal program.
The event kicked off with encouraging words from the Municipal Chief Executive for Lower Manya Krobo, who expressed that, during the recent District Assembly elections, no woman stood for election. He posited that it’s about time we probe to find out why women are not taking up leadership positions, what the hindrances are and how these challenges can be addressed. He pledged his support to improve women participation within his locality. He mentioned interventions being undertaken by the Government to support women, among them are the Livelihood Empowerment Against Program (LEAP) and Microfinance and Small Loan Centre (MASLOC). He encouraged participants to take advantage of the platform and contribute to shape policy formulation.
The event then continued with the sharing of person stories by 3 women, who described their experience overcoming abuse and discrimination to become leaders in their communities. These stories were then further contextualized through a presentation on the current state of Ghanaian Women made by Mrs Golda Asante, Director, Regional Coordinating Council, Koforidua, who discussed the advancement of Ghanaian Wmoen through 3 lenses – Politics and Governance, Economic Rights, and Access to Social Services (Education and Health).
Beginning with a discussion of women in politics and governance, Mrs. Asante described the slow increase in political participation of Ghanaian women throughout history. Women are given equal rights under the constitution of Ghana, yet disparities in education, employment, and health for women remain prevalent. Additionally, women have much less access to resources than men in Ghana do. Ghanaian women in rural and urban areas face slightly different challenges. Although women are guaranteed political participation rights under the 1992 Ghana Constitution, there is a lack of female representation in government. In 2012, 19 women occupied seats in Parliament, while 246 men occupied the rest of the seats. In 2017, the number of women elected to Parliament grew, and 37 women were elected. However, Ghanaian women still make up only 13.5% of Parliament.
There has been a slow increase of women in Parliament since the adoption of the multiparty system in 1992. Ghana has taken multiple steps to increase equality in the political sphere. For example, the government signed and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW). The Government declared its commitment to gender equality in Beijing. Yet 23 years after this commitment, we are asking, what has been the outcome of these commitments made by Government to improve the status of Ghanaian women?
Discussing the underlying causes for this phenomenon of low participation among women in governance, the following issues came up strongly
· Traditions and Socio-cultural attitudes- Socialization process
· Gender-based stereotypes –Eg. certain positions are for men
· Women in leadership positions are promiscuous, etc
· Discourages many women from talking up certain political leadership
· Unsupportive husbands/Partners – threatening divorce
· Choose between marriage and Political career
· Fear of name calling and insults – Terrible description of strong women in society e.g. maame gyata, Iron lady, witch, etc
· Campaigns are very expensive- lack resources- money, vehicles, etc.
· Lack capacity and confidence to take up leadership roles
· Taking care of the Home- unpaid work
· Some men undermine their “women” bosses
Next Mrs. Asante moved to a discussion of women’s economic rights, where she indicated that females involved in economic activities have increased over the years, from 31.4% in 1960 to 44% in 2010. Also about 91% of women are in the informal sector where they experience gender segregation and typically work for low wages.
There is also a distinct difference in artisan apprenticeships available to men and women. Most female artisans are only involved in either hairdressing or dressmaking. Some of the challenges identified to be hampering women’s participation in economic activities were highlighted as:
· Access to credit facilities and finance: Lack of collateral, inadequate savings and cumbersome bureaucracy
· Sexual violence/ harassment
· Ignorance on the awareness of credit facilities
· Cultural factors, traditions and stereotype- women will not participate in certain ventures – own a land
· Unpaid services- contribute to poverty and over- reliance on men
On the topic of Access to Social Services- Education and Health Services, Mrs. Asante explained that there is a general dominance of male child education. Women living at the highest socioeconomic status exhibit the highest literacy rates at 85%, while only 31% of women living in the poorest homes are literate.
Some of the barriers identified as hindering girls and women’s access to education and health are:
· There are still girls who are not in school because economic and cultural norms factor determine the choice of who go to school.
· It is often said that women and girls main purpose is reproduction –boys/ men are breadwinner for the family
· Some girls in schools experience sexual harassment – Experience from visits to schools
· Poor facilities in some schools for girls ie no toilet, no first Aid, no sanitary towels- No school during menses
· Parental neglect / lack of parental control- contributing to waywardness
· Teenage pregnancy
· Low awareness / information about availability of health services
· Fear and false perceptions about certain health conditions e.g. fibroid, cancers, etc. Eg. visited 85 prayer camps in ER- 1 camp had 50 pregnant women
· Women are susceptible to infections and diseases i.e. HIV and other sexually transmitted disease. E.g. More than 60% of persons living with HIV in ER and Volta are women
· Women cannot negotiate for safer sex
· Traditional Rites -Widowhood rites, Trokosi system
Suggestions shared on how to increase women’s participation in Politics and Governance, Economic Rights and Service Provision in the areas of Health and Education included:
· Increase advocacy through civil society organizations
· Affirmative Bill to enhance women’s participation and decision making- mobilize and intensify engagements to have it passed
· Women Empowerment programs
· Create enabling environment for gender equality –political participation
· Promotion of socio cultural change processes
· Enforcement of our laws - speed justice
· Integrated approach focusing on: gender mainstreaming and systematic efforts, Gender responsive budgeting, Strengthen the capacity of women and girls, increase their access to assets and opportunities through employment, etc
After having a chance to get acquainted with the facts on the historical context and current challenges facing women in Ghana, the participants were asked to get into groups to engage more deeply on the 3 themes discussed. The grouping was done with each participant numbering 1-6, where all persons who numbered 1, formed one group and same applies to the other groups. Groups 1 and 2 answered questions on Politics and Governance, Group 2 and 3 answered questions on Economic rights whiles group 5 and 6 answered questions on access to social services, Education and Health Services.
Each group selected a chairperson and a rapporteur to report back during plenary. Facilitators were assigned to the various groups to guide the discussion. The groups were task to come up with issues under the three thematic areas that were not captured by the resource person, or something that they would have captured differently and provide measures to address issues identified by the group. The exercise lasted for 45 minutes.
KEY OUTPUTS FROM GROUP WORK
Our team at Youth and Women Empowerment looks forward to continuing to grow our coalition of community members to put the excellent ideas put forth by the workshop participants into action through our advocacy and training initiatives. We continue to seek funds to help enable this work, and welcome partnership inquiries.