Women’s rights advocacy group, ABANTU for Development, says the issue of parity in women’s participation in policy-making structures should be a core concern in the desire to strengthen democratic culture and help build ideals of good governance.
It said local governance had the potential to empower citizens to express and exercise their views effectively and influence government priorities and processes, and that women could articulate their needs and concerns more concisely from their own experiences.
The group made this known in a statement signed by the Executive Director, Dr Rose Mensah-Kutin, to underline the critical importance of women’s full representation and participation in local governance, “in spite of the dismal outcome for women of the 2019 District Level Election.”
District Assembly Elections
On December 17, 2019, Ghanaians went to the polls to cast their ballots to elect members to serve in the district assemblies nationwide for a period of four years.
The process was intended to consolidate constitutional democracy and afford the opportunity to all to be part of the decision-making process.
The 2019 District Assembly Election recorded the second lowest number of women contestants in the history of the district level elections with 909 candidates and 216 winners coming after the 547 women contestants and 196 winners in 1998.
The country recorded the highest number of women contestants and those elected in 2006 Election when 478 got elected as assembly members out of 1,772 who contested.
According to ABANTU, the 2019 local government election showed that the goal of parity was a long way off and the nation needed to take decisive measures immediately.
“Elections are failing to deliver district assemblies that are devoid of gender marginalisation against the desire to institutionalise political legitimacy and fulfil promises of equitable, sustainable and effective local governance which requires gender sensitivity,” the statement said.
ABANTU is of the view that equal participation and sharing of power should engender engagement in policy-making affecting both women and men’s lives within the concept of equal citizenship rights.
However, it said, by perennially allowing for low representation of marginalised groups, especially women, “Ghana not only limits the diversity of the decision making bodies like district assemblies, but also pose a challenge to the provision of societal benefits central to true democracy”.
It said many countries including several in Africa were acting decisively by reforming electoral systems, undertaking constitutional reviews and passing legislation such as Affirmative Action Laws to ensure women’s equal participation and representation in politics and decision-making saying: “Ghana can do same by passing the Affirmative Action Law”.
These efforts, the women’s rights group said, were in direct response to the globally agreed conventions and instruments that mandate all states to act resolutely to accelerate the increase of women in political participation as a critical component of democratic governance and sustainable development.
Decentralisation in Ghana
Ghana’s district assemblies were created as the highest political authorities in the districts under the decentralised system of governance to help leapfrog community development.
The objective was to make these assemblies effective centres of self-governance, intensify mass local participation in decision-making, planning and in sustainable development process.
The motivation was to support democracy and afford all possible opportunities to all the people to participate in decision-making at every level in national life.
The system and its processes were, therefore, expected to facilitate effective popular participation of the marginalised, especially women, as central to ensure accountability, equal opportunities and access to national resources.
Unfortunately, since the introduction of the decentralised system in Ghana, women have been denied a chance to attain the 30 per cent United Nations recommended minimum threshold in representation in the assemblies in election since 1988.
According to ABANTU, this makes gender-based exclusion in these structures a major deficit in equality in participation and “women continue to have a checkered history in both representation and participation”.