columnBy Phyllis D. Osabutey
This election year, the women's front has seen some significant progress in the involvement of women in the presidential and parliamentary race. Although the two women Presidential candidates did not make it onto the ballot paper, women activists consider their efforts as progressive to advancing the women's cause.
In the 2008 presidential elections, there were two women running mates, Ms. Petra Amegashie and Mrs. Patience Ameku, who were fielded by the Peoples National Convention (PNC) and the Democratic Freedom Party (DFP) respectively.
However this year, the number of women running mates increased to three with the PNC, Convention Peoples Party (CPP) and the Patriotic Peoples Party (PPP), all fielding women.
Also for the first time in the history of Ghana, there were two female flagbearers of two newly formed political parties, the National Democratic Party (NDP) and the Ghana Freedom Party (GFP).
The former is led by former First Lady, Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings and the latter, Madam Akua Donkor. Although these two women were not successful in their bid to contest this year's presidential elections, activists believe that it was a worthy effort.
Additionally, there has been an increase in the number of female parliamentary candidates from 103 in 2008 to 133 this year.
The Executive Director of the Human Rights Advocacy Centre (HRAC), Nana Oye Lithur says the development is very progressive. "It is an indicator that we are getting somewhere in terms of advocating for more female representation in governance and public office", she noted.
She said because selecting a running mate is a process that actively involves men, one can deduce that increasingly, women's participation at the top level of decision making is being considered as critical. "It started with the small parties but maybe next four years, the bigger parties will also embrace that", she hopes.
For the National Programme Coordinator of Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF), Mrs. Bernice Sam, these women have broken the glass ceiling particularly the presidential aspirants.
Since independence, the president has always been a man and "for these women to contest until they were unable to satisfy the EC requirements, they have broken the jinx around the presidency as 'the preserve of men", she stated.
According to her, the development gives women advocates a lot of impetus to campaign in 2012, and beyond that the two main parties, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) also select female running mates.
She said because Ghana touts itself as a country that is trail-blazing the democratic path, it would be an indication that indeed Ghana politics is gradually embracing women and a fulfillment of the Millenium Development Goal (MDG) 3 that deals with women empowerment.
"We can now go to the AU, ECOWAS, Commonwealth or UN and proudly say that we are doing quite well on gender equality basing it on the number of women who contested in the 2012 elections", she emphasized.
Additionally, it sends a message to Ghanaian women that they can be presidents or vice presidents and occupy other high offices of state. This would inspire young women and girls to aim at taking up higher positions in the future.
Also, "it is time to begin to have a paradigm shift in their own thinking and orientation about women. They should consider voting for women" Mrs. Sam said.
As to what special impact the women would make to the electoral process this year by their numbers, Nana Oye believes that it will get the electorates to see women on the political platform. This will make people change their perceptions about women and understand that women have the ability to contribute to governance.
She said the involvement of young women like Lawyer Adjoa Safo, Mrs. Benita Sena Okity-Duah and Victoria Hammah among others, in the parliamentary contest makes the whole campaign process vibrant and competitive.
According to Mrs. Sam, women always think of the small things that men often overlook so "When there are women at any decision making table, they always point to the everyday issues when the men are talking about the technicalities."
NDC/NPP choice of running mates
Though the selection of three female running mates have been largely welcomed on the women's front, many believe that a better impact would have been made if the two major political parties had also selected female running mates.
Mrs. Sam shares in this belief because "they are the two main political parties who have been in power simultaneously, so they would have made a big difference."
It would have changed the entire orientation of Ghanaians with respect to political participation and acceptance of women in high positions would be much easier, she said.
"If they had gone for a woman, for the long term, Ghanaians will be embracing gender equality more strongly and looking forward to having a female president in the near future", she said.
However, it is possible that in future elections the NPP and NDC would follow the trend but "I won't be too optimistic that they will select female presidential candidates but we can see any of those two selecting women as running mates" she indicated.
Nana Oye also believes it would have been a plus had the NDC and NPP selected female running mates because "whether we like or not, they are the two major giants in terms of political parties and multi-party democracy."
Yet, she said because this is the first time of having three women running mates in the political process, it is good, adding that "It is work in progress."
