Paucity of women on the ballot in Ghana may stifle pursuit of 2015 MDGs

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When the country “Ghana” comes to mind one might first think of their impressive World Cup win against the US this summer. Or folks may remember that Ghana was one of the first African countries President Obama visited in 2009 on account of Ghana’s smooth democratic elections in recent years and economic growth. However, this week Ghana remains a hot topic because they have joined the ranks of countries producing oil on a commercial basis and is projected to rake in $1.2 billion annually for the next 20 years.

While oil and gender issues may seem like apples and oranges, these oil revenues will enable the country to meet the UN Development Millenium Goals by 2015. “Every single goal”, according to the 2015 Millenium Campaign “is directly related to women’s rights.” Yet, in next week’s District Assembly election, Ghana’s local election, women are sorely underrepresented on the ballot. Via the Ghana News Agency, check out these depressing stats:

Only 187 women out of 1,833 candidates in the Volta Region are contesting the December 28 District Assembly election.

Statistics made available to the Ghana News Agency by the Volta Regional Directorate of Ghana’s Electoral Commission (EC) also showed only 458 women out of 4,211 candidates in the race for the Unit Committees.

It will be difficult for Ghana to steer these revenues in the pursuit of these goals if women are not at the table at all levels of decision making. Stella Abrokwa-Ankoh is the head of the Gender and Disability Unit of the Electoral Commission, the committee designed to motivate women to “overcome the challenges they faced when they entered politics.” She revealed that when considering all districts only 20 percent of women were running in this month’s election. Her ideas for bringing more women into the fold include training women in speech and mannerisms. She organized a workshop to this end in Sunyani earlier this year that had 40 attendees from faith-based organizations. But it seems like more help might be necessary to bridge the gender gap in elections.

Nii Amon over at Ghana News has gone as far as to propose this idea:

In order to encourage more women in our local governance structures, government should come out with a law that will allow the District Level Elections to be rotated. This is how is going to work. In a particular year of district elections, no man will be allowed to contest for the position of Assembly Member, meaning it is going to be all women affair. Then in another election year based on the rotational process, this time, both the women and their male counterparts will be allowed to contest for the position of Assembly Member. Implementing the above suggestions would see a lot of women getting interested in public office or being appointed to occupy various public offices.

I plan to Skype with my Grandmother in Accra, Ghana over the Christmas break to discuss the feasibility of such a plan. But in the short term, Ghana might be best served by launching a commission on women and political participation similar to the one that exists for HIV and AIDS. This way they could develop priority areas and strategies for intervening.

In the end, the one thing that Amon and I do agree on is this:

If we really want our state institutions to be strengthened and also safe, our national coffers from indiscriminate invasion by acts of corruption, thievery and financial malfeasance, then the time to act is now or never, by electing or appointing women to strategically take over some of the state institutions like the District Assemblies, Parliament, State Corporations and even the Presidency.

Much of the debate around Ghana’s oil is centered on how Ghana will be different at distributing oil revenues than African countries that have come before them. While Ghana deserves credit for maintaining a democratic government, this is not enough. If Ghanaians are serious about achieving Millennium Development Goals by 2015, they must strive towards a democracy that is inclusive of women at all levels of government.

H/T to Melody Drnach for the news tip!

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