Give women a chance – Speaker tells political parties

Posted: December 1, 2011 in Politics
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Rt. Hon. Justice Joyce Adelaide Bamford-Addo

The dwindling number of women parliamentarians in Ghana and in the Commonwealth West Africa sub-region has raised concerns among key policy makers, and propelled the Speaker of Parliament to call on all the political parties to give women a chance to showcase their capabilities in decision making.

Mrs. Bamford-Addo noted: “Women’s participation in politics is an essential component of democracy and sustainable development which cannot be pursued to the fullest. For years, this simple but essential component of our human fabric has been placed at the sidelines.

“Why is it that in spite of about 80% of the economies of most developing countries’ being managed by women, yet women are under-represented when it comes to decision making? It is prudent and right to make the necessary crucial impact for the socio-economic development of their respective nations”.

The Speaker made this remark when she opened the 2nd Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP) – West Africa Region conference in Accra on Monday.

The two-day event, under the theme: ‘Increasing Women Participation in Politics in Commonwealth West Africa – The Role of Political Parties,’ seeks to deliberate on issues affecting women, particularly their role in decision making.

The declining rate of women representation in politics and governance at the local and national levels are occurring, despite strenuous efforts and commitments by various nations through ratification of conventions and treaties such as the African Union Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in 2004; the adoption of Beijing Platform for Action and Affirmative Action Policies; and Advocacies by women advocates.

Currently, women constitute only 19% of the membership of Parliaments worldwide – up from 16% in 2005. The threshold of 30% women representation advocated by the UNDP Human Development Report, as a prelude to the 50% continues to remain an illusion for most women.

In Nigeria, from 1999-2003, the country produced a total of 17 women parliamentarians with two in the Senate and fifteen in the House of Representatives. The figure marginally improved from 2003–2007 to 26 (5 in the Senate and 21 in the House of Representative). Though, there have been improvement, the figure is still short of the 30% prescribed by the International Women’s Conference held in Beijing, China in 1995.

In Ghana, though women constitute over 51% of the total population, only 19, representing 8% of the total 230 seats are women.

In the Second Republic, there were two women members of parliament (MPs), with the number rising to five during the Third Republic. In the First Parliament of the Fourth Republic (1992), women representation in Parliament skyrocketed to sixteen, while in 1997, eighteen out of the 53 women contestants were elected to represent their constituencies.

In 2000, nineteen out of the 95 female contestants were elected. However, the number dropped from 25 in 2005, to 20 in 2009. The number was further reduced to 19 when the House was hit with the sudden demise of Madam Doris Seidu, MP for Chereponi in the same year (2009).

The numbers in the August House looks uncertain, as two women MPs from the Minority did not contest in the recently held primaries of the NPP. Elizabeth Sackey, the NPP MP for Okaikoi North, would also not be in Parliament come January 2013, as she lost the primaries to a male candidate.

This grim picture, according to the Speaker of Parliament, needed to be addressed and the only antidote to rectify the situation is Affirmative Action measures, such as the quota system.

The quota system, she noted, has the potential to motivate political parties to engage women, citing Uganda, Rwanda and South Africa, as countries where the quota system has led to an increase in women’s participation in politics.

Uganda, as at 2009 had 100 women representing 33.3% in Parliament. This figure, The Chronicle learnt, was greatly facilitated by Affirmative Action policy that provides for one woman per District.

Rwanda is the first country in the world that has a big number of women in Parliament. In the Lower Chamber of Deputies, which has a total of 80 MPs, women occupy 45 seats representing 56.3% and in the Senate (Upper Chamber) which has a total of 26 seats, where women occupy 9 seats, representing 34.6%.
“Political parties across the sub-region must be encouraged to adopt these affirmative measures. Women wings of political parties, as well as Women Caucuses in our respective Parliaments must press home for this demand, and make sure it is carried through,” she emphasized.

To add to the call made by the Speaker, the Minister of Women and Children’s Affairs, Juliana Azumah-Mensah urged Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians to focus on the inclusion of Affirmative Action measures in their various Constitutions and other Legal Frameworks, in order to bring more women on board in decision making.

According to her, the aims and aspirations of women in governance cannot be achieved without the commitment of all the various political parties and, therefore, charged them (political parties) to make their constitutions gender sensitive and also to support women financially and materially, to effectively go through the campaign process when they avail themselves to contest for positions in the party.

She also urged the political parties to encourage more women to aspire for higher executive positions in the party.

The Chairperson of the Women Caucus of the Parliament of Ghana and West African representative of CWP, Hajia Mary Salifu Boforo on her part, underscored the importance of women participation in decision making and urged all the political parties to factor in their manifestos programs aimed at promoting women to various leadership positions.

“Political parties are the primary and most direct vehicle through which women can access elected office and political leadership.

“Therefore, if strategies to promote women’s involvement in the political process are to be effective, it is only fundamental that, such strategies are linked to steps political parties take across the specific phases of the electoral cycle, and to the organization and financing of the parties themselves,” noted Hajia Boforo.

She urged all the political parties in Commonwealth West Africa to follow the steps of the ANC in giving more women the chance to represent their constituents in the country’s parliament.

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