From the beginning of time, women have been child bearers. Their role is central in society. They are caretakers, conscience, farmers, educators, and entrepreneurs. As I sat to write this piece, a colleague naively suggested, “this article will only make an impact if it is published on International Women’s Day and in an election year”. In reality, this sums up the uphill task women face in the crusade for gender equality and political empowerment. Do we need only one day to talk about women and political empowerment?
UN and Women Empowerment
As I ponder over this, the words of Ban Ki-moon, a former Secretary-General of the United Nations, quickly came to mind. In referring to the 2010 Millennium Development Goal Report, Ban Kin-Moon indicated that the lack of attention to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment may put peace, security, and sustainable development in jeopardy. These sentiments had been reechoed eleven years on by Mrs. Hamida Harrison, of the Affirmative Action Bill Coalition who says, “Many studies and reviews show that countries that perform poorly in the implementation of millennium development goals did so because they failed to pay attention to gender equality….”
Politically correct statements about gender equality and empowerment are not enough. It’s time for Ghanaian women to stop being marginalized by structures of political power and to stop being just minorities with little decision-making power. There is therefore no better place for this to start than from the presidency. It should not take a fortune teller to look into a crystal ball, to foresee a female president emerging from a female vice president in this country. It is an undeniable fact that happiness and proper housekeeping springs forth from women of substance.
A call to NPP/NDC to give women a higher pedestal
Since it’s a known fact that Ghana has practically become a two-party state, (apologies to GUM, the third political force currently) and for women to attain the heights of the political ladder, the two leading parties; NPP and NDC must show, sustain and embrace the agenda of political empowerment of women. Simply and deservedly put, qualified, mentally strong, and competent women must be given the vice-presidential (VP) slot on their presidential tickets. NDC became the first major party in Ghana to field a female in the VP slot and if the NDC felt they won the 2020 Election but for the partiality of the EC as Mr. Asiedu Nketia, the General Secretary of the NDC claimed, then I can comfortably say that Prof. Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang, the running mate, brought enough votes from academia and women in society to the NDC since she is a direct representation of these two subcategories in our body politic (until there is research/study to prove otherwise). So why then change a “winning” ticket for Election 2024? Every novice walking on the fertile soil of Mother Ghana knows that, Mr. John Mahama will lead the NDC again in Election 2024 but who will partner him?
Act of John Mahama, commendable
This remarkable act by Mr. John Mahama and the NDC in the Election 2020 is a step in the right direction for attaining women’s political empowerment in Ghana, which needs commendation. In his own words, Mr. John Mahama referred to Prof Opoku-Agyemang as, “God-fearing, a distinguished scholar, a conscientious public servant, and a role model” and some may even add that she is a woman of substance. Indeed, Prof Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang has tested the political waters and she is more than qualified to become a VP of Ghana should the NDC win the next election. Per the NDC’s political tradition, vice presidents become flag bearers and subsequently, presidents.
Entering the electoral arena involves the courageous step of baring oneself to the public, often only to face intense examination, loss of privacy, possible rejection, sometimes outright disrespect, and disruption from regular routines and pursuits. This decision, even for experienced politicians, requires character traits such as confidence, competitiveness, and risk-taking characteristics that men have traditionally been encouraged to embrace and women to eschew. But in the last election, Prof Opoku-Agyemang exhibited all these qualities and clearly shows that a woman becoming a vice president (the first time in Ghana) is a possibility now.
Assuming an optimum outcome, the vice presidential selection is intended to be an electoral plus, adding balance to the ticket and hopefully greater voter appeal. The best balance on any ticket is having a male and female. Also, the conventional wisdom is that these nominees should be able to take on the responsibilities of the presidency in a heartbeat. Are we saying competent Ghanaian women can’t take up these responsibilities?
Countries that pushed women higher
Tough as the African political terrain might be, women have many times managed to get the second most powerful seat in national governance. The first African woman in the role was appointed by Yahya Jammeh in 1997-Isatou Njie-Saidy. Since then, Burundi, South Africa, Uganda, Malawi, and Tanzania had all taken that path of putting a woman in charge in the absence of the substantive male presidents. Ghana must follow suit.
Major advances in women’s representation globally in recent years can be attributed most of all to the introduction and implementation of electoral quotas. Rwanda, a beacon for women empowerment in African has systematically put in place such quotas for women representation. Other countries like South Africa, Namibia, Senegal, and Mozambique are doing well in that regard. Ghana the bastion of democracy in Sub-Sahara Africa can take it further by reserving at least a VP slot for women by all political parties. On the whole, implemented electoral quotas have been successful and have been recommended by UN Women as a strategy for getting more women into greater political representation.
Possible women VPs in 2024 elections
For those of us who believe that a female vice president and in a long shot a female president is long overdue, the last election shows us that for this dream to become a reality, the two major parties must reserve the VP slots for women (unless we are saying we don’t have competent women in both parties). If the NDC was able to do that in the last election, they can still do it in Election 2024 likewise NPP. Dr. Bawumia and Mrs. Frema Osei Opare vs Mr. John Mahama and Prof. Naana Jane Opoku-Ayemang tickets for Election 2024 can be a real game-changer for women’s political empowerment. If they want a younger version of these women (Mrs. Frema Osei Opare and Prof. Opoku-Agyemang) I’m positive there are lots of competent young women in both parties. If we think that merely having power and influence are verboten for women, the positioning of a competent woman to the second-highest office of the land for a start will put this archaic custom and misogynist mentality to a final rest.
We shouldn’t underestimate the extent to which a female vice president would be breaking down extant barriers and challenging harmful stereotypes. Women movements and all gender activists must now demand greater political empowerment. The days of sitting and waiting for their demands to be heard are over. It’s time to stand and be counted. Until we recognise the fact that women are just as entitled as men to hold power, we will have our political work cut out for us.
This piece is not to commemorate International Women’s Day but rather to ignite the discussion for greater political empowerment for women in Ghana.
CREDIT: Pearlvis Atsu Kuadey – MODERN GHANA