To discriminate in plain language means to give unfair or unequal treatment to an individual or group based on certain characteristics, including gender, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, et al. Clause 2, Article 17 of the Ghanaian Constitution 1992 defines the word ‘discriminate’ as “to give different treatment to different persons attributable only or mainly to their respective descriptions by race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, gender, occupation, religion or creed, whereby persons of one description are subjected to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of another description are not made subject or are granted privileges or advantages which are not granted to persons of another description.”
Discrimination is so prevalent and widespread. This has necessitated the fight against it and this fight has gained attention at the highest level of diplomacy – THE UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY. For this reason, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were developed with SDG 5 targeted at ending all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.
One other International legislation aimed at non-discrimination is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Ghana is signatory to this convention. Some notable aims of CEDAW are:
- Protection from dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy.
- Provision of special protection during pregnancy.
Aside CEDAW, our own 1992 Constitution has expressly outlawed all forms of discrimination. Article 17 prohibits discrimination based on gender. The Article reads: “A person shall not be discriminated against on grounds of gender…”.[Emphasis mine]
In the Canadian case of Peel Law Association v. Pieters, 2013 ONCA 396 (Date: 20130613 Docket: C55734), the Ontario Court of Appeal held that the Peel Law Association discriminated against the Appellants (both of whom were black lawyers) based on race, by requesting them to show that they were lawyers before permitting them to access services restricted to lawyers only.
Not too long ago, the Superior Court brought clarity and finality to the issue of discrimination against women at the workplace in the case of The Commissioner, CHRAJ and 2 Others v. Ghana National Fire Service and Another, Unreported, Suit No. HR 0063/2017 dated 23rd April, 2018. The Court opined that, “dismissal for pregnancy is not one of the legitimate aims, and dismissal for pregnancy cannot be plausibly said to be for the protection of the female employee”.
The basic question is, why is it that in light of all the fine laws listed supra, employers continue to discriminate against our women?
Quite recently, a beautiful colleague of mine was handed a lovely gift. The gift in question is what most women crave and are prepared to give anything for it. Some even go to the extent of permitting ‘supposed prophets’ to apply ‘holy oil’ on their private parts in their quest to have it, but to no avail. Need I say more? How pleasurable it was for my colleague to break the news to us in the office when she got confirmation that she had taken seed!
To our utmost disappointment, however, what was supposed to be deemed good news did not go down well with our employer, as he almost immediately requested to have a meeting in private with my colleague. After the meeting, my obviously disturbed colleague told us she had been asked to “consider working somewhere else, in the interest of herself and her unborn baby”. I could not help but wonder when and how our boss became a physician to pronounce work in a banking environment unsafe for a pregnant woman.
As unfortunate as our boss’ decision is, my poor colleague is not alone in this. Several women in the security services and health sector, for example, have had to take compulsory early exits from their respective jobs for simply committing the offence of ‘getting pregnant’.
Meanwhile, the labour law is quite clear on this. Pregnant women are excluded from working night shifts (between 10pm and 7am), working overtime, et al. This suggest that upon a woman becoming pregnant, her employer is expected to make reasonable provision towards her welfare. Sacking her on the grounds of pregnancy is out of the equation. The right to family life includes the right to be pregnant and women are entitled to choose when to become pregnant.
To this extent, the question remains, is the discrimination against my colleague legitimate, objective and justified?
I will end by encouraging you to ponder over the following questions anytime you feel discriminated against:
- Are you protected by the relevant law on non-discrimination?
- Have you been subjected to adverse treatment?
- Is race, gender, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed or social or economic status a factor which warranted the adverse treatment?
If you answer ‘YES’ to all the three (3) questions supra, you need to stand for your right.
GOD BLESS OUR HOMELAND GHANA AND MAKE US GREAT AND STRONG!!!
The writer is a Lawyer and Law Lecturer with Ghana’s foremost media school (GH Media School).