It is very critical and crucial for Ghana at this stage to re-examine itself very well by taking a cue from Rwanda and South Africa which have passed the Affirmative Action Bill into law and giving more quotas of political leadership to women.
It is sad to note that a country like Ghana which has chalked a lot of democratic credentials at both continental and international levels is still crawling at a drafting stage with the Affirmative Action Bill, though with claims that the draft has been finalized. What are our political leaders, especially our parliamentarians, who are law-makers of the country telling us as Ghanaians?
The passage of the Affirmation Action Bill into law is long overdue and no further delay is excusable. Ghanaians, particularly Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), are fed up with the empty promises made by successive governments and political parties.
No wonder, many CSOs are continuously expressing their disappointment and frustration in diverse ways about the delay in passing the bill into law.
Only recently, CSOs cried out at a public durbar organised by the Regional Inter-sectoral Gender Network (RISEGNET) in Bolgatanga in May, this year, with sponsorship from the Action Aid Ghana (AAG).
The event reaffirmed the Action Aid's commitment to the crusade against practices that are inimical to the development of women, such as widowhood rites, Female Genital Mutilation, early marriage of the girl-child, et cetera, since the early 1990s.
Themed ' Advocacy for the Passage of the Affirmative Action Bill into Law ', the durbar attracted 150 participants who mainly were gender advocates drawn from the Past and Present Assembly Women Association (PAWA), queen mothers and women heads of department.
At the end of the public durbar, a communiquÃ© was issued calling on the government to as matter of urgency pass the Affirmative Action Bill into law and to also ensure its effective implementation.
One thing stood clear at the event which this writer carefully observed. One could feel the grief of participants, vehemently demonstrated when they were given opportunities to contribute during the open forum session. They simply were not happy about the delay of the passage of the bill into law.
* WHAT IS AFFIRMATIVE ACTION?
Affirmative action, known as positive discrimination in United Kingdom and as employment equity in Canada and elsewhere, refers to policies that take race, colour, religion, sex or national origin into consideration in order to benefit underrepresented group in areas of employment, education and business.
Affirmative action is intended to promote the opportunities of defined groups within a society. It is often instituted in government and educational settings to ensure that marginalised groups and minority groups within a society are included in all programmes.
The stated justification for affirmative action by its proponents is that it helps to compensate for past discrimination, persecution or exploitation by the ruling class of a culture and to address existing discrimination.
There is no doubt that when the Affirmative Action Bill is passed into by Parliament and implemented, it would empower the Ghanaian woman to also participate effectively to the decision making process of the country.
There are so many advantages that could be accrued when women are empowered. It should be emphasised that, apart from the development it brings to the women by enabling them to adequately participate on issues affecting them, it is the best means of addressing poverty, disease, hunger.
A gender advocate and Programme Manager of Action Aid Ghana, Mr. James Kusi Boama, did not mince words when he reaffirmed this to this writer in an interview during the durbar.
Realising the importance of the Affirmative Action Bill to development, countries like Rwanda and South Africa subscribed to the passage of the bill into law and this has given a higher quota to women leading to more women parliamentarians and political appointees than their male counterparts.
GHANA, AN INTERNATIONAL SUBSCRIBER TO RIGHTS OF WOMEN
It is rather sad that a country like Ghana, which has amassed democratic credentials to the applause of the international community, is yet to pass the affirmative bill into law.
The Ghana Government must take a cue from the two developing countries and also swiftly pass the Affirmative Action Bill into law. There is no doubt that the pace of progress and development would be accelerated if Ghana hastens the process.
'If fact, one wonders what is preventing Ghana from the passage of this significant bill into law. Ghana could have achieved all the Millennium Development Goals if it had passed this important bill into law since it would have addressed some of the challenges militating against the achievement of the goals', Mr. Boama stressed.
Ghana is a signatory to global declarations and protocols that call for increased women's participation in decision making, such as the Beijing Platform for Action and the African Union's Protocol on Women's Rights among others. Despite all these, women still remain under-represented at decision-making platforms. No doubt, this makes it very difficult for women to contribute effectively to the national development process.
Across Africa, the types of quotas practised include constitutional quotas that are enshrined in the National Constitution and the Electoral Law quotas that are provisions written into national legislation by reserving a certain number of seats for women in political bodies.
There are also voluntary quota systems introduced by the political parties on their own because of some level of commitment on the part of the parties' leadership. However, there is no binding legislation to implement the provisions and this is preventing Ghana and other African countries from mainstreaming the Affirmative Action into their laws.
