OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: …women in politics

Esther A. Armah

The Energy Minister and the Ameri Deal. Sacking, struggle, story. This escalating question-filled disaster has led to the sacking of the Energy Minister, a struggle regarding a full accounting and an as yet untold story about what exactly went down.

Ameri still holds questions.  Who knew what and when exactly was our President misled into placing a deal before Parliament that would ricochet around Flagstaff House and end up on the airwaves across Ghana?  Does the sacking of the Energy Minister amount to protection of the political purse or a very public scapegoat? Are the questions answered or is the debate momentarily silenced? Should just one head roll, or are others wiping sweat-filled brows that – for now – their heads are intact.

The story continues. Clearly, it is not over.

Ultimately, Ghana needs a new Energy Minister.

Hon. Boakye Agyarko’s temporary stand in is the current Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Mr. John Peter Amewu. Mr. Agyarko has promised his side of this ongoing saga when the dust settles. The sad reality of 24 hour news is that we are less likely to care – unless his side delivers juicy headline making copy; i.e. names in high flying, power-filled corridors. Otherwise, it is on to the business of replacement.

Politics is a zero sum game. It is often dirty, sexist and takes no prisoners – although there may often be casualties. The Minister of Energy may be part casualty, part contributor to his own ministerial demise. Either way, he is out.

And with all politics, one person’s disaster is another’s opportunity.

A new Energy Minister is required. I listened to morning radio and on Starr FM’s weekly Gender101 segment, CEO of Gender Centre for Empowering Development (GenCED) Esther Taiwah, suggested a woman should replace Mr. Agyarko.

What followed was a news package in which women who had run as candidates for different political parties shared their experiences of discrimination, violation, intimidation and hostility.

It was disheartening.

One woman spoke of how during a panel session introducing different politicians, her name was totally forgotten. Another spoke of her unwillingness to pay potential voters with the kind of chop money that has traditionally secured a vote, and was therefore dismissed by those voters as an unelectable politician. Another spoke of intimidation, having posters torn down by opposing politicians and another spoke of being questioned about the absence of her husband as if his absence or presence lends a particular validity to a candidacy.

I joined the conversation via social media. My tweets drew the kinds of responses that should serve as a reminder of the multiple ways discrimination functions. One person Tweeted: as long as they are competent and qualified – who cares what their gender is? Another reminded me that women are as corrupt as men.

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In Ghana, competence is gendered.

Let’s start with political qualifications. In a politician, competence is hardly an aspiration, but should be an expectation. The bar is incredibly low if competence is the ultimate criteria for what is essentially a leadership position. We should recognize that within a male dominated political environment peppered with incompetence, corruption, mediocrity and a failure to do the public duty, understand a politician’s work and recognize that service to constituents stands taller than chopping for self, we might do better if we did actually demand competence from the men.

It is funny that competence and marriage are somehow paired together when it comes to women in politics. It is funny that competence and marriage are never paired together when it comes to men in politics.

It is, of course, not funny at all.

To the person who tweeted who cares about their gender? Millions care about gender. We know that men care. We know from the stories the women candidates told of going into constituencies and being asked – where is the man candidate? We want to hear from the men, they shouted. We know because our Affirmative Action Bill continues to languish unpassed in our Parliament. We know because the 2016 attempt by the NPP to create a quota system securing women for political seats ignited uproar and was quickly scrapped. Men care about who represents them. Men care that they are represented by other men.

Gender is about women and men.

Women care too. With 52% of Ghana’s population being female, political representation matters.

I care that I am represented by someone who recognizes my role as citizen, contributor, entrepreneur and Ghanaian. Recognizing that contribution means enacting policy that includes, engages, serves and uplifts me. I care that I am represented by someone who does not think I am sideshow, side-chick, or can be sidelined or sidestepped. I care that I live in a world and in a nation that recognizes brilliance is not gendered.

Our rhetoric on gender is powerful, eloquent and moving. Our reality is shoddy, half-hearted and problematic. It is the disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality that maintains a male-dominated politics that actually fails to serve the very best of our nation.

Gender balance is not ‘this women’s issue’ as it is so often categorized; it is about nation building, good economics, prosperity, wealth and education. It is simply not possible to be the best nation that serves the whole population when millions within one gender are being discriminated against in multiple ways.

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Sexism is a global beast; it is the daughter of patriarchy – equally global and just as beastly. We are not immune from its tentacles; but that need not be our single story.

Nepotism is hardly new to Ghana’s politics or indeed global politics, either. It is nepotism that so often kills competence across multiple sectors in Ghana. Hiring family or connections over brilliance and talent has often been critiqued as criteria for incompetent leadership, failures in accountability and refusal to administer stiff consequences for bad mistakes or mishaps.

We have a current administration where gender has been hailed, initiatives created and projects conducted. Speeches highlight and honour the importance of women, their rise, their leadership, their contribution to society. We cheered the 19 year old young woman named by the President as winner of the maiden Entrepreneurship Drive. These are necessary beginnings. Equity requires so much more than that. Big strides are necessary to catch up.

SDG5 sets out to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls before 2030. One significant target of this Goal is to: “Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life.”

With politics, there is gender, there is also – and always – the question of money.

Esther Taiwah spoke about the monetization of our democracy; she highlighted that this monetization makes entrance into politics harder for women.

Women lead. They rock. They rule, They always have. That leadership has too rarely been recognized, rewarded or reckoned with – it is that which must change. Women must also be challenged to step up and step forward, throw their hat into the ring and engage in this political leadership battle.

Ghana – like much of Africa – has a youthful population. Energy, ideas, brilliance lies there – in young women and young men. That brilliance needs to come forward and manifest within this world of politics.

Our Republic is young; our need for brilliant, visionary leadership is urgent. A nation on the rise must call for its best and brightest to lead. When we create circumstances that prevent brilliant women from leading, we shoot our nation building project in the foot.

That need not be our story.

Women leaders are nation builders. Nation building requires women’s political leadership. In policy matters, women matter. Women matter to all issues of policy.

A new Energy Minister is needed; what an opportunity to bring a brilliant woman into this Ministerial role and world.

We are the 52%.

Our voice and our vision matters.

Our political leadership does too.



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