– MONDAY, MARCH 21, 2011
Mr Chairman, Your Excellency Musiliu Obanikoro, Nigerian Ambassador to Ghana, Hon. Baba Jamal, Deputy Minister for Information, the Secretary-General of the Certified Institute of Public Administrators, Mr Felix Lowen, the Founder of the Women Peace and Development Initiative, Dr Bolere Ketebu, gender advocates, members of the diplomatic corps, public administrators, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen;
The significant role women are required to play in enhancing development, particularly in nascent democracies across the world cannot be underestimated. It is unfortunate, however, that though a lot of political rhetoric has gone into enhancing women’s participation in all aspects of socio-political development in individual states, there is still a huge void as far as women’s participation is concerned.
I am honoured by your invitation to participate in this Summit, which will discuss gender imbalance in governance, conflict management and political leadership in West Africa. The theme for the Summit, “Enhancing Women’s Participation in conflict management and political leadership in emerging democracies: Issues and challenges”, confirms the desire of this conference to come up with concrete suggestions on how to enhance women’s participation and create gender balance in our political leadership.
The topic for today’s conference is one that has been discussed from various angles as far as I can remember in the last 18 to 20 years and the reason why it is still topical is because reports from these conferences, seminars, workshops, be they local or international have not been implemented to the full and used to make things better to avoid conflict and manage conflict.
Mr Chairman, as a Ghanaian, I have to state that insignificant progress has been made in the area of Affirmative Action. However, we can talk about women’s empowerment as a separate entity. Women’s issues have always been at the centre of human balance and development and until the world comes to that realisation by including women in policy programmes and policy implementation, the problem will remain.
For women to be able to take active part in conflict management and political leadership an acceptance of the empowerment of women in all sectors of our economy from birth to death is paramount whether it is in education, health, finance or political, whether it is in social or cultural, there has to be a way that women are encouraged into national programmes.
In 1997 at a conference on African leadership I was asked to share my vision on African women in the 21st century. At the time I said that: “In looking forward into the 21st century my vision of an era of transformation where African women with their energies released and skills sharpened will offer their families, communities, countries, their people and indeed the world at large, alternative approaches to tackling the key problems plaguing the world today.
“The transformative role of women is likely to become more and more important because the prevalence of unbridled competitiveness seems to be creating a spiral of reckless exploitation of the world’s resources and deepening inequalities. This must give way to greater solidarity and nurturing of people and resources if the world is not to end up as a living hell for all but very few of its inhabitants.”
I went on further to say: “That I do not by this mean that I see the African woman as a docile and passive person simply pleading to her men folk to stop fighting, nor do I see her as meekly begging rich nations to be kind to her children. I see her as being committed to the struggle for the establishment of an era of solidarity, innovation and responsible use of the resources of her continent and indeed the globe.”
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen we need to take a pragmatic approach in dealing with some of the issues of women’s empowerment – Issues that can conserve the dignity of the human existence. We need to use a strategy that reinforces the positive existence of both sexes so that women can be active participants in conflict management.
The call has always been for legal backing for a quota system for women’s participation in politics and other leadership roles but what is particularly important is the need to create a conducive environment for women to have the capacity to participate competently in such roles.
That is why the 31st December Women’s Movement (DWM) which I represent, has since 1982 identified the need to empower women through mainstream education, vocational education, social and economic empowerment and political assertiveness.
The Movement has over the years also sought a legal framework to protect women at various levels and in various areas too numerous for me to cite. Our campaigns engineered a boom of gender movements across the country and beyond and today some of the results of such advocacy include the much-prided Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service, which supports not only women and children victims of domestic violence but male victims as well.
In seeking parity in women’s participation in leadership roles, legal framework that protects them and ensures that they operate with the same advantages as their male counterparts in all facets of political and socio-economic roles is necessary. If we fail to empower them appropriately, we will be operating a hollow parity system that will rather affect the value and relevance of women in leadership roles.
We have done quite well in terms of the efforts by gender groups within Ghana, but governmental support has not been that forthcoming, leading to a situation where some competent women feel intimidated to put themselves up for political office.
Political commitment is key to the success of this process but women’s advocacy groups should not relent in the roles they have been playing in empowering women. I say so because in a country like Burundi though women have 30 per cent automatic representation in Parliament, the women’s movement is very weak and the influence of women parliamentarians is seen as negligible.
Mr Chairman, our region has seen some reasonable stability but that stability has been recently threatened by the situation in Cote d’Ivoire and to a lesser extent in Nigeria where sectarian conflict and the volatile situation in the Delta Region threaten to erode the political gains made over the past decade.
What role can women play in conflict management and prevention? Effective peace cannot be achieved without the participation of women who are effectively more than 50 per cent of most of our societies. Women are best positioned to determine the creation of a secure community. Peace, decision-making and peacekeeping, reconciliation and the rule of law, as well as economic development are areas that women’s participation is required to ensure effective conflict management.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, in 2000 the United Nations adopted Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, urging all action to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts. It also called for the creation of legal framework, political participation, voter registration and voter and civic education all in a bid to boost the integration of women in leadership activity.
But did these happen in all countries of the world? If not why did they not happen? Does it not take us back to the non-implementation of resolutions and counter-resolutions?
“How do we transit from negotiation of peace to renegotiating our place in politics with key roles in the governance process?” This is a question posed by Kenyan gender advocate Dr Akinyi Nzioki.
We cannot negotiate our place in key governance roles unless we wake up from our comfort zones and accept the fact that if we fail to take risks, if we fail to make noise, if we fail to show courage and defiance and state our case convincingly so that we attract attention, then we cannot achieve our results. Therefore we have to develop excellent skills that will help us to overcome the obstacles that impede our progress and success.
We should never be satisfied with our situation until we see the critical mass of women breaking through the difficulty of inequality into the helm of their fields of endeavour.
All the above will then give us a good indication of true equality and equity between women and men. It will also lead women into areas of participation, be it conflict management or political leadership.
Customary and religious laws continue to restrict women’s rights across the region, but it is imperative that those of us who find ourselves in positions of responsibility ensure that we excel and serve as the necessary momentum for society to embrace gender balance.
Almost every country within the region has some kind of gender process going on within civil society or the national legal framework, but those structures will not automatically make you a Parliamentarian, Minister, District Chief Executive, Vice-President or President unless we take the bull by the horn and prove that we have the capability, the capacity, the competence and more importantly the strength of character to manage these roles. I can. So can you.
Distinguished guests, we women must be agents of change. We can be a powerful source of knowledge and skills within our various communities. Women cope better when faced with all the various environmental challenges and difficulties and have always been able to adjust and improvise. Our key position as protectors of the household means we cannot shy away from participating in local governance and in the process extend our reach to regional and national developmental and political roles.
Ladies and gentlemen, we as women have our destiny in our hands but we must work to make that destiny a reality. I will conclude by quoting from a statement I issued on International Women’s Day 2011.
“It is only when we take control through the decision-making process at all levels of governance and development, that we can solve the problem of disparity. It is only when women are part of policy planning and implementation that we see the requisite improvement in the lives of women.”
And I daresay that it only when we enhance women’s participation in conflict management and political leadership that we will see our democracies growing from strength to strength and thus deal with our issues and challenges.
Mr Chairman, Your Excellency, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish you fruitful deliberations and a positive outcome. Thank you.