The U.S. Ambassador to Ghana has honoured Dr Rose Mensah-Kutin and Yaw Ofori Debra with the 2018 Martin Luther King, Jr. Award for Peace and Social Justice.
At the ceremony at his residence Thursday, Robert P. Jackson praised the award winners for courageously taking a stand for justice.
“Dr King taught us that the greatness of a nation is not defined and shaped by its government,” Jackson said. “A nation is defined and shaped by its people.
"People who aren’t afraid to stand up and say, ‘I deserve equal access to my democracy. I deserve equal access to education. I deserve equal access to opportunity.’”
Since 2008, the U.S. Embassy has presented the award annually to one or more Ghanaian citizens who exemplify the spirit of American civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr Mensah-Kutin was recognized for her indefatigable work as a champion for women’s rights. As director of the West African Regional Office of ABANTU for Development since 2000, Dr Mensah-Kutin has relentlessly pursued gender equality in public policy.
One of her hallmark achievements was the creation of the 2004 Women’s Manifesto for Ghana, which articulated concrete steps to address the disparate treatment women still face in their daily lives.
Dr Mensah-Kutin was a leading advocate for the passage of the Local Governance Act of 2016, which included many gender-specific provisions.
In the lead-up to the 2016 elections, Dr Mensah-Kutin led efforts to ensure women voters were given the tools to make educated choices at the ballot box.
She has tirelessly advocated for the passage of the Affirmative Action Bill and seeks constantly to empower the next generation of women leaders in Ghana.
Mr Debra was honoured for his lifelong fight for the rights of persons with disabilities. As a student leader in the 1980s, Mr Debra lobbied the government for payment of reading allowances for visually impaired students in tertiary institutions.
In January 2005, he became the president of the Ghana Federation of Disability Organizations.
He mobilized disability organizations to effectively advocate for the passage of the Ghana Disability Act and for Ghana’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Mr Debra was influential in instituting National Disability Day and coordinating media and parliamentary caucuses to endorse disability advocacy.
During the 2016 elections, he urged Ghanaians to assist family members to vote if they face accessibility issues and supported the Ghana Blind Union’s work to improve the accessibility of polling sites.
He Debra played a critical role in ensuring that all citizens could participate in the democratic process and have their votes counted.
Some previous recipients of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award for Peace and Social Justice include:
- 2017: Professor Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi, Executive Director, Center for Democratic Development (CDD)
- 2016: Sheikh Dr Osmanu Nuhu Sharubutu, National Chief Imam of Ghana
- 2015: Dr Emmanuel Akwetey, Executive Director, Institute for Democratic Governance (IDEG)
- 2014: Most Reverend Professor Emmanuel Asante, National Peace Council Head and Presiding Bishop, Methodist Church of Ghana
- 2013: Afi Azaratu Yakubu, Executive Director, Foundation for Security and Development in Africa (FOSDA)
- 2012: Dr David Abdulai Fuseini, Founder, Shekhinah Clinic
- 2011: George Achibra, Director, Partners in Community Development Programme (PACODEP) and Touch a Life Foundation
- 2010: Janet Adama Mohammed, Executive Director, Human Rights and Democratization Project
- 2009: Angela Dwamena-Aboagye, Executive Director, Ark Foundation
- 2008: The Right Reverend Vincent Boi-Nai, Bishop of Yendi; and Alhussein, Director, Community Development and Youth Advisory Center (CODEYAC)
Yaw Ofori Debra
Dr Rose Mensah-Kutin is one of the foremost champions of women's rights in Ghana and serves as a mentor and role model for future female leaders. As director of the West African Regional Office of ABANTU for Development since 2000, Dr Mensah-Kutin has fought tirelessly to promote gender responsiveness in public policy.
Notably, she organized a coalition of activists to develop the 2004 Women's Manifesto for Ghana, a non-partisan document outlining the critical issues of national concern to women and has since continued to lead the Women's Manifesto Coalition.
As convener of the Network for Women's Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT) from 2005-2009, she facilitated the participation of women's groups from around the world in the 2008 Aid Effectiveness High Level Forum and, in so doing, ensured it integrated gender-specific initiatives.
Dr Mensah-Kutin holds a PhD in energy and gender studies from the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom. She also holds an MA in development studies from the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, The Netherlands.
She attended the University of Ghana, Legon, where she studied English and history for her first degree, and journalism and communications for a graduate diploma.
She is an expert on the intersection of gender, natural resource management, and climate change, and has served as an expert consultant for UNDP and other international, regional, and national agencies.
She serves on the advisory board of the International Gender and Sustainable Energy Network (ENERGIA) based in the Netherlands. At the national level, she has recently been appointed as a member of Ghana's Judiciary Council.
She also chairs the Zoomlion Foundation (ZF) and the Ghana Trades and Livelihoods Coalition, a civil society organization focused on agriculture.
She is a member of the Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII) and the Management Committee of the School of Migration Studies at the University of Ghana, Legon.
She has published papers on gender equality as it relates to peacebuilding, governance, energy, climate change, and poverty.
Yaw Ofori Debra
Since January 2005, Mr Debra has been the President of the Ghana Federation of Disability Organizations, representing a network of eight disability organizations. He is a lifetime advocate for disability rights.
As a student leader from 1987-1989, he successfully lobbied for the institutionalization of reading allowances for the visually impaired at tertiary institutions in Ghana, an initiative that has currently been expanded and transformed into the disability allowance for disabled students.
Mr Debra also led the advocacy for the passage of the Ghana Disability Act 715 in 2006 and ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2012.
He was influential in instituting the National Disability Day, setting up of media and parliamentary caucuses to influence disability advocacy, and is the lead on disability networks and platforms in Ghana.
More recently he has been aggressively pushing forward reforms to facilitate access to the District Common Fund for disability organizations in districts.
Mr Debra was the Treasurer of the West Africa Federation of the Disabled.
Mr Debra also works as a District Guidance and Counselling Coordinator at the Birim North Directorate of the Ghana Education Service, leading the design of training initiatives for teachers to effectively manage children with psycho-social problems that negatively affect their studies.
He holds a Bachelor of Education from the University of Cape Coast.