The next chapter of Ghana’s success story
We learnt with shock of the sudden death of the president of Ghana, John Atta Mills, on 24 July. Our partners in Ghana were stunned, and told us of their grief but also their concern. What will this mean for Ghana?
Comment and analysis in the media has been quick to highlight how well and how swiftly the country has dealt with this potentially unstable power vacuum – within hours of announcing the news of his death the Vice President John Dramani Mahama was sworn into office.
International tributes have been paid to President Mills from the likes of President Obama, and there has also understandably been much praise for how President Mills helped to consolidate Ghana’s economic development to achieve lower middle income country status, and improve its human rights record.
But while it is right to celebrate the legacy left by this well-regarded political leader it is vital to look to the future to ensure that the gains made are not lost and that complacency does not set it from the international donor community that all is well for everyone in Ghana.
An unequal share in success
It’s true that in the two decades since the transition to democracy, Ghana has seen sustained economic growth, democratic elections, political stability and relatively strong institutions which have led to significant poverty reduction.
But poverty and social exclusion in many parts of Ghanaian society are deepening and gender inequality continues to undermine efforts to reduce poverty and improve living conditions. Women and girls in particular face multiple challenges, including a lack of access to land and credit, the persistence of discriminatory traditional practices, domestic violence and a lack of voice in decision-making.
So before we start predicting the end of international support to consolidate Ghana’s development and human rights, let’s consider that this prosperity has not been enjoyed equally. There are stark divides not just in geographical terms, but even more strikingly along gender lines.
Women’s rights in Ghana
Ghanaian women account for only 19 out of the 230 positions in Parliament and 11 out 170 local government executives. Research by women’s rights organisations in the country has shown that over a third of women experience some sort of physical violence, and discriminatory practices and violence against women is also increasing the risk of women contracting HIV, with 60% of adults living with the virus being women.
Most urgently, Ghana’s Presidential and Parliamentary elections in December need to buck the worrying trend of the past two elections where the numbers of women winning seats in parliament has actually declined. Bringing about a political, social, economic shift of the kind that Ghana has seen is only half the battle, work must go on to ensure that positive change is permanent.
While we recognise and applaud what President Mills achieved for his country, Ghana’s success story is far from over, and the women of Ghana must play a part in writing it.