History was made in 2018 at the Ho Technical University when Ms Vera Fafali Agbenyah, 25, triumphed over her male counterparts to become the first-ever female President of the Student Representative Council (SRC) of the school.
Initially, she met a stiff opposition when she declared her intention even to her female colleagues because it had always been a turf for males. It was tears of joy and jubilations after the electoral process that elected her came to an end. “I am surprised, many people thought I was kidding during the campaign, but that spurred me on to prove them wrong,” she recalled.
According to Ms Agbenyah, some of her close friends counseled her not to contest, but she had already been fired up after participating in the sensitisation of principles of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG).
ACDEG and the policy framework
One of the ACDEG principles on governance, she explains urges governments to ensure gender balance in governance and the development process.
“This dawn on me, the issue of low participation of women in local elections especially student politics so I took a decision to contest,” she said.
The ACDEG is a set of principles that spell out norms, values and standards agreed by the African States, including; universal values of democracy and respect for human rights; rule of law premised on the supremacy of the constitution and the holding of democratic and credible elections.
In Ghana, Action Aid Ghana and Media Foundation for West Africa are working to popularize the charter in the Bono, Ahafo, Oti, Volta, Upper East and Greater Accra Regions under the ‘The Africa We Want Project”.
Across Africa, the project is being implemented in eight countries by a 14-member consortium of Civil Society Organisations with funding from the European Union.
Ms Agbenyah is one of the over 3,450 youths who have benefited from the many sensitisation programmes that have encouraged the youth to join hands in movements (Activista) to demand the implementation of ACDEG.
The Project aimed at increasing and strengthening the role of Civil Society Organisations to ensure that all African Union (AU) member states are democratic and accountable to their citizens, and aligned with the African Governance Architecture of the AU.
At the end of the project, it hopes to have many more Ms Agbenyah’s ready to contest and participate in the governance of the country.
Despite being a signatory to various regional, continental and international frameworks including; ACDEG, the section that commands more than half of Ghana’s population representing 51.2 per cent participation in political leadership in Ghana is low compared to that of other African countries.
In practical terms, Ghana has about 35 of its 275 parliamentarians as women with less than 30 per cent being Ministers of State and District Chief Executives.
Data from the Electoral Commission show that since 1994, there was a slow but steady improvement in female representation in the district assemblies, except for the percentage, which is less than 20 per cent.
Out of the 965 female contestants in the 2002 district assembly elections, 341 constituting 7.4 per cent were elected as against the 196 constituting 4.1 per cent elected in 1998. The percentage of elected female members in the district assemblies declined from 11 per cent in 2008 to seven per cent in 2010.
Thus, the 2010 district assembly election results showed that out of a total number of 17, 315 contestants, 1, 376 were females, but only 412 constituting 7.95 per cent won the elections, compared to the 5,681 that constituted 92.05 per cent won by their male counterparts.
This trend continued into the September 1, 2015 district assembly elections, which recorded total contestants of 18, 938 with 1,155 female contestants as against 17,783 males.
This resulted in 5,779 constituting 95.35 per cent elected males as against 282 constituting 4.65 per cent elected females. The results from the election presented a decrease in the number of women in the District Assembly’s elections from 412 in 2010 to 282 in 2015.
The assumption is that, subsequent elections should record an increase in the number of contestants and elected representatives, however, the 2015 district assembly elections witnessed a drop in progression.
In the view of Mrs Margaret Brew-Ward, the Women’s Rights and Campaigns Manager at ActionAid, the low representation of women could be attributed to the perception that leadership roles are masculine and the unequal playing field created by political parties disadvantage to women.
Majority of women, she observes do not have the required resources for political campaigns and electoral processes, adding that, there was a lack of understanding from a section of the public about the contribution of women to development.
Alhaji Abdul-Razak Saani, the Northern Regional Director of the National Commission for Civic Education sharing findings of a study on the subject says culturally and religiously, men were heads of families especially in the study area where Islam dominated.
He recounts that in Islam, women could not lead prayers, and that had been used to discourage some women from participating in elections.
Socially, there have been testimonies that some husbands threaten to divorce their wives if they contested elections while some women lacked the political courage to compete with men for political office.
Without their participation in the public discourse or decision-making process, it would be difficult for Ghana to achieve sustainable development.
Madam Bernice Naah, the Chief Executive of Africa Center for Human Rights and Sustainable Development says women in governance have a stronger sense of fairness and justice, and are less prone to corruption than men because women usually have a greater role in raising their children in the moral values of society and hence would try to be models of morality.
She contends that women, being nurturers, favor the use of peaceful means over force for resolving conflict and also will preserve human lives and the natural environment for sustainability.
Dr Janet Boateng, in her recent study, recommended that a Special development fund be set up by the government to support Assemblywomen to perform their roles and responsibilities within their communities regularly.
Female politicians, she suggested should mentor other women; as the potential female politicians avail themselves, saying the mentors may support them build the confidence required to engage in local politics and aspire higher positions in the political office.
The persistence admiration of some cultural beliefs and practices that makes it difficult for many females to engage in politics, support the idea of quota systems, hence the need for the Affirmative Action Bill to be passed into law and seats to be reserved for women to participate in government and other decision-making processes.
In the opinion of Mr Patrick Awuah, President of the Ashesi University, in order to advance gender issues in Ghana, the country needs to begin celebrating its progress made in that area to encourage young girls.
“There is a positive message about gender progress and we need to talk about it to boost the confidence of young girls,” he noted.
Hopefully, when young girls take little steps to lead their class and are mentored to take up prefectship role, they would be bold to contest the SRCs just like Fafali Agbenyah and then move on to local assemblies, parliamentary and finally go for the presidential slot.