Failed attempt of women flag bearers
Some people have said that the inability of the two women flag bearers to meet the Electoral Commission (EC) requirements shows a lack of competence on the part of women to ascend to the high office of president.
In response, Nana Oye said "Were there not men who have created political parties who were also not able to go through? It is a very untenable argument and not logical because there were also men who did not make it. These are procedural setbacks."
To her, it was unfortunate and wished that the EC was not as strict as they were because "the thing is to encourage female participation so I think it would have been better if the EC had extended the time to enable them correct their mistakes. I am very disappointed and I think the EC should have been more gentle with them."
In her view, the failure of the women to make it onto the ballot is a set back because "It would have added colour, female energy and positivity to the race. You would have seen a different campaign", she emphasized.
"Competence and satisfying requirements are very different things. Competence has to do with a person's abilities, knowledge, leadership qualities, understanding issues, reading and oratory skills among others. Satisfying requirements are technical things that have nothing to do with competence" says Mrs. Sam.
She said the parties did not help their flag bearers because they should have ensured that the required documentation was done accurately and also on time.
According to her, this would serve as a lesson for the political parties to do things on time and with diligence to avoid such occurrences in the future. "Personally, I would have wanted to see a woman's face on the ballot paper for the first time in Ghana", she said.
Out of a total of 1199 parliamentary candidates for the 247 constituencies, there are 133 female candidates, less than 10%.
Mrs. Sam argues that though this is an increase over the 2008 number, it is not mathematically significant because the number of constituencies have increased as well. She said even with this number, "Whether we will vote for more than 80 of those women is the important issue."
For her, having 19 women in a parliament of 230 is so low, and "in fact, it is a disgrace and shame for this country. So my expectation is that we will have more women going into the legislature this year."
For Nana Oye, "It is an improvement" but "I do not expect a huge increase, looking at the pattern from pre-independence." In her opinion, this might translate into about 25 to 40, winning the elections, adding "If its 25%, I will be very happy because it is the same system we are running. We have not done anything new, we have not adopted affirmative action; all that the political parties did was to reduce the filing fees for women, and that is about it."
Various campaign promises have been made by all the political parties and whether these would be fulfilled is to yet be seen. The advocates admit that not much has been heard women's agenda in the 2012 campaigns.
However, all the parties' manifestos have sections on women and particularly have committed to affirmative action and have given targets in percentages, Mrs. Sam observed.
Additionally, all the parties have promised to pass the property and spousal bill, and the interstate succession bill that protect women while some parties say they will embark on public education to gradually reorient people to move away from the stereotyping of women.
For these, the women's movement would hold whichever party comes to power accountable and
"We will take the promises alongside the manifesto and international commitments and continue to remind them that we want to see more women as ministers, deputy ministers, on boards and commissions", she hinted.
Four days to the 2012 elections, the women advocates have two main messages for Ghanaians. As Nana Oye puts it, "Peaceful election is very important. Let us all go out there and vote."
Mrs. Sam remaindered all Ghanaians that for all the countries in the West African region that has had conflict emanating from elections, it is women and children who have suffered most, such that women are seen carrying their few belongings, trekking several miles and feeding children on little to sustain them. She therefore urged all women to advice their male relatives to "go cast your vote and come back home."
The other message is for electorates to vote for women in this election to increase the gender balance in parliament.
Nana said electorates "should all support women because if we have a bigger voice in parliament, that is when we will see the change. We need that critical mass in parliament."
Ms. Sam added that "We have to vote for the women, even if not a female contesting for our party because we believe in women, and know the value addition of women to the legislature."
According to her, Ghana has come of age in democracy and so need to get her figures right in the legislature. "If we say we support women and believe in gender equality, we have to vote for women and also rally behind the women running mates for them to add value to our political process", she stressed.
The elections are here and the women have put their message across. Nana Oye says it is encouraging that there are more female parliamentary candidates, and believes that in the next four years, the affirmative action law would be adopted for improved progress.
Together, the Ghanaian society must work hard to change gender perceptions that run deep, for better acceptance of women in the democratization process.
For this to happen, it is important for the female MPs who would be elected and others who would be appointed into various positions to do a good a job. This will further encourage people to vote for women.
As Friday fast approaches, every Ghanaian is encouraged to vote for competent people and above all, vote for women and vote peacefully. Long live Ghana! Long live Africa!!