The Minister for Women and Children's Affairs, Mrs. Juliana Azumah-Mensah has announced that the Ministry is leading a nationwide education and consultative tour to gather inputs for the drafting of Affirmative Action Bill to be laid before Parliament for consideration.
She noted that despite immense efforts by various women's groups and gender activists to ensure the inclusion of women in decision making positions, women were still excluded and marginalized at all levels of governance.
Therefore, it was important for the women groups to support and also make an input to enrich the draft bill. "There is the need to strategize and network to ensure that our are voices are heard," she stressed
The Minister was speaking at a forum in Accra on affirmative action under the theme 'Affirmative Action as a Means of Increasing Women's Participation and Representation in Politics: The Role of Political Parties.' It was organized by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA).
She submitted that the Constitution should be gender sensitive, addressing issues such as increasing women's participation in politics and governance as well as issues that concerns the well being of women. She entreated more women to aspire to take up leadership positions.
Mrs. Azumah-Mensah urged political parties to support women candidates in the various parties while encouraging them to integrate their women's wing into the various aspects of the parties.
During the discussion sesssion, the UN Resident Co-ordinator, Ruby Sandhu-Rojon, urged the various women groups and gender activists to educate the public on the need to increase women's participation in politics and governance.
She said education would enhance the understanding of Ghanaian women on the need for them to make greater impact in decision making to ensure that issues concerning women receive the necessary attention.
"Education could address the issues of cultural and traditional barriers that prevent women from participating in politics. This should be done at the grass root level for the women to understand and know how these barriers hinder their progress. It will also help them know the advantages they stand to gain when they as women become politically active."
She explained that holding leaders accountable on the decisions they take would help increase the chances of appointing women to responsible positions. "In this part of the world people are hardly held accountable for the decision they take."
"How do we build the capacity of women who go into politics and how are they supported when they get there? Do we leave them to their fate or provisions are made for their support?" she asked.
She encouraged women and all other groups who are concerned with promoting the rights of women not to politicize this cause but rather make it a collective course to bring about change, a positive change that would impact on the lives of Ghanaian women.
Ms. Hilary Gbedemah, a lawyer and gender rights activist, was unhappy that though political parties had consistently shown the desire of winning power, none of them had put out the concrete measure to ensure that women were given high positions.
She indicated that the phenomenon of women's wings of political parties had not helped in any way and therefore entreated the parties to train and resource the women's wing, as well as integrate them into mainstream party and its activities.
"The political parties should adhere to provisions made for women in their manifestoes and they should be held accountable."
"What better structures have the parties put in place for selection of women to winnable seats, what clear objective and targets have they set to ensure that women candidates win the seat they contest, what measures have they put in place to ensure women's inclusion at the top hierarchy of their parties and what input have the parties made to the Constitutional Reviews Commission to ensure increase of women's participation in decision making? Are the parties ready to set aside quota for women?" she inquired.
Representatives of the four main political parties, the People's National Convention (PNC), Convention People's Party (CPP), New Patriotic Party (NPP) and National Democratic Congress (NDC), who were present at the forum, pledged their parties' readiness and support towards the cause of increasing women's participation in politics and governance, while affirming that affirmative action was the way forward.
According to the CPP Women Organizer, Mrs. Mary Ankomah Boakye-Boateng, gender mainstreaming had not been helpful in the quest of increasing women participation in politics and the only way out was aggressive affirmative action; tackling the root causes and the barriers that prevent women from taking up the challenge in politics, such as financial constraints, cultural and traditional barriers and intimidation by their male counterparts.
The PNC Women's Organizer, Hajia Hajara Musah Ali, indicated that there was the need to strengthen the capacity of women to take up the challenge and not to be relegated to the back. She also noted that, to encourage more women participation in politics, PNC did not charge women contesting for parliamentary seats and also had dedicated the newly created constituencies to women.
The NPP Women's Organizer, Ms. Otiko Djaba, said that there should be consensus among the parties to support the affirmative action and ensure that the bill which was being prepared finally becomes law.
According to her, about 80% of the country's economy was being handled by women and therefore there was the need to have women at decision making level to champion the cause of women.
She said the NPP was ready to ensure that women were rightly represented and participated in politics and that the development of women should not be politicized.
She disclosed that about 22,000 women organizers have been empowered to vote at the party level, and she was optimistic that such votes would support women candidates.
The NDC Women's Organizer, Anita Desosso, also affirmed the parties support for the affirmative action, arguing that it was the answer to bridging the gap between men and women and until women's participation were increased at the local level not much could be achieved.
"To strengthen the capacity of women, political parties must have compulsory quota for women as well reserve some of the newly created constituency seats for women."
She disclosed that the party has reduced filing fees for women to encourage their participation; and about 30% of women in the party had been empowered to vote at the party level and these they hoped would vote for women candidates.