*WHAT THE CONSTITUTION SAYS
It is significant to note that, apart from Ghana being a signatory to global declarations and protocols, the foundation or a major impetus for the Affirmative Action Act can be found in certain provisions of the 1992 constitution of Ghana.
Article 12(2) states the protection of fundamental Human Rights principle and provides that 'Every Person in Ghana, whatever his race, place of origin, political opinion colour, religion, creed or gender shall be entitled to Fundamental Human Rights and freedoms of the individual in this chapter but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for public interest.'
Article 17(2) states that 'a person shall not be discriminated against on grounds of gender, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion creed or social or economic status'. These articles set the tone for the total emancipation of women.
The constitution also imposes certain task on government to promote the cause of women empowerment. This can be found in the Chapter Six of the Constitution. Article 35(5) provides that 'the state shall actively promote the integration of the people of Ghana and prohibit discrimination and prejudice on the grounds of place, circumstance of birth, ethnic origin, gender or religion, creed or other beliefs.'
What is important to gender advocates is the next clause, which, among others states: 'Towards the achievement of the objectives stated in clause (5) of this article, the state shall take appropriate measures to: achieve regional and gender balance in the recruitment and appointment to public offices.'
The obligation of government has not, at present, been achieved. However, some strides have been made in this direction which has led to increase of the number of women in government. For instance, women have ever been appointed by government to head prominent institutions including Parliament, NCCE and CHRAJ among others; but that is not enough, considering the fact that women outnumber men in the population.
The Mahama-led Administration has also appointed some women into political leadership and this must be applauded, but there are still more room for improvement.
The problem seems to lie on the elected in public office, Parliament, Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs). In the 2012 Parliamentary election, out of the 275 seats in Parliament, women scored only 30â€ an unsatisfactory outcome.
* WOES OF UPPER EAST WOMEN IN DECISION MAKING
Giving the overview statistics of women in the leadership positions in the Upper East Region at the public durbar on the Affirmative Action Bill, the Chairman of RISEGNET, Mr. Daud James Abang-Gos, stated that, since independence in 1957, no woman had ever headed the Upper Region (now Upper East Region), spanning over seven successive governments. He said no woman has also ever represented the region as a Council of State Member.
'As at now, we have 23 elected assembly women as against 353 men elected in the region. Out of a total number of 153 government appointees to the various assemblies in the region, 43 are women as against 110 appointees being men.
The region has a total of 529 assembly persons, only 66 are women both elected and appointed whilst the men are 463. All these negative practices are not only affecting the development of women but the entire national development as a whole,' the Chairman of RISEGNET stated.
It is very important to note that the above scenario is not confined to the Upper East Region only, but is spread across all districts and regions across the country.
*WHAT WE MUST DO
Mr. Abang-Gos impressed on the government to follow in the footsteps of Rwanda where the authorities gave more quota to women, leading to appointment of more women parliamentarians and political appointees than their male counterparts.
There is also the urgent need for Government to provide the necessary support for building the capacity of women. This could be in the form of funding through favourable credit and loan schemes.
Women should also be assertive and avail themselves when the bells of political appointment come chiming. Women themselves should support their colleagues when it comes to elections. Political parties must endeavour to honour the promise of quota as normally indicated in their manifestoes.
A lot of advocacy programmes are needed to break the negative cultural barriers that debar women from participating politics. There is the need for legislation on the quota system when it comes to the appointment of women into leadership position just like it is being done in Rwanda and South Africa.
It is envisaged that with the passage of the Affirmative Action Bill into law and its effective implementation, it would make a positive impact on the number of women in public offices.
The Upper East Regional Minister, Alhaji Limuna Mohammed-Muniru, who was the Special Guest of Honour at the durbar, assured the CSOs that government was not only committed to the passage of the bill but would religiously implement it. It is the hope of this writer that this time around that Government's promise to pass the bill into law is not going to be mere lip service.
Dr. James Aggrey's decades-old assertionâ€ 'If you educate a man, you educate an individual; but if you educate a woman, you educate a whole nation.'â€ still holds true.
This statement cannot be disputed because the woman is the first teacher of every soul under the sun and the mother of society. Government, particularly Parliament, needs to act swiftly to ensure the passage of the Affirmative Action Bill into law. It is only when this is done that Ghana' socio-economic development could be accelerated to the highest pedestal.
Let us take a cue from Rwanda and South Africa now to change our fortunes. There is no doubt that if the Affirmative action bill is passed into law and implemented effectively, it would not only become an effective tool for women development but a reliable wheel grinding smoothly towards the 'Promised Land' foreseen by our forbears.