Righting the wrongs – Bridging the gender inequality gap

Accra, Ghana is yet to attain the minimum threshold of 30 per cent representation of women in political and public offices in spite of various gender empowerment programmes that had been championed, over the years, to promote gender equality at the higher decision-making levels.

Ghana currently has a male dominated Parliament that features a total of 275 members, out of which 37 are females.

From the period of the former First Lady, Mrs Nana Konandu Agyeman Rawlings’s 31st December Women’s Movement to the current dispensation, the many attempts by individuals, the state, and civil society organisations like the Abantu for Development, the Ark Foundation, and the NETRIGHT, as well as other critical contributions from development partners like the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the gender equality gaps still persists in Ghana and in many other countries, the world over.

Not even the ever famous Beijing Platform of Action on Gender Equality, adopted at the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women in China in 1995, the Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, and the 2017 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), among many other conventions and treaties, had been able to improve the required percentage of women and girls needed to march the gender equation.

Presently, six out of 10 of the world’s poorest people are women; and about two thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women; while only 23 per cent of parliamentarians are women globally.

Gender equality is a human rights issue and, therefore, women are entitled to live with dignity and with freedom from want and from fear.

Gender equality is also a precondition for advancing development and reducing poverty since empowered women contribute to the health and productivity of whole families and communities, and they improve prospects for the next generation.

Experts have said that when a girl is not in school, she misses out on the opportunities to gain knowledge and build the skills that may help her release her full potential later in life. But this situation continues to prevail as many girls are daily given out to marriage, even before they reach adulthood.

However, despite the solid evidence demonstrating the centrality of women’s empowerment to reducing poverty, promoting development and addressing the world’s most urgent challenges, gender equality remains an unfulfilled promise.

For more than 30 years, the UNFPA had advocated for women and girls, promoting legal and policy reforms and gender-sensitive data collection, and supporting initiatives that improve women’s health and expand their choices in life.

In spite of the many international agreements affirming their human rights, women are still more likely than men to be poor and illiterate as they have less access to property ownership, credit, training and employment.

They are also far less likely than men to be politically active and far more likely to be victims of domestic violence.

When nations of the world came together in 2017 to achieve the SDGs, they committed to ending poverty and hunger everywhere, to combating inequalities within and among countries, and to building inclusive societies that leave no one behind. They pledged to reach the furthest behind first.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its accompanying 17 SDGs are grounded in principles of rights, fairness, inclusiveness and equality. For instance SDG 10 aims to reducing inequality within and among nations.

Gender equality will, therefore, be achieved only when women and men enjoy the same opportunities, rights and obligations in all spheres of life.

This means sharing equally in the distribution of power and influence, and having equal opportunities for financial independence, education and realising their personal ambitions.

Gender equality demands the empowerment of women, with a focus on identifying and redressing power imbalances and giving women more autonomy to manage their own lives.

When women are empowered, whole families benefit, and these benefits often have a ripple effect on future generations. It has been said that the roles that men and women play in society are not biologically determined. They are socially determined, changing and changeable. And while they may be justified as being required by culture or religion, these roles vary widely by locality and evolve over time.

Efforts, therefore, to promote women’s empowerment should ensure cultural considerations are respected while women’s rights are upheld. Effectively promoting gender equality also requires recognising that women are diverse in the roles they play, as well as in age, social status, geographic location and educational attainment and, therefore, the fabric of their lives and the choices available to them vary widely.

In 2017, the UNFPA, supported gender equality-related legislation, policy reforms and development in more than 40 countries. The Fund, among other things, aims at responding to the needs of the most marginalised and vulnerable including adolescent girls, people living with disabilities, indigenous peoples, migrants, women refugees, and female heads of households.

Experience has shown that addressing gender equality and women’s empowerment requires strategic interventions at all levels of programming and policy-making of which key issues such as reproductive health; economic, educational and political empowerment must be addressed.

Also, gender equality cannot be achieved without the backing and enforcement of institutions. Too many social and legal institutions, however, still do not guarantee women equality in basic legal and human rights, in access to or control of resources, in employment or earnings, or in social or political participation.

