At a very tender age of 16 years, Beatrice Bernice Boateng had already started nurturing her ambition to become a politician. Her main reason at that time was to also address the crowds like the men did when she went to political rallies with her stepfather.
âOnly males addressed the crowd even though the crowd was mostly made up of both males and females,â Ms Boateng, popularly called BB, says.
This bothered BB, so she took up the challenge of becoming a politician. After climbing through the political ladder and breaking societal and cultural barriers, she is now a Member of Parliament representing the New Juaben South constituency in the Eastern Region.
Honourable Beatrice Boateng, as she is now called, represents a drop in the ocean of the number of women needed in leadership positions. Many women with equal potential and capabilities are not coming forth to contest for political positions, most because of stereotype that has virtually become a stigma that women who go into politics cannot be controlled by their spouses. There is also the perception that women politician are somehow loose and can be ridiculed, which their husbands cannot stand. These are some of the frontiers women have to break in order to make their impact to be felt in the society.
However, gender activists have a different antidote in solving low women participation in decision-making process. In order to increase the number of women at the helm of affairs of the nation, women activists have suggested the use of affirmative action to close the yawning gap between women and men in decision-making positions. Hilary Gbedemah, a lawyer and rector of the Law Institute, says the use of affirmative action is to correct the effects of discrimination against women in the past.
âIt is to correct historical imbalance,â she notes.
The term “affirmative action” was first used in the United States when it appeared in Executive Order 10925, which was signed by President John F. Kennedy on 6th March, 1961.
It was used to refer to measures to achieve non-discrimination in areas of âemployment, education, and business,” usually justified as countering the effects of a history of discrimination.
Affirmative actionÂ therefore takes factors including race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or national originÂ into consideration in order to benefit an underrepresented group.
In Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah introduced and implemented the first generation of affirmative action in education to bridge the gap between the north and the south where a lot of schools were established.
Dr. Nkrumah also ensured that 10 women had reserved seats in parliament, making Ghana the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to have women in parliament.
Moves were also made under his administration to put women in professions that were traditionally occupied by men, such as pilots, and tractor drivers.
When Dr. Nkrumah was overthrown, successive governments did not follow up with his policy on affirmative action.
The second generation of affirmative action came much later with the introduction of girls to science clinics, free maternal care and the free school feeding programme.
But Ghanaâs trailblazing credentials in implementing affirmative action have not justified the participation of women in public life.
Other African countries, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Senegal, have passed affirmative action laws to increase womenâs participation in politics.
Rwanda has the highest number of women in parliament in the world. Women make up 56 percent parliamentarians in the East African country.
Ghana has 19 women in parliament as against 211 men. This represents only 8.3percent of parliamentarians. The country is currently ranked 120th in the world according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
âWe have tracked the progress over the years. Instead of having increasing numbers of women the numbers have dwindled,â says Gbedemah.
Affirmative Action Law
Article 17 of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana says there should be no discrimination.
Section 4 of the same Article also states that nothing can prevent parliament from making laws that will correct a history of imbalance.
Gbedemah says women have been discriminated against culturally and socially. âYou can see that in all these areas women are discriminated against,â she adds.
She says the introduction of an affirmative action law as a temporary measure is a surest way of getting women into decision-making positions.
âIf we do not put in place special temporary measures, women will never make it into public office,â (CATCH PHRASE)
The affirmative action law will aim for a parity zone where no gender holds more than 60 percent of seats in parliament, she notes.
âFirst is necessity; unless you do something, the numbers will not change, then the legal argument of reflective representation and the benefits women bring to the table when they are equally represented,â Gbedemah says.
Hamida Harrison, mobilization manager with Abantu for Development, a womenâs right organization, says the law has been used in other countries where it has resulted in the increase of women in policy-making.
âOut of the 37 countries which have attained the 30 percent women representation requirement from the Beijing Platform for Action, of which Ghana is a signatory, only three have not used affirmative action initiatives,â she says.
Harrison adds that issues of concern to women are getting less attention even in public discussion.
She states that the administrative directive for assemblies to reserves 30 percent of the appointed members for women is not being adhered to by all the districts in the country.
She says once women have significant representation, feminine issues that are not prioritized will be addressed.
âMen tend to focus on the bigger infrastructure projects while women focus on issues of sanitation which is a major cause of sickness in the country,â Harrison says.
âYou cannot relegate this large human resource pool to the background.â
Patience Opoku, principal programme officer (acting director), Department of Women under the Ministry of Women and Childrenâs Affairs, says plans for an affirmative action law are far advanced.
She adds that the department, together with development partners, has gone through the necessary preparations and is at the drafting stage with a four-member committee.
âThe drafting of the affirmative action document should start in the next two to three weeks,â she says.
She notes that the ministry is aiming to have a bill by the end of the year for nationwide consultations before it goes to parliament.
âWe are confident. We are sure that by the end of this year we will have the law drafted,â Opoku says.
Gbedemah says there is some form of parity at the basic level for schooling, âBut by the time we come to the tertiary level, boys outnumber the girls almost three to one.â
A recent study by Action Aid points out that the house chores girls have to do, the fact that they sometimes get pregnant and the public perception of girlsâ education all contribute to the disparity at the tertiary schooling level.
Harrison also attributes lack of women participation to societal set-up and finance. She says many women donât come out bold or confident because of the way they are socialized.
âOur culture does not really accept women as leaders. Our own culture does not look favourably to women as leaders,â she says.
âMost of these women who eventually come out to participate are not economically empowered,â she adds.
Hon. Beatrice Boateng says her late husband was not too keen about her political inclination and was thus reluctant in giving his support.
She says her husband was worried she will be insulted, ridiculed and even imprisoned if she continues with politics.
But her major obstacle was financing. âThe major obstacle was finance. I knew I needed money and I didnât have it,â she says.
In 2006, The Department of Women, with the Ministry of Women and Children, established a fund to support women in local government but Opoku says not much has been done in mobilizing funds for the project.
The fund was only able to distribute GHÂ˘20 to about 1,700 women. Opoku says people did not donate to the fund for various reasons.
âThe fund was misconstrued in a way that certain people thought it might be in favour of the women or even discrimination against men,â she says. âThe fund eventually died.â
Hon. Boateng says a lot of people including her friends and party members tried to discourage her.
âI told them, âI am not stopping. The best thing for you to do is compete with me.ââ
Gbedemah thinks women need the support of the men in order for the target of 30 percent representation in parliament to be reached.
âWe think they are critical allies, gatekeepers of spaces women want to enter,â she says.
Harrison says political parties need to do more to increase the number of female representative as most of them believe increasing the number of women will be an imposition, which is undemocratic.
âThey donât show that eagerness that can really promote women,â she says. âThe issue of gender is very crucial and they need to address it.â
âWe are hoping that when we get the affirmative action law to back the policies that we have we will have the basis to hold political parties responsible to give support to women,â says Opoku.
Jane Harriet Quaye, executive director, International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Ghana, says education is the key if more women are to get to leadership positions.
âThe way out is to get more girl children to go through the education system,â Quaye says.
Hon. Boateng believes women who have made it to leadership positions need to help up-and-coming young women.
âWomen are needed to come aboard at decision-making levels to help womenâs programmes,â she says.
Women, she explains can make it to leadership positions if they really work hard at it and believe they are capable.
âWe are not as outgoing as men but it doesnât mean we arenât as effective,â she says.
Â By Jamila Akweley Okertchiri