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Gender in Ghanaian Politics: A Brief Analysis

24 Nov 2021
By Dr Maame Adwoa A. Gyekye-Jandoh
Ambassador Martha A. A. Pobee, Permanent Representative of Ghana to the United Nations. Source: UN Women/Ryan Brown:

There is a significant gender gap within Ghanaian politics. Steps must be taken to combat this inequality and increase female representation in the political sphere.

The core principles that underpinned the United Nations (UN) Charter included gender equality and equal rights for women as stipulated by article 2 of the Charter. Nevertheless, it was not until about three decades after the charter that activities to bring gender equality into central United Nations discourses emerged. Between 1975 and 1995, the UN organized four conferences on women. The most important of these conferences was the 1995 conference held in Beijing as it signified the culmination of the policies and ideas put forward in the previous conferences. More so, the action plan that emerged from the conference – the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BDPFA) – has become the principal document on gender equality across the globe.

In 1995, following the Fourth World Conference on Women, BDPFA was adopted as a framework to promote gender equality across the globe. The BDPFA symbolised the commitment of the international community to eradicate economic, social, cultural, and political issues which engender asymmetrical conditions between men and women. According to one  United Nations (UN) report  on the Beijing conference, this gap “between de jure and de facto equality among men and women” is most prevalent in the field of decision making and politics.

Many years later, through the sustainable development goals, the same objective of closing the gender gap is being pursued. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5.5  particularly advocates for a gender balance in politics by championing the full participation of women in leadership and decision-making roles.

While some progress has been made on this front in Africa, scholars have also argued that issues such as patriarchy, poverty, lack of access to financial resources, and illiteracy have prevented women from nurturing their leadership skills to the highest potential. This has contributed to excluding women from the political arena. The story in Ghana follows a similar trend.

As a signatory to the aforementioned international frameworks and several others like it, Ghana has expressed its firm willingness to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment on all fronts. There has been a particular focus on the political sphere, since political participation is usually used as a yardstick to measure the scale of gender equality in a country. The government of Ghana has chalked a few achievements in the bid to promote gender equality. These include the introduction of a national gender policy in 2015, as well as a steady increase in the number of women in the Ghanaian parliament and the political arena in general. Despite the gradual increase of women in Ghanaian politics, the disparity between men and women in the political arena remains so high that it cannot be gainsaid.

Representation in the Fourth Republic 

Female representation in Ghana’s Fourth Republic poses a rather interesting quandary. The first parliament of the Fourth Republic had 16 women out of the 200-member parliament. This figure increased to 18 women in the second parliament and to 19 women in the third parliament. In 2004 and 2008, out of the 230 members of parliament, only 25 and 20, respectively, were women. In 2012, 133 women took part in Ghana’s parliamentary elections. Of this number, 30 women (10.9 percent of the 275 MPs) were voted into power. This percentage slightly increased (to 13.1 percent) in the 2016 parliamentary elections. In the current Ghanaian parliament, only 40 (14.55 percent) of the 275 members are women – 20 each from the two major political parties. Even though this is the highest number of women parliamentarians since Ghana attained independence in 1957, it still falls short of the UN recommended minimum of 30 percent that is stipulated by the BDPFA.

It is evident that since the inception of the Fourth Republic, there has been a gradual increase of female parliamentarians in every new parliament. This poses an interesting conundrum. On the one hand, it is obvious that some progress has been made in closing the gender gap. On the other hand, the gender asymmetry evident in parliament is so wide that it nullifies the small progress that has been made over the years.

This gender gap is not only apparent in parliament, but also in ministerial appointments, local government, and almost every other political space. For example, out of the 260 metropolitan, municipal, and district chief executives appointed, 85.38 percent (222) were men while only 14.62 percent (38) were women. Beyond this, several studies have shown that political participation of women at the local government level does not tell a different story. Even though women engage actively in local governance activities, they are hardly chosen as key members of the decision-making teams. When women are chosen for government roles, they are usually restricted to positions such as “women’s organiser” and “deputy women’s organiser.” The mere presence of women at local government activities is conceptualised as participation, and as such their participation in decision making is not necessarily seen as a priority.

Even though Ghana was the first country to gain independence in Africa, it is still many scores behind other African countries in the area of gender and politics, and has been ranked 107 out of 153 countries on the Global Gender Gap Report (2020).

Electoral Politics in Ghana: Does Gender Play a Role?

The appointment of Georgina Woode, the first female chief justice of Ghana in 2008, and the subsequent election of Joyce Bamford-Addo, the first female speaker of parliament in 2009, gave the impression that Ghana had made major strides in its bid to achieve gender equality in politics. Similarly, the recent selection of Professor Jane Naana Opoku Agyemang as the running mate for the National Democratic Congress (NDC) presidential candidate, former President John Mahama, in the 2020 general elections has raised interesting debates surrounding gender and gender parity in Ghanaian politics. For some, the fact that a major political party had chosen a female running mate indicated that the fight for gender parity had been won. These hifalutin claims were also made when the presidential candidature of Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings, a former first lady, was announced for the 2020 elections. However, these examples may not be enough proof that gender issues receive any major considerations in Ghanaian politics.

For example, in Ghana’s electoral politics, trends in the percentage of female candidates who win, relative to the number of women candidates who stand for elections, seem encouraging. This indicates that electorates in Ghana do not outrightly discriminate against women during voting, and that the gender of a candidate is not a major factor that is considered. This also means that the low representation of women in Ghanaian politics is more likely a product of the low number of women running for office, and not of voter discrimination.

Ghana, unlike some other African countries, has not created outright legislation or policies to close the gender gap. For many scholars, this is demonstrable evidence that gender considerations do not play a major role in Ghanaian politics. Evidence around the world shows that most countries which have a decent representation of women in decision-making have used some form of affirmative action. African countries like Uganda, Rwanda, and South Africa have engaged affirmative action or implemented gender quotas to increase the number of women in parliament.

In Ghana, there have been minor strides in this regard. In 2015, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) attempted an ad hoc model of gender quotas when it suggested that it would ensure that seats that were previously held by women could only be contested by women. This quickly became rhetoric since it was not supported by male MPs. The fear that aggrieved male aspirants would stand as independent candidates and draw votes from the party eventually led to the abandonment of the entire idea. Currently, the main support female aspirants receive is a discount on filing fees. However, this discount pales in comparison to the huge financial cost aspirants bear in order to contest elections. There are also hardly any female-specific programs that aim to close the gender gap. It is therefore difficult to argue that gender considerations play a massive role or hold massive sway in the Ghanaian political space.

The limited female appointments and the slow but steady increase in the number of women in parliament should not necessarily be considered as a special victory. In order to conquer the inequalities that plague the Ghanaian political arena, there is a need to employ tools that are commensurate with the degree of inequalities that persist. More specifically, Ghana ought to take a leaf from the books of other African countries that have successfully implemented gender quotas, increased women’s representation, and brought gender issues into the mainstream of their political space.

Dr. Maame Adwoa A. Gyekye-Jandoh is a Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of Political Science at the University of Ghana. Her area of specialization are Comparative Politics, Politics of the Developing World, Democratization, Democracy and Elections in Africa, and Civil Society and its Role in Elections.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.