Women’s Political Participation —a Catalyst for Gender Equality and Women Empowerment in Ghana

23 Jan 2017

  In Ghana, women's participation in political processes is progressive. (Photo Credit: Bossman Owusu/ UNDP Ghana)

By Jennifer Asuako, UNDP Gender Analyst

Women constitute more than half of Ghana’s population (51.2%). Without their participation in the public discourse or decision making process, it would be difficult for Ghana to achieve sustainable development. Unfortunately, their participation at all levels of decision making is very low. This can be attributed to patriarchy or male dominance which is a key aspect of the Ghanaian social system.

The woman’s role and status are recognizably inferior to those of the man in almost all aspects of social, political and economic life. Custom, law and even religion have been used to rationalize and perpetuate these differential roles to the extent that women themselves seem to have accepted and internalized them. It is worth noting that the legal frameworks of the country give equal opportunities for both men and women to register to vote, to exercise their franchise, and to stand to be elected   as presidential candidates, members of Parliament or Assembly representatives in both local and national government structures.

The promotion of Gender Equality and women’s empowerment was the third goal set out in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) but also one of the goals that evaded the world, including Ghana. Women are still very much at the periphery of political, economic and social decisions and rely most often on decisions made by others regarding their lives.  In spite of efforts by Governments both in the past and present as well as civil society organizations, women’s participation in political leadership in Ghana is still very low compared to other African countries.

Currently (as at 06 December 2016), Ghana has only 31 of its 275 parliamentarians as women with less than 30% being Ministers of State and District Chief Executives. This can be attributed to factors such as leadership roles which are still seen as being more masculine, indicating societies should be led by men, thereby relegating women into the background of political decision making in Ghana. In addition, the unequal playing field created by political parties disadvantage women. Women also do not have the required resources for political campaigns and electoral processes coupled with an uninformed public about women’s human rights and contribution to development.

In a recent African Human Development Report (UNDP, 2016), women’s political voice and leadership has been recognised as a key driver in advancing gender equality. Women’s political participation and representation in governance according to the report, have long been taken as key indicators of the general level of public sector effectiveness and accountability in a country. When more women are involved in politics and leadership positions, women’s rights, priorities, needs and interests are less likely to be ignored or silenced.  

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 also acknowledges this fact and therefore has a target to “Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life”.

Ghana is a signatory to various regional, continental and international frameworks and has pledged in various forums and platforms its commitment to promoting gender equality and women empowerment. For instance, Ghana has signed and ratified the Maputo Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa and has pledged its commitment to support the advancement of women in the continent, as well as the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.

Articles 8, 29 and 43 of the charter mandate Member States to adopt legislative measures to guarantee the political rights of women, create necessary conditions for their full and active participation in decision making processes and structures at all levels as a fundamental element of democracy, and to encourage same in electoral processes. Member states are also to ensure gender parity in representation at all levels including legislatures and take imperative measures to educate women to be able to perform their roles as political leaders and decision makers.  

Some efforts have been made so far and others are underway to achieve these objectives, but a lot more has to be done if we are to meet the targets and achieve sustainable development. This can be done by learning from pacesetters like Rwanda and Senegal with the commitment and support of all stakeholders including government, political parties, DPs, and civil society through targeted policies and interventions. Every election in Ghana provides an opportunity for us to provide the needed guidance and support to the few women who would vie for political leadership at the local, constituency or national levels in order to improve women participation in democratic processes and nation building.