“Margaret Thatcher wasn't of my politics, obviously, but my dad was a really strong conservative and in the 1970s, I remember him telling me, 'there is no way the British people are going to elect a woman as prime minister'. She won three elections. People are less prejudiced than you ever think they are…. It should be the best person for the job, irrespective of race, gender or anything else. – Tony Blair(Former British Prime Minister).
Twenty two months to the next presidential election, and it boggles my mind how many times I've already seen this sentence “Is Ghana ready for a women president?” That's usually followed by some stuff about how much women could be good leaders but not yet time for them to aspire to the presidency. Perhaps this question keeps being written by some of our folks who have absolutely no idea what is happening around them, because here' s a news flash: while Ghanaians perceive this country to be on the cutting edge of, well, everything in Africa, the rest of the continent and the world is already way ahead of us this time. While Ghanaians clapped wildly at the inauguration of the fifth parliament of the fourth republic when President Mills said he was making history with these words, “Madam Speaker”, it was only Ghanaian history. Sixty nine years earlier, in 1940, Khertek Anchimaa-Toka was the head of state of Tamu Tuva, which then joined the Soviet Union in 1944. She continued in various government positions until 1972. There was no word on whether the Tuvan People's Republic was ready for a woman head of state or not. In 1960 Sirivamo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka became the first world's female elected Prime Minister and in 1974 Isabel Peron of Argentina became the first woman President. In 1999 Sweden became the first country to have more female ministers than male, 11 women and 9 men and in 2007 the Finish government had 60% women with a female head of state.
In 2011, a record 18 countries on six continents have currently serving, elected female Presidents or Prime ministers; Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Costa Rica, Croatia, Finland(both President and a Prime Minister), Iceland, India, Ireland, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Switzerland, , Trinidad and Tobago, and a chancellor in Germany. None have renowned ballet companies, or have ever asked neighboring countries if their maps make them look fat. They are all getting the job done. In 2007, the list was at a record 13, with New Zealand, The Philippines, Mozambique, Chile, Jamaica, South Korea, all having women as a head of state. Add to those, these countries, which elected female Presidents as far backs as 1980; Iceland, Malta, Nicaragua, and Guyana. Countries with female Prime Ministers, some as far back as 1960 include Sri Lanka, India, Israel, Central African Republic, United Kingdom, Dominican, Norway, Yugoslavia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Poland, and Turkey. Ironically, Ghanaian women in the 60s were retrained to being hewers of wood and drawers of water. Again, countries with interim female Presidents as far back as 1953 include: Bolivia, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, East Germany, Liberia, Ecuador, Georgia, and Mongolia.
Margaret Thatcher was a decisive prime Minister who had no difficulty leading the British troops to end the Argentines occupation of the Falkland Islands and Golda Meir ran Israel decisively as did Indira Ghandhi in India and Benazir Bhuto in Parkistan. Many of these women were also re-elected, for example in Norway, where the female Prime Minister served from 1981-86, 1989- and 1990-96. For three years running, the United Nations ranked Norway the number one place in the world to live (based on the standard of living, life expectancy, education, democracy, and public health).
In Pakistan, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was the first woman to head government of an Islamic state. She served 1988-90, and 1993-96. Before being elected, she spent almost six years in prison or under detention for her political activism. She was ousted twice in corruption scandals, which may or may not have been political witch-hunts, but hey, that's as good as the men. These countries have also had acting or interim female Prime Ministers as far back as 1979: Portugal, Lithuania, France, Burundi, Canada, Rwanda, Bulgaria, Guyana, Mongolia, Finland, Peru, Macedonia, and Ukraine.
There are many examples today and in the past except in Ghana. Certainly we are as modern in our thinking as Brazil or India or Liberia. While there are probably pockets of people in certain parts of Ghana that would never vote for a woman for president, I would have to say that the country is ready for a woman president.
Other countries can boast of having female heads of state. So far, Ghana isn't one of them. The possibility exists with Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings. The former first lady has a solid track record as an effective leader who happens to be a female, and a good chance of becoming the first woman elected to the nation's highest office. Nana Konadu is a perfect example of an astute leader and Ghanaians would be vindicated if we make history with her as our first ever woman president. No one seems to argue about her abilities or intelligence or desire to be president. No one doubts she has the necessary skills to perform the job. No one doubts she has the political background to handle the nation's top political job. She has a husband who is one of the top political strategists in the country not to mention a popular former President. Her resume is nearly perfect and speaking skills are good. And yet there seems to be something about her that bothers a stereotyped minority of the general voting population who say they would never vote for her under any circumstances. And there are also some NDC voters who have their doubts and they say, they won't vote for the former first lady if she decides to seek the party's nomination for 2012 general elections.
Possibly some of these feelings could be because she is a woman as some voters aren't ready to vote for a woman for President. For decency sake, Nana Konadu's hair and headgear won't be the issues; her toughness, political astuteness, competence and personality will.
When people say, “Ghana is not ready for a female President” they need to know how insulting that is to women. When is Ghana going to be ready? These are the doubt planters. They're undermining women. That is what they're doing. They must as well tell it to the marines. “Is Ghana READY for a woman President?” Why not? What is going to happen if we vote for a woman as president? In the 21stcentury, why is the fact that she is a woman even an issue? Shouldn't we be focusing on the most qualified candidate?
Ghanaians must come of it and join the 21st century by looking beyond whether the candidate is a man or woman. We must try something historic and possibly redemptive and a woman president would show the world that Ghana is not a sexist nation. We must look for a president who has answers to many of our numerous problems. We must move on in our attitudes about a candidates' sex, color or religion. Nana Konadu is on a level playing field with the men and what counts are her views and competence and more important-her personality.
Is Ghana ready? The rest of the world probably reads that and shakes its head in bemusement, or incredulity, plain confusion, or maybe even sadness.
Many women want to lead and are ambitious about their potential for being at the top of the ticket. Ghanaians have the responsibility to encourage ambition in girls and women if we want them to lead. We also have to invite them in. Certainly, the political parties in this country can do more than seek the women's vote. They can also acknowledge the value of women's voices and leadership by giving female candidates the support, visibility, and the funds to run competitive campaigns for the presidency. Only this will make our country the inclusive democracy it promises to be.
A word about those who probably think it may not happen. Well, they shouldn't be thinking about a woman being the President but a woman who can play ball just like the men or even better. We must choose who we believe is best fit to govern Ghana. If that person is a woman, so be it. We must not make that decision based on gender or religion. We must base our decision on who we think will stick to their words, and do the things they say they will. We need true leaders who have made it and can change the course of history and not that they have fought long enough to belong.
I don't want just a president; I want someone so busy, brilliant and sterling that knows what he/she wants and is willing to stick to his/her words at all costs and get the job done. That is what will make a good president. Let's come of it; Ghana is ready for a female president.
We shall be back!
Emmanuel Dela Coffie