And men continue to occupy most positions of political and legal authority; while laws against domestic violence are often not enforced on behalf of women.

The State of the World Population 2017 Report, launched recently world-wide, indicates that 60 countries had larger gender gaps in 2016 than in 2015.

The 136-page document, titled: World Apart: Reproductive, Health and Rights in an Age of Inequality, also launched by the UNFPA in Accra, said to achieve a more inclusive and equal world, there was the need to uphold universal rights, including sexual and reproductive health, make equality a matter of law, scale up to achieve rights and returns, count what is uncounted in terms of inequality, and also jumpstart upwards mobility through education and decent work.

The 10-points call to Action in the report said societies should meet all commitments and obligations, tear down barriers, provide a universal social protection floor, bolster services, adopt progressive policies, eliminate economic, social, and geographical obstacles, accelerate the transition, and work towards measuring all dimensions of inequality.

Meanwhile, Ms Otiko Afisa Djaba, the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, during the launch of the HeForShe campaign, said often times, women and girls were the ones at the receiving end of harmful cultural practices such as widowhood rites, female genital mutilation, trokosi, early child marriage, and being branded witches.

She said women and girls also continued to fall victim to rape, defilement, child prostitution, human trafficking and domestic violence.

The HeForShe is a solidarity campaign for the advancement of women initiated by UN Women and it is to help build a platform for high level, accessible and visible public advocacy and outreach on the engagement of men and boys as equal partners in the struggle for achieving gender equality.

The campaign is targeting more than two million men in Ghana and one billion men globally, to support women and take actions that lead to the empowerment and gender equality for both sexes.

The campaign’s central message is that gender inequality is not only a women’s issue but a human rights issue, the resolution of which will benefit both women and men in all spheres.

Ms Djaba said: President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo was nominated as the African Union Gender Champion for 2017 as a result of his actions in promoting gender equality and women’s leadership in decision making. And I must say that this is a good boost to closing the gender gap in Ghana.

She said Ghana was also spearheading the Gender and Development Initiative for Africa (GADIA), a presidential initiative, which was launched in November, this year, to promote women as leaders in business and politics across the Continent.

The Minister, however, said for Ghana to achieve gender equality, there was the need to create a conducive and enabling environment where men and boys would rise in support of women and girls. And this, of course, is a welcoming idea, but who leads the way?” he asked.

The call on men to support their women to do the household chores, like helping to cook for the family, doing grocery shopping, preparing the children for school, supporting their women to climb the economic ladder, supporting girls’ education and skills development and encouraging the general growth of women and girls cannot be overemphasised.

If indeed women are synonymous with development then the Ghanaian society must rise up to the occasion and ensure that women and girls took up their rightful place in nation building. For, as President Akufo-Addo said at the launch of the HeforShe Platform, leaving women out of the national development agenda is a disservice to future generations.

The empowerment of women, therefore, is the surest way of rooting out poverty and guaranteeing the progress and prosperity of our Continent and country.

President Akufo-Addo said he was proud that Ghana had joined several other countries to launch the campaign platform in support of creating a better world “where we extend the blanket of protection to all women and to ensure that their rights become the bedrock for equality and social justice.”

“It is important we recognise that gender equality, and for that matter women’s equality with men, is a pre-requisite for development.

Indeed, all national players and decision-makers need to support policies that empower women and girls. I invite men and boys across all communities in our country to become agents of change and join this platform,” he said.

“Inequality has an unbearable burden and cost on our economy, society and the development of our nation. Today, I join the millions of people around the world who stand together to create a bold, visible force for gender equality and say, I am a HeForShe. the President declared.

The nation should, therefore, ensure that girls are nurtured to reach their full potentials by not giving them out to marriage earlier, and also ensure they stay in school for long periods, build their capacity through vocations as well as provide them with the needed knowledge that would make them more assertive and educative enough to make the right choices in life. These, among other commitments, are the means through which we can ensure that gender equality becomes a reality in Ghana and across the African Continent.

Source: Ghana News Agency