While it is recognised that women constitute more than half of the Ghanaian population, they continue to be highly underrepresented in politics. Why? That was the question that the University of Ghana School of Law’s “Law in Crisis” Zoom discussion sought to address under the topic: “Women’s Political Status and Representation in Ghana”. The panel was made up of Dr. Susan Adu-Amankwah (Public Health Pharmacist and Executive Secretary of the National Interest Movement), Professor Audrey Gadzekpo (Dean of the School of Information and Communication), Dr. Benjamin Kunbuor (Politician and Lecturer at the University of Ghana School of Law), and Professor Akosua Darkwa, the Head of the Department of Sociology of the University of Ghana. The Moderator for the event was Ms. Afia Appiah, the Managing Director of Hedge Ghana.
The discussion probed into the current situation of women and their participation in politics, the root causes of the poor representation and involvement of women in politics, the impact of the low representation of women in politics, and solutions to improve the situation.
Causes of gender representation imbalance
The panel acknowledged that there was a gender representation imbalance in Ghanaian politics. In examining the underlying causes of the low representation of women in politics, Professor Akosua Darkwah identified two causes: the cost of politics and the politics of insults.
On the question of cost, she explained that “In Ghana, elections and our electioneering period is known as cocoa season…if you want to stand you have to make T-shirts, you have to make posters, you have to have meetings, you will rent canopies, you rent chairs, we need refreshments, we need TNT on the day of the election, you have to bus us there, you have to feed us lunch, give us some money.” According to her, the high cost of elections does not match the asset base of women who according to a study by Prof Abena Oduro of the University of Ghana Economics Department, et al, own only 30 percent of the total wealth in Ghana.
Politics of insult
On the question of the politics of insult, Professor Darkwah gave numerous examples of the verbal attacks and moral policing to which women who enter politics are subjected. “You can’t have locks, if you have their locks it can’t be too long…someone talked about you can’t wear trousers to some communities. We are policing you in terms of what we expect the average Ghanaian woman to do… she gets married when she’s about 24 and then she proceeds very quickly to have two children if you live in Accra. If you live outside Accra, you are expected to have more… You find that people are questioning what are you doing here trying to stand for an election, where is your husband, where are the kids”, she said.
Professor Gadzekpo supporting Professor Darkwah recounted the experience of the Former Gender Minister Madam Otiko Dzaba who at her vetting was questioned about the choice of her hair dye. Professor Gadzekpo stressed that part of the problem had to do with the standards to which female politicians are held. She gave another example of a woman who appeared before parliament and was questioned about her boyfriend. “I remember very very well at her vetting they asked her about her boyfriend”, she stressed as she noted that this double standard impeded the entry and development of women in politics. She advocated that the spotlight should be placed on the family, religious institutions, and schools, as the primary agents of socialisation.
Marriage and childbearing
Dr. Susan Adu-Amankwah picked up on the theme of socialization and how gender stereotypes are entrenched in the home, school, and religious settings. She also identified marriage and childbearing as some of the factors that severely impair the political progress of women in politics. She also harped on the importance of females having female role models and promoters in politics. According to her “…You can have a godfather but he’s male and he can empathize and can understand only to a certain level because some of the discriminations are very subtle and if you are not a woman you just might not even feel it or even notice it…. they’re very very subtle”.
Dr. Kunbuor, in explaining the challenges that women face, noted that the social, cultural, political, and economic climate is often very hostile towards women. And this hampers their chances of entering into politics or their performance in politics. “I remember when I was in parliament there are very very simple things you used to see beyond the challenges of women getting into parliament…quite often parliamentary committee work takes place on very important matters outside the House of parliament possibly outside Accra. The first thing I noticed was that it becomes very very difficult for most women parliamentarians to combine the domestic chores with going with their male counterparts and yet it is at these meetings that you learn the standing orders in most of the issues. You also have the unofficial interactions during which Members of Parliament, in a more relaxed environment, share their experiences”, he recalled.
Whiles the panelists agreed that the coverage of women in the media is gradually improving, they noted that there is still a lot more to be done. The panelists called on political parties and their youth wings on campus to do a lot more to promote the participation and engagement of women in politics.