Ghana

International Women's Day: Combatting Ghana's patriarchal political system

Ghana MP Lariba Zuweira Abudu, who represents the Walewale constituency in parliament.
Ghana MP Lariba Zuweira Abudu, who represents the Walewale constituency in parliament. © Lariba Zuweira Abudu

In Ghana, women politicians face an uphill battle trying to convince the electorate that they deserve their vote. Even before the challenge of winning over male voters, female candidates have to prove their legitimacy to their fellow women – which remains difficult without the backing of men. 

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“You face challenges to even get your fellow women to agree with you that you can do the job,” says MP Lariba Zuweira Abudu, who represents the Walewale constituency in Ghana’s parliament.

For Abudu, one of 40 females in parliament after the 2020 elections, she faced numerous challenges in an "unfriendly" environment, and the seemingly high expectations that discourage female representation in government.

“It’s difficult and you need men’s support before the women will go with you,” says the lawmaker, adding that her husband’s unflinching support contributed to her success in politics.

Religion and culture

Abudu, a Muslim woman and mother of two, had to overcome more barriers due to her religion. While campaigning last year, she made a point to speak with the local imams of the communities she was hoping to represent in order to win them over.

Imam Sheikh Ameyaw Shaibu, an Islamic cleric of the Cantonment Police mosque in Accra, Ghana (l) speaks to Africa Calling reporter Zubaida Mabuno Ismail.
Imam Sheikh Ameyaw Shaibu, an Islamic cleric of the Cantonment Police mosque in Accra, Ghana (l) speaks to Africa Calling reporter Zubaida Mabuno Ismail. © RFI/Zubaida Mabuno Ismail

In Ghana, Islam does not frown on women venturing into politics because it is a source of income, just like others business, according to Sheikh Ameyaw Shaibu, an Islamic cleric of the Cantonment Police mosque in Accra. He says it's important to increase the number of Muslim women in politics will help make their voices heard.

“A Muslim woman who is a politician is a role model to other young Muslim women – she represents the concerns, sentiments, and feelings of other Muslim women,” says Shaibu tells the Africa Calling podcast.

“If you have a good number of Muslim women in parliament, they will become a body that offers a strong voice to bring to the fore the issues such as discrimination, which is affecting large numbers of Muslim women in the country."

Ghana female representation

Although women make up 51 percent of Ghana’s population, these figures do not reflect the power distribution between men and women in politics, especially in the legislature.

The number of women in parliament has increased from 15 in 1992 to 20 in 2008. Through the combined efforts of political parties, non-governmental organisations and civil society groups, thirty women were elected in the 2012, with women representing 11 percent of a total of 275 seats.

Former Supreme Court Judge Joyce Bamford Addo became the first female Speaker of Ghana’s Parliament in 2009.

In the 2020 elections, the National Democratic Congress appointed Nana Jane Opoku-Agyemang as its vice-presidential candidate, the first in the history of the country.

Despite the milestone, women continue to be largely underrepresented, according to Maame Gyekye Jandoh, a political science lecturer at the University of Ghana.

She says the problem begins at a grassroots level. At the local level it’s even more abysmal, so we need to do more. At the executive level, we still do not have many women ministers, deputy ministers,” she says.

Ghana’s gender disparity

The country has made some small steps towards gender equality, but Jandoh maintains that it is not enough. Ghana signed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1980, but the Affirmative Action Bill, which promotes gender parity, has foundered on the desks of lawmakers.

We need to push for the passing of the Affirmative Action Bill that will allow for gender quotas in governance," says Jandoh.

Activists expected the bill to be passed by 2015, but by 2020, it was returned to cabinet and expected to be sent to the office of the Attorney General for correction.

The sharp gender disparity in Ghana’s politics is also rooted in economic inequalities. Last year, aspiring members of parliament paid a filing fee deposit of US$1700 to register as a candidate, creating an uneven playing field between women and men, deepening gender disparity at the country’s decision-making level.

“About 70 percent of people who are poor are women, and therefore, there needs to be some specific interventions to help women to be financially stable,” says lecturer Jandoh.

“Politics have become very expensive especially running for elections as a primary candidate or running at the national level,” she adds.

Listen to the audio report of this article in our Africa Calling podcast

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