Veteran Journalist Ajoa-Yeboah Afari-The Writer

By Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

One fascinating aspect about the change of power in Britain this week, especially the appointments made by new Prime Minister Liz Truss was the fact that apparently she is making good use of their diverse expertise and background, regardless of their origin.

She has demonstrated inclusiveness, of course based on qualifications – and loyalty. That is how come a Briton of Ghanaian heritage, Dr Kwasi Kwarteng is her choice as Chancellor (Finance Minister).

In its issue of September 6, the UK Daily Mirror newspaper stated: “For the first time in history, none of the great offices of state are held by white men.”

Two of the principal cabinet positions that PM Truss has filled so audaciously are Foreign Minister, James Cleverly, the first black to hold that post; and Foreign Secretary, Suella Braverman. Reportedly, Mr Cleverly’s mother is from Sierra Leone and his father is white; Ms Braverman’s parents are from Kenya and Mauritius.

(Furthermore, with the appointment of Ms Therese Coffey as Deputy PM and Health Secretary, it also means that for the first time none of the four senior cabinet posts are held by white men.)

Evidently an all-embracing plan has been a factor. After all, immigrants have contributed immensely to make the United Kingdom what it is. So why should the children of immigrants be left out of the decision-making offices?

Surely, this pragmatic reasoning has a lesson for this country. Strangely, after 11 years of drafting and a mind-boggling series of revisions, Ghana’s Affirmative Action Bill (AA Bill), which seeks to bring more women into decision-making, is still not yet before Parliament for passage into law!

Why have successive administrations here not been keen to ensure that more women, who represent some 51 per cent of the population, are brought into decision-making, to ensure necessary inclusiveness and talent usage, for the benefit of the country?

This is what the AA Bill seeks to correct, and the Bill is one of the causes central to the Women’s Manifesto for Ghana (WMG), an initiative of the ABANTU for Development.

ABANTU, an international women’s non-governmental organisation, seeks to empower African women in the fields of politics and the economy on the local, national, regional and international levels.

Notably, the WMG recently marked its 18th anniversary, as it was launched on September 2, 2004. It is a political (but non-partisan) document which sets out critical issues of concern to women in Ghana.

Why has the AA Bill been on the back burner of the Government of President Nana Akufo-Addo for so long?

Yet, embarrassingly, Ghana’s Parliament of 275 seats has only 40 women legislators, 20 from the ruling New Patriotic Party and 20 from the main opposition party, the National Democratic Congress.

The picture at the Local Government level is even more dismal: According to the findings of a study conducted by the Centre for Democratic Development-Ghana of the 6,000 District Assembly members, only 460 are women.

It was to correct such imbalances that after a series of consultations, in 2011, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection took steps to draft the Affirmative Action Bill.

As a knowledgeable source explains: “Affirmative action” means positive steps taken to increase the representation of women and minorities in areas of employment, education, and culture from which they have been historically excluded.” Affirmative Action would see, for example, the designation of certain seats as those for women, not to be competed for, but filled by appointment.

Still, Affirmative Action is not a new policy in Ghana. As ABANTU explains, “as far back as 1960, the Convention People’s Party Government under President Dr Kwame Nkrumah “legislated an Affirmative Action Act in 1960 which allowed 10 women members to represent the regions of the country in the then legislature.”

ABANTU notes that given the challenges that women are confronted with, it is important to put in place mechanisms that would progressively draw attention to their needs and concerns and enable them to participate actively in public affairs.

The Manifesto therefore provides a platform of a common set of demands for the achievement of gender equality and equity and sustainable national development, hence its dedicated campaigning for the passage of the Bill.

If the Manifesto were a human being at age 18 that teenager would be entitled to privileges such as the right to vote, etc. So on that consideration alone, some would say that it is time for the Manifesto’s key advocacy to bear fruit.

Dr Rose Mensah-Kutin, Head of ABANTU, told me earlier this week: “In fact, the process of the Affirmative Action advocacy started in the 1990s. However, the Manifesto emphasized on it and even gave a deadline for its passage.

“To date ABANTU continues to advocate on it and we host the Coalition on the Affirmative Action, with Mrs Sheila Minkah-Premo as the Convenor. This year, too, in celebrating the Manifesto, we made a call for the early passage of the Affirmative Action Bill into law.”

If Britain can overcome all the conceivably racist undercurrents and appoint to its most senior political offices ‘hyphenated Britons’ (such as ‘British-Ghanaian’ or ‘Ghanaian-British’), what prevents Ghana from using a similar realistic approach to enact the Bill into law to ensure that Ghanaian women take their rightful places in the country’s decision-making structures?

Another cause for concern over the lack of movement regarding passage of the AA Bill, is that Local Assembly elections are scheduled to take place next year, but without an Affirmative Action Policy in place there is apprehension among gender activists and other interested parties, that 2023 too, will see not many more women in local government.

President Nana Akufo-Addo promised in his first State of the Nation Address in 2017, as well as last year, that his Government would facilitate the Bill’s enactment. So just what is the explanation for the unbelievably long delay in moving the AA Bill to Parliament?

Ghana surely has more than enough qualified women for policy-making or governance positions. However, evidently, the increasingly monetised and toxic political contests in this country is the reason why numerous highly qualified women dare not offer themselves as candidates for political office.

Definitely, women’s special skills and effectiveness are needed, so the nation has to find a way to let them into the decision-making spaces: Affirmative Action is the solution!

That is why there should be no more delay in giving Ghana an Affirmative Action Law.

And, Mr President, reminding you, respectfully: a promise is a promise.