Increasing Women’s Political Participation
The Gender Centre would like to see more Ghanaian women involved in Ghana’s local and national politics.
We Know Politics Project II
The Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre, in partnership with Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF), the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA Ghana), and The Hunger Project Ghana, has undertaken this 36-month project, beginning in April 2010 and continuing until March 2013, in order to increase women’s participation and representation in both local and national government structures. Ghana has often been promoted as an exemplary country when it comes to implementing and consolidating democracy, but it’s rate of women’s participation both in policy making and government representation is shockingly low. Currently, women account for only 19 of the 230 positions in the nation’s Parliamant (8.3%) and only 6.5% of District Chief Executives within the local governments. In 2006, of the 4,691 candidates for the District Assembly elections, only 443 (9.4%) were women. The Gender Centre and its partners believes that such low representation within our national and local government structures limits women’s potentially valuable contribution to development, poverty reduction, and to the achievement of gender equality. We also recognise that women’s political participation is essential to reduce poverty and promote human rights. A lack of skills, confidence, and public support for their political participation limits women’s capacity to challenge their government and hold it accountable.
Factors Limiting Women’s Political Participation
There is no discriminatory law against women in politics, but there are overt and covert practices which hinder women’s abilities to lead successful campaigns alongside male counterparts for political positions. One such cultural limitation is the monetization of political elections since women rarely have the same personal economic advantages that men do. Another hindrance is the traditional belief that women are politically inferior. For instance, in Nabdam in the Northern Region, voters are informed by male candidates for District Assembly elections that if they cast their votes for a female candidate they will face the wrath of the gods. In other cases, husbands discourage wives from seeking political positions. Additionally, though politicians do not admit it, “vote buying” is a common practice, and men often have enough funds to buy their political seats. In some communities women cannot run against male in-laws and so are forced through peer pressure to drop their campaigns. District Assembly elections are supposed to be non-partisan, yet in reality the party in power ensures that the majority of the assembly seats are won by fellow party-members. Often, these parties also wish the seats to remain in the hands of their male candidates.
Another factor negatively affective women’s political participation is the media. The media plays a crucial role in shaping voter opinion and it often stereotypes women as capable only of their traditional, gendered roles. The consequence is that women remain excluded from the political decision-making processes as leaders, legislators, ministers and chief executives, and not enough of women’s needs are incorporated into policy formulation. Women interviewed across the country by WiLDAF in 2008 have highlighted the exclusion of their concerns in discussions about district plans and budgets.
The specific problems that we seek to address with this project are:
- The current lack of affirmative action policies;
- The limited support for women in politics, such as their lack of information on the human rights frameworks which support women’s equality, advocacy and alliance strategies, policy making and the skills to ensure election or re-election. This is partly due to the lack of collaboration between women in politics and relevant women’s organisations, which would be able to support them in their roles and with voicing women’s concerns;
- Limited understanding of women in Ghana about the political system and processes, which prevents them from constructively engaging in political democratic discussions and holding elected representatives accountable;
- The current negative perceptions of women in politics held by the media and the general public;
- The lack of capacity among local organisations and community leaders to engage their communities to consider the issues of women’s political participation; and
- Inadequate involvement of women in the constitutional review process likely to lead to lost opportunity to get quotas into the Constitution.
The main causes that we have identified as resulting in women’s low political participation are:
- De facto discrimination against women, that is, despite neutral laws men have a considerable advantage when seeking political election;
- Traditional beliefs and practices;
- Monetisation of elections;
- Unequal playing field created by political parties that is to the disadvantage of women (women are discouraged by political parties from contesting against ‘known and long serving’ members of parliament (Testimony of Irene Naa Torshie Addo of Tema West who contested against Mr. Adu, a veteran MP.));
- Uninformed public about women’s human rights and contribution to development;
- Government processes like the Ghana Poverty Reduction Paper (GPRS 1, 2003 – 2006) and other government processes that have been criticised for non-inclusiveness when it comes to women, and thus ultimately leading to little focus on women’s empowerment and gender equality.
Our joint-effort project will attempt to address these problems by:
- Continuing advocating that the National Democratic Congress make good its manifesto promise of 40% representation of women in political and public life;
- Advocating that political parties commit to using affirmative action to increase the number of women who contest national parliamentary elections;
- Setting up Coalitions of Women in Governance (COWIGs) to increase women’s participation in 12 districts in order to influence and support the GoG election commitments therefore making it more accountable;
- Undertaking civil and political rights education at district and national levels to increase peoples’ understanding of the involvement of women and men in political governance;
- Influencing the constitutional review process to include affirmative action as a measure for representation of women in politics.
Ghana’s government, in accordance with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Beijing Platform for Action, the Commonwealth Plan of Action for Gender Equality and African Women’s Protocol, has committed to upholding women’s human rights, ensuring women’s pariticipation in politics and public life, and developing affirmative action through its accordance with. The government is also bound by chapter 5 and 6 of Ghana’s Constitution of 1992 on Human Rights and Directive Principles of State Responsibilty, as well as by national laws and policies.