Women in Ghana driving success
The Houses of Parliament were recently host to a collection of inspirational speakers from Womankind Worldwide’s Ghanaian partners. For everyone involved the evening provided an invaluable insight into the work being carried out in Ghana, and as a new volunteer this was an unforgettable opportunity to hear, first hand, how our work in the office translates into life-changing work on the ground.
Continued development in Ghana is essential
Sue Basset from the government’s Department for International Development (DFID), explained Britain’s support for women’s rights campaigning in Ghana as both a moral obligation and within the realms of national interest. She set out DFID’s ‘Strategic Vision for Girls and Women’ (download PDF), a programme which, among many things, moves to obtain economic assets for girls and delay first pregnancies. Ghana, she said, is proof that development works; it is on track to halve poverty by 2015. Nonetheless, Basset said there remains a ‘development gap’ between the North and the South of Ghana and, as also noted by Margaret Brew-Ward of Gender Centre, economic development does not eliminate gender discrimination. Continued work in Ghana is indeed essential. In line with this, DFID aims to further reduce poverty and bridge the ‘development gap’, with specific targets such as the creation of 144,000 jobs in the North, a third reserved for women. We are reminded that whilst DIFID’s ambitions are high, there is a constant need to engage with decision-makers and develop work; ambition alone is not enough.
Changing laws is not enough
Next, Margaret Brew-Ward of women’s rights group Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre (Gender Centre), turned to the risks girls face regarding the HIV and AIDS infection, drawing on cultural traditions and the link to violence. Margaret spoke of the “enormous support” Womankind has provided, both financially and technically, in helping them instigate change on a national, district and community level.
Gender Centre’s community education programmes perform the vital task of raising awareness about domestic violence in Ghana – particularly striking was her revelation that until recently women wouldn’t even attend community meetings. This shows that changing laws is not enough, she said; cultural attitudes much shift too. Consequently, while the passage of the Domestic Violence Act 2007 is a fantastic step, of equal importance is the work being done locally.
Margaret described groundbreaking achievements in the North where, for example, five communities have seen the eradication of widowhood inheritance and women have even become chiefs. When coupled with changes on a national and district level, an uplifting picture is painted. However, whilst achievements must be celebrated one cannot shy away from the challenges that remain and, as Margaret highlighted, changing attitudes takes a long time and so continued support is vital.
Women know politics
Another challenge, as discussed by Bernice Sam from NGO Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAf), is getting more women into politics. Currently, a mere 19 out of 230 MP’s in Ghana are women. These are alarming figures, in terms of both political and other rights; there is a correlation between women participating in politics and social issues, such as education, being addressed. Bernice spoke of a ‘gender language’ that comes from increased female political participation, resulting in laws that lift women out of poverty.
WiLDAf’s campaign, ‘We Know Politics’, is a brilliant initiative tackling an array of issues, from encouraging female political participation to questioning whether aid is effectively being used to help women locally. As a result, ‘women in politics’ is now something of a Ghanaian buzz-word, a great confidence-booster for women. Space within local assemblies to discuss gender concerns has increasingly opened up. Bernice described it as “heart-warming” to see the change in men who now take women seriously when they talk.
Nonetheless, the 2008 election saw a drop in female parliamentarians from 25 to 19, despite the signing of numerous charters. There is therefore an obvious need to translate rhetoric into action. So, to the future: Bernice, along with the rest of us, has her fingers crossed for the 2012 elections and hopes to see some of the local achievements translated onto the national stage. For this to happen more districts must be reached, requiring more staff, more funds and, overall, more support.
This was an engaging and uplifting evening, highlighting both the tremendous changes achieved in recent years with the help of Womankind Worldwide, whilst also learning about the challenges that remain and what can be done to overcome them. I eagerly await the next event with Womankind’s partners.
- Find out more about our partners’ work in Ghana
- Watch our short film about Ghana, featuring Sandi Toksvig
- Make a donation today to help us continue supporting the work of Amasachina and other organisations