Gender Galamsey: From the margins to the mainstream


#Justice4Her. A rallying cry in pursuit of justice for a 4 year old little girl. The cry chastised the police, urged the arrest of her alleged rapist, demanded action of a President, criticized inaction from a Ministry and petitioned Parliament to become more involved.

A suspect is now, finally, in custody – after being allowed to bury his loved one. Petitions were presented, coalitions were formed and action has begun.

#Justice4Her is a rallying cry that can be equally applied to the issue of gender equality within politics and sexual violence in our society.

We are not 4-year-old voiceless children. Indeed, this week I have been listening to women and men talk about justice, equality, inequality regarding gender. I listened as the Hon. Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection gave a press conference in which she chastised civic organizations for what she described as sensationalism in the reporting of the alleged child rape case.

She also told the watching media and public that it is not the Gender Ministry’s role to play police in cases of injustice. On Tuesday morning I listened as Professor Akosua Adomako Ampofo and Abigail Edem Hunu of the National Domestic Violence Coalition called for flagship policy on sexual violence.  On Tuesday afternoon, I attended the debut POWA forum, a gathering of powerhouse educators, scholars, former Ministers to explore two questions: Why are there fewer women in politics? What must be done to get more women in politics?

Listening reminded me that you cannot substitute institutional structure with an individual ministry, and think that gender’s needs are being addressed.  It simply is not true.

We need to take gender from the margins and into the mainstream.

Gender is treated like an island that you visit from time to time only to get back into a boat and return to the mainland where the rest of the world is and the major issues exist. Such thinking is flawed, isolating and dangerous.

I am not suggesting we should not have a Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection. I am suggesting there needs to be additions to that Ministry. Where is the gender department within Education, Trade and Industry, Finance, Labor and Employer Relations, Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts?

We need to learn that the mere act of creating a Gender Ministry and putting a woman in political power of that Ministry does not necessarily equate to gender equity.

The Minister for Gender has come under fire for her stance on this case that sparked a mainstreaming of sexual violence.  Few politicians respond well to sustained critique. It rarely encourages better performance and too often results in defensiveness, reiteration of problematic stances and most importantly a failure to learn any lesson from the critique – and instead a return to business as usual. That does not mean the critique is invalid, it does mean we must find other ways to engage this Ministry.

One Ministry will not take gender from the margins to the mainstream – nor should it. The Minister is ill equipped and the Ministry is under resourced.

Mainstreaming gender is bigger than one Ministry and one Minister.

Structural and legislative change is necessary. On the POWA panel, former Gender Minister, Lawyer and Human Rights Campaigner Nana Oye Lithur spoke powerfully about the need for radical change to impact gender equality in raising the numbers of women in politics, and that an Affirmative Action law would do just that.  Equally importantly, she reminded the audience, that without radical change, gender equality simply would not happen.

In Ghana, when it comes to gender equality – we tweak, we don’t tackle. By that I mean, we edit around the edges of the issue to make small changes, but are unwilling to really dive in and engage transformative change. And transformation is the business we should be in.

Numbers are bleak, but instructive.

Ghana is currently ranked 150 out of 185 in the Inter-Parliamentary Union ranking on women representation in parliament across the world. Out of the 275 Members of Parliament, only 30 are women. That represents 10.9% of Parliament.  In 2008, there were 133 women out of the 1,332 parliamentary candidates, with only 10.7 percent going to parliament.

Compare Ghana to other African nations – Nigeria, South Africa and Rwanda – where the 30% of political representation has been reached. Indeed, Rwanda has the highest number of women politicians across Africa.

In Ghanaian politics, we articulate a seductive rhetoric of the importance of women, and a commitment to gender but we practice a strategic reality of protecting the institutional structures that make change a particular challenge.

Ghana is ranked and rated as a flourishing democracy. It is constantly hailed within the Continent  and in the West as that. Really?  What is democracy if half the population is inadequately represented in the body that takes major decisions on its behalf? What is democracy when sexual violence is at epidemic levels and yet no national call to action exists and what does exist is under resourced, ill equipped, slow to respond?  What is democracy when gender is marginalized and not mainstreamed?

The Indian-American writer, Anand Giridharadas said:- “we think Democracy is a supermarket where you pop in when you need something. In fact, Democracy is a farm where you reap what you sow.”

In politics, gender is a supermarket.

Women are powerful mobilizers in campaigns, just as they are powerful organizers in the Church or other organizations – so they are kept on shelves. We pop in when we need those mobilizers and organizers in pursuit of a particular goal. Once the goal is achieved or the election is won, back on the shelf they go. Sexual violence is treated in similar ways. Sustained action is consistently out of stock.

You cannot sow inaction and reap action; you cannot sow rhetoric and reap reality; you cannot sow gender promotion and reap gender equality. Our minds are still closed to the necessary work to transform a society and actually create gender equity. And the hardest thing to open is a closed mind.

Can you advance gender equality without unlearning unearned male privilege? Are we willing to do the both/and work? That would mean teach gender and unlearn a toxic masculinity that has turned Ghana’s politics into a battleground where stamina matters more than skillset; one where the bruises you sustain are not necessarily an indication of a winning strategy but a thicker skin?

Sexual violence is strategy in political campaigns. Accusations that women candidates have only acquired position due to sexual favours are a form of violence. It reduces women’s brilliance to their bodies. And it is one of the particular insults constantly levied at women political candidates.

Gender inequality teaches men that mediocrity and incompetence can masquerade as excellence, it can get you power and position. There is a failure to fully understand that gender is about the construct of femininity AND masculinity. We think it is purely about women. In Ghana what is about women does not translate into what is about a nation. The result? Too many men withdraw from action believing it is not about them.

Unlearning that is more than a legislative challenge, it is a profoundly cultural endeavor. But legislation is a powerful and necessary tool to force change.

And we need working tools. Without tools all we have is talk.

The tool of education is a necessary one. Girl child education from the primary to the tertiary educational level needs to be equally matched by boyhood to manhood education on what it means to be a citizen of a nation.  Right now we teach boys and men to be entitled. We enable their inability and we punish girls for their brilliance; teaching them brilliance is no substitute for beauty; and only the latter guarantees you a husband.

Education prompted flagship policy and financial investment; Free SHS. Unemployment prompted flagship policy One District, One Factory and massive public funding and investment; What flagship policy and budgetary investment does sexual violence merit? On national radio, Prof  Ampofo  suggested this rallying cry:- One District, One DOVVSU or One District, One Shelter. What flagship policy does better democracy and representation via women politicians’ merit?

Giriharadas said democracy is a farm where we reap what we sow.

In Ghana, gender is a cocoa farm. The cocoa farm is not being sown, even though the cocoa bean can do so many things when properly sown. Instead, it is being exploited, sold and abused. We do  not get to reap because we are not sowing – but we talk about sowing.

Ghana is practicing gender galamsey.

Ghana launched a campaign to end galamsey. That campaign required a marriage of traditional and social media, business, politics, citizens and sustained co-ordinated action. Are we willing to do the same with gender?

What can we do to guarantee a richer, more prosperous, less corrupt, safer nation?

End gender galamsey.


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