So, for those of us living in Ghana, we have received news of the selection of a woman as a vice presidential candidate for the largest opposition party- the National Democratic Congress (NDC). It has made headlines with many touting is as a victory for womankind.
Personally, I do not rank this feat as spectacular if you compare this to other women breaking boundaries right here in Africa. Far from the myth that many competent women do not want to be embroiled in ‘dirty politics’, prefer to stay passively and submissively in the background, do not perform as required, etc, I note many strong women are making strides in governance and decision making in Africa and with their own track record, not as wives, daughters or assigns of others.
Indeed Africa is one of the few continents to have had several women elected and competent Presidents. Madam Joyce Banda of Malawi comes to mind, then Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, twice elected, and worked tirelessly to build a healthy and prosperous post-war society in Liberia. Even more spectacular are the successes achieved by Madam Dlamini Zuma as the Chairperson of the African Union between the years of 2012-2017. During her time, I was privileged to be the Mo Ibrahim Fellow with the UNECA also based in Addis Ababa where is supported my Boss, Carlos Lopes on several key projects with the AU spearheaded by this phenomenal woman. These ranged from peacekeeping, financing development to pan-Africanism and the new African Renaissance. It was symbolic that fifty years after the creation of the OAU, a female chairperson championed the creation of Agenda 2063 with its focus on a strong and prosperous Africa. Madam Dlamini-Zuma continues to be one of my ardent pan African inspirations and I continue to wish her well as she battles the COVID Pandemic in South Africa. I will also add Madam Amina J Mohammed, now a Deputy General Secretary of the United Nations and formerly Nigerian Minister of Environment.
Regardless of the above, the selection of a female vice presidential candidate is gargantuan news in Ghana when taken into context. This is a woman who has credibility, candour, and years of competence in her chosen field of experience and most importantly has accepted the call to political duty to serve her country. She joins the list of many other women who also accepted the call to political duty in Ghana at the legislative and executive levels in Ghana. I pay tribute to the late Eva Lokko of blessed memory and currently to Madam Brigitte Dzogbenuku who we hope continues to be the VP candidate for the PPP in the 2020 elections.
So why is this important? Because it serves to change the narrative of the competent women shying away from politics, and not just any politics, but the type of politics that breeds statements such as ‘all die be die’. Secondly, I sincerely believe she was not chosen for this role simply because she had a vagina but because she has the competencies, skills, experience, and emotional intelligence to do this job and do it well.
So I ask myself again, why is this important? In a country that has never really reached more than 11% of women’s participation in parliament in all our seven elections and placed 150th out of 193 countries by the Inter-Parliament Union as of 1st September 2016. Indeed, in some regions, there are no female DCEs and at the committee level, women elected officials to continue to congregate in the ‘social’ committee leaving the economic and finance committees to the men.
This is more appalling if you note that Ghana’s Affirmative Action Bill sits on the lower rungs of priority for policymakers, having been in parliament in one form or the other for the past 10 years; equitable distribution of spousal rights in land and inheritance continues to be in abeyance at the whims and caprices of a patriarchal society; girls continue to suffer the indignity of early marriages and ‘propertised’ for material gain; and to a large extent, gender-based violence continues to be culturally acceptable.
To make the selection of a vice presidential candidate truly significant, Ghanaians must look at not just the female, but the extent to which the solution of a myriad of women’s issues are vertically and horizontally integrated into our patriarchal governance systems and challenge and change the structures and systems that keep many women far far away from being part of decision-making processes that influence their lives, especially now within this COVID era. This is not a silver bullet solution to gender equality but will add to the building blocks that together will provide the tipping point. But there is much more that has to be done.
Our total aspiration as women continue to be enshrined in various international and local conventions such as Aspiration No 6, goal 17 of Agenda 2063, SDG Goal 5, and found in the 12 critical areas identified in the Beijing Platform for Action. Locally, the Women’s Manifesto speaks to key targets on women in decision making which continuously fail to be achieved in more than 10 years since its publication.
Across Africa, I see a lot more competent women who are warming up on the sidelines, in their Afrocentric running boots, and working towards changing the narrative, not as wives, mothers, or advisers, but as key decision-makers, of high international repute, in politics and governance. I see Madam Dlamini Zuma as President of South Africa, Madam Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala whose accolades and achievement, no one disputes, ready to lead the more than 200 million strong countries to their promise land. Both unabashedly clear and direct about their vision.
Across the continent, more and more women are ready and willing to pick up the baton, throw off the shackles of tokenism and sexism and work diligently to make Africa a better place for their children and their children’s children.
So I ask my fellow women, should you be given the opportunity to serve your country in a political capacity, I hope your answer will be a resounding ‘yes’! African woman!
Lace-up your boots! Let’s jump into the river that is called politics!