Promoting Gender Equality in Parliament; Mismatch Between Policies and Political Will

Parliament or the Legislature, as one of the three traditional arms of government makes laws and decisions which affect the lives of all citizens; both men and women. The mandate of ensuring and promoting equality for all is embodied in two of the symbols on The Mace; the authority of Parliament. Known only by their traditional names as the ‘Mbaadwa’ and the ‘Dwanimmen’, they symbolise the ‘presence and effect of feminine power’ and ‘manly strength’ respectively. At its core, Parliament recognises gender equality as the foundation for progress and development. Dr Kwame Nkrumah was the first to recognise the importance of women under the First Parliament of the First Republic, when he introduced the ‘Representation of the People (Women Members) Bill’ in June of 1960 which gave ten permanent seats to only women.

Gender Policies

Successive governments especially under the Fourth Republic have ratified and incorporated several international protocols and instruments on gender equality at all levels into domestic laws and policies. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) for instance advocate for national action to end gender discrimination. Ghana has demonstrated commitment to the tenets of this Convention by ensuring the 1992 Constitution commits the country to the elimination of gender discrimination and provides the constitutional basis for gender mainstreaming and equality. Ghana has formulated the Affirmative Action Bill which set a target of 40% representation of women at all levels of governance, a little above the provisions of the Beijing Platform for Action for decision-making to be meaningful. Ghana was also signatory to the MDGs, where Goal 3 target measured gender equality in proportion to the number of seats held by women in national parliaments.

Lip Service, No Action

Setting out the critical issues concerning the abysmally low representation of women in Parliament, the Women’s Manifesto, 2004, demanded; ‘that all political parties promote affirmative action to progressively increase the number of women candidates for parliamentary elections in order that there is at least 30% representation of women by the year 2008 and 50% representation by the year 2012’.

‘Mr Speaker, it is for paying prompt attention to such under representation that the Ministry of Women and Children has been established’.

President J.A. Kufour, SONA - February 14, 2008

‘We will revise, adapt and implement our affirmative Action Policy for Women of 1998, making sure that we have incorporated the key demands of the 2004 "Women's Manifesto for Ghana" as well as those of other political parties consistent with our women's empowerment agenda.’

President J.E A. Mill, SONA - February 19, 2009; February 25, 2010

‘This year, the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs will work with the sponsors of the Women’s Manifesto and other stakeholders to incorporate its key demands in a revised “Affirmative Action for Women” which we hope to finalise by the end of the year’.

President J.E A. Mill, SONA - February 17, 2011

‘Other critical pieces of legislation designed to strengthen our social protection programmes, such as the Affirmative Action Bill…have all been finalised and validated. These Bills and the Regulations will be presented to this House this year, to be enacted into law’.

President J. Dramani Mahama, SONA - February 25, 2016

‘Mr. Speaker, government will work with Parliament to pass the Affirmative Action Bill to increase women’s involvement in decision making at all levels, and enable us achieve our current objective of 30 per cent participation of women in public appointments.’

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, SONA - February 21, 2017

In spite of all these, a cursory look at the Fourth Republic show record low numbers of women in Parliament. Across its seven Parliaments, women’s representation has hovered around 8 per cent and 14 per cent. The Seventh Parliament has the record highest numbers of 37 women MPs out of a total of 275 MPs, or 14.5 per cent. Of the 28 million people in Ghana, the ratio of women/men membership in Parliament does not reflect a population with a majority women population of 52 per cent or 14.5 million. Its high time political leaders moved past lip service to actually tackle the gender deficit in Parliament in an effort to strengthen our democracy and promote equal representation.

Ghana’s Parliament and its African Neighbours

Some national Parliaments have a record number of women MPs as high as 63.8 per cent (Rwanda), 43.8 per cent (Seychelles), 42.7 per cent (Senegal), *41.5 per cent (South Africa) and 41.3 per cent (Namibia). The 2003 Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda reserves one third of seats for women in its lower house in addition to the non-reserved seats women can contest. The 2012 electoral laws in Senegal ‘mandate full gender parity, stipulating that all party lists must be composed of equal numbers of women and men. Lists are also required to alternate between women and men; otherwise, the lists are deemed ineligible to contest the elections’. The 2014 Constitution of Kenya stipulates no more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies may be of the same sex; 47 seats are reserved for women.

In the company of these countries, where truly lies Ghana’s competitive advantage as a country that prides itself as the beacon of democracy. Further, it surprising that in the Hansard dated March 8 2013, at the 5th Annual Conference of CWP (African Region) held in South Africa, Ghana was the chief advocate for reforms, policies and initiatives by governments and political parties to ensure an increase in the number of women MPs. In retrospect, the argument is characteristic of a lapse in judgement and some form of amnesia as Ghana was one of the countries that failed terribly at the MDG Goal 3.

Where Lies the Gender Priority of Parliament

It has become common knowledge that the Affirmative Action Bill when passed by Parliament would be a bold step at creating an appreciable level of gender balance. In the Sixth Parliament, the highest mentions of gender equality during a Sitting were rather chiefly limited to International Women’s Day celebrations; 8 March 2013 (40 times), 12 March 2014 (36 times), 10 March 2015 (23 times) and 10 March 2016 (36 times). On these occasions, such statements simply acknowledged the courage, power and resilience of Ghanaian Women. The absence of the Affirmative Action Bill was conspicuous. Whatever the issues fettering the legislation of this bill, its continued absence is nothing short of an attempt to effectively filibuster the gender agenda. In the words of the Chairperson for the Women Caucus during the Sixth Parliament;

‘... I believe Ghana has just enough laws and policies to promote the “Gender Agenda”. What has been lacking over the years is the political will on the part of our successive governments and political parties through which women assume political leadership.’

Hajia Mary S. Boforo, NDC – Savelugu, Handard - March 8, 2013

'There is also evidence of the lack of political will and commitment by political parties and the executive arm of various governments to facilitate women’s effective participation in politics and decision-making'. - Women’s Manifesto for Ghana, 2004

'An Affirmative Action law could be the only way of using the law as an instrument of social engineering and mischief correction to ensure equality'.

Rt Hon Prof Mike A. Oquaye, Speaker of Seventh Parliament, January 7, 2017

A Priority for the Seventh Parliament

Given the slow progress and lackadaisical attitude of previous parliaments to pass the Affirmative Action Bill,it would be a feather in the Seventh Parliament’s cap if it was passed. It needs to act decisively with the knowledge that working with all stakeholders to pass the Bill and it is in its own interest to prioritise equality for women to ensure total inclusion. Within our current democratic system of governance, it will ably glue Ghana’s interests in ratifying conventions with it commitment to a gender balanced Parliament. Lest the gender agenda sinks into political oblivion.

The Way Forward…

Progress is not inevitable. It is a given that requires three basic tenets; political will, consistent effort and action to move past political rhetoric to implement policies and ratified conventions that will ensure a gender balanced Parliament which more accurately reflects the composition of our Ghanaian society.