Esther Armah’s thoughts: THE GHANA PROJECT: Ethnic Agenda & The 52%

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Esther Armah

The Ghana Project. President Nana Akufo-Addo declared on Twitter that anybody who is as committed as he is to this, could not have an ‘Ethnic Agenda’. He has failings, he admits in the same Tweet, but being a tribalist is not one of them.

Laudable.

Election year is ripe for particular Agenda focus, declaring fierce commitment, throwing rhetoric into the national winds, casting slurs against political opponents, and castigating records of political parties. This is our normal. But on Twitter this caught my eye for two reasons.

One: it matters. Articulating with clarity and specificity how ‘The Ghana Project’ centres unity and decries the kind of division that has marked our political practice is inspiring. My question – in what way does The Ghana Project engage, center and deliver on the 52% population that is women in Ghana?

An Ethnic Agenda is to be decried, a commitment to unity applauded. A Gender Agenda must be examined.

Ghana, let’s talk.

The wealth of events, launches, initiatives, and speeches highlighting the significance of women that have marked this first term by this government is head-spinning. The failure to match reality with rhetoric is equally, head spinningly-disappointing.

The instinct to tick off a list of things that have been done, articulate new names of unrealized projects and reveal fresh titles of powerless bodies is also our normal. It is too often how we report the illusion of inclusion when it comes to gender in Ghana.

A Gender Agenda demands a place at the head of The Ghana Project. It has been requesting politely for audience, recognition, attention for too long. Its place should be mandatory as citizens. Being a woman in Ghana should not require this much effort to have the fullness of your life – your brilliance, your gifts, your needs – recognized and responded to with the kind of resources that really creates progress.

This is no time for gestures to placate or rhetoric to comfort. This is not about the politics of party, it is about the politics of progress. We already know the lament of failure – the failure to fully implement the beleaguered Affirmative Action Bill, the failure to fund with any real rigour the Domestic Violence Fund so the Domestic Violence Legislation has real meaning for those it was meant to protect. COVID has seen spikes in gendered violence – reported globally, and no different here in Ghana.

Three things have happened that make me optimistic about ‘The Ghana Project’ as regards the 52%.

The advent of Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang as NDC John Mahama’s VP running mate brought excitement, history – and the NDC – back into a presidential political race. The excitement of Ghana’s history making moment would be followed by one in the US, when Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden picked Senator Kamala Harris as his VP, making her the first black women to hold this position.

The second thing was the launch of ‘ScaleUp Africa’ – Africa-focused, women led business development services founded by Amma Gyampo and Olivia Asiedu-Ntow.  Their clear vision and passion is focused on Pan African and Diaspora Economic Empowerment. Their website explains: ‘Africa is awash with ideation, startup and short-term programs that have failed to create the volume of decent jobs. ScaleUp Africa seeks to transform the ecosystem by improving access, support, resource allocation, growth outcomes, economic development, job creation and investability of SMEs.’ And they describe a ‘a laser focus on achieving meaningful change through African-Diaspora Entrepreneurship, Economic Empowerment & Justice.‘

They highlight a need to engage the economy of entrepreneurs and treat it like the thriving economy that it needs to become, offering a much-needed skill-set, an education and a real chance to scale up. They too require a front row seat within The Ghana Project. Reimagining African economies due to the global pandemic is an opportunity that should not be wasted in the ritual political campaigning regarding gender, also known as we-will-make-promises-we-have-no-intention-of-keeping-those-promises.

The third thing was the launch of ‘Status of Women in the Ghanaian Media’,  a baseline study by The Alliance of Women in Media Africa (AWMA) and the University of Ghana’s School of Information and Communication Studies. The report engaged more than 300 women in media across all 16 regions. The findings were grim. We learned that being a woman over 40 and a mother may make you invaluable to society, it may confirm your status as a woman but it leads to being discarded within the media. The numbers suggest the media wants cute, young, unattached, and unfettered women. To be clear, I do not suggest there is not brilliance within young women – there is of course, and they should shine and lead.

What I am asking is: what do we lose when a report reveals issues of pay disparity, harassment, the expectation of being the primary care-giver while media work conditions make balance almost impossible – and certainly unnecessarily challenging? Who have we lost when motherhood within media is treated like a pariah, when so few women occupy senior management positions, and feel discriminated against when it comes to promotion? Where is the equity? Equity recognizes what someone needs to be able to fully engage with their counterpart – and that those needs are not the same, because society does not view or engage them in similar ways. The cost to an industry with such losses is heavy. We do not measure that cost effectively. We must.

I have my own stories in Ghana’s media of being passed over, discarded and my professional experience overlooked for others less qualified, less experienced and less able. I have my stories of being asked to coach the mediocre, to make them better when there were women who were already better and stronger who could have – and should have – been given the job. I have my own experiences of seeking seniority within media houses and being rejected, and then watching those with less experience receive titles and positions, and then reach out to me for help in strengthening their fragilities. Frankly, it has been sickening, it has robbed me of a joy that I had in journalism.

The media is too important to allow women to be lost when what is required is for an industry to reckon with its outdated narratives on gender, and to not use exceptional examples of individual brilliance to justify industry failures. The Report offers a crucial entry point to focus on what to change, and now the conversation must shift to how the media makes that change.

So, with this mix of grim realities and fresh possibility, we are ripe for a political reckoning. And there is real space and opportunity for change. It is overdue. It is necessary. Women change worlds. Men’s changed minds recognize that, and change their worlds to make room for this kind of shift. Ghana is better when women thrive, when their futures are not fractured by violence, or gendered discrimination, when paths are created so they can reach their fullest potential, and when policies are matched by a practice that doesn’t require decades of activism.

Right now, The Ghana Project in its current form is failing women. Failure need not dominate this narrative.

COVID saw the creative and professional collaboration of private and public sector to build a hospital to respond to the urgency of the moment. What if we were willing to scale up collaboration, to reckon with the status of women in the Ghanaian media as part of how to transform the lives of the 52%? What huge gains might that yield and how might our nation be stronger with such manifest purpose and practice?

Let’s reimagine The Ghana Project as, yes, a place that rejects tribalism, also one that recognizes and centers all citizens as citizens – one that does not gender brilliance. Let’s reimagine it as one where progress is not a matter of political party, but of nation building.

We progress nations with our brilliance; combined and recognized – not gendered and marginalized. Let’s make that ‘The Ghana Project’ of our future.

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Esther Armah is Executive Director, The Armah Institute of Emotional Justice (AEIJ); a global institute providing equity education in the context of Race, Gender, Culture using the visionary ‘Emotional Justice’ framework. AIEJ does this  via Projects, Training and Thought Leadership. Website: www.theaiej.com Email: [email protected] Twitter: @estherarmah

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