Ghana rising with Nuong Faalong: Prof Jane Naana Opoku-Agyemang is the Political Awakening we have waited for

On July 6, 2020, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) announced that its National Executive Council (NEC) had unanimously approved former Minister for Education, Prof. Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang as running mate for the December 2020 polls in stark contrast to 2008 when the New Patriotic Party (NPP) had had a chance to give us similar and failed at it. In every movement there comes a turning point that moves a push from talk to commitment and sets the wheels of change on course. That is what the appointment of Professor Opoku-Agyemang has done for the women’s movement in Ghana and particularly for Affirmative Action. It is the singular most pivotal act that says to players within politics that women have entered the game from a major angle and have become both marketable and fashionable. In our local politics, her appointment is the singular most elevatory statement that changes the conversation. A look at Prof. Opoku-Agyemang’s profile shows a stellar commitment to academic work which came to a head when she was appointed as first female Vice-Chancellor of a public University- The University of Cape Coast – UCC. Her political reputation is however open to extensive arguments between personal principle and party positions. But in that critique we also risk being overly judgmental of her where her colleague men have been let off. Let us not forget that in wanting women in politics, we do not promise that gender makes them saints, therefore it is erroneous to be surprised that a woman politician is fallible. And when all that us exhausted, there is no reducing the significant moment that has come upon us. There is also the tendency to mute the event by suggesting that she is not the first woman to be appointed as running mate of a Ghanaian political party, agreed. A quick recap of key political nominations.

  1. Prof. Naa Afarley Sackeyfio, running mate for Kwabena Darko’s National Independence Party(NIP) in 1992
  2. Petra Amegashie, running mate of Dan Lartey – Great Consolidated Popular Party (GCPP) in 2000
  3. Patricia Ameku, running mate of Emmanuel Ansah Antwi – DFP (2008)
  4. Cherita Sarpong, running mate of Dr. Abu Sakara Foster – CPP (2012)
  5. Eva Lokko, running mate of Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom – PPP (2012)
  6. Helen Matervi, running mate of Dr. Hassan Ayariga – PNC (2012)
  7. Brigitte Dzogbenuku, running mate of Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom – PPP (2016)
  8. Prof. Jane Naana Opoku-Agyemang, running mate of H.E John Mahama- (NDC) 2020
However, the defining factor here is PROBABILITY. Let us not compare parties that add to the numbers with a party that has recorded victory over and over. The simple fact that we keep extensively discussing this appointment should tell interrogators how superlative it has become. It is in fact historic for the women’s movement especially to have a major political party make such a landmark decision, and for the first time, makes the possibility of a female vice president, real. This is also why I find Louis Carol’s scathing letter of 7/7/2020 an affront to the very ideals that have uplifted her political aspirations. It is only logical although not mandatory for most women to celebrate this specific feat. However as a women’s rights advocate, when you choose an overly political angle that berates unduly, then you make mockery of a long standing struggle. If for nothing, for the ideals we tout. The drive to increase participation of women in politics and all levels of governance has been a difficult battle beginning since 1960 Ghana. The case of Ghana has in fact become worrying. Is the NDC taking advantage of the feminist support? Well I say what do you think? Politics looks at all angles and rakes in support as best as they can. And we cannot discount the opportunity they saw in her and chose to take it. Notwithstanding, the focus on feminist support is over played because it is fallacy to believe the feminist community is large enough to win an election for any party. There has also been the angle that she was chosen for political expediency, to which I say, EVERY politician is chosen for same. As long as we have all politicians chosen for what they bring to the table and their ability to swing voters to a party, then they are all chosen for expediency, her case should not be surprising. Ghana is signed on to many development protocols which require between 30 to 50 percent inclusion of women at all levels.
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  • Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) of 1979 calls for equality. It calls on state parties to enact legislation to ensure the realisation of the provisions in the Convention. Article 7 calls for ensuring that both men and women have equal access to election to public bodies and allows for affirmative action to achieve this;
  • Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995 recognised this as one of the 12 critical areas of concern under its “Women and in Power and Decision Making” section and calls for equality. It calls on Governments to remove all obstacles to women’s participation in all spheres of public and private life through ensuring women a full and equal share in economic, social, culture and political decision making.
  • In the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) of 2015, Gender cuts across all the SDGS. However Goal 5; Achieve Gender Equality and Empower all Women and Girls, specifically focuses on gender equality. It calls for the achievement of parity by 2030;
  • CEDAW General Recommendation 23, 1997 – Article 7 calls for equality of participation in public life;
  • CEDAW General Recommendation 25, 2004 – Article 4 calls for temporary special measures to move towards gender equality; At the Africa regional level the following instruments call for affirmative action to ensure gender equality:
  • The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African/Banjul Charter). Article 18 calls on State parties to ensure the removal of discrimination against women.
  • The option protocol called Protocol to the African Charter on the Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) of 2003 – Article 9 (1) titled, the Right to Participation in the Political and Decision-Making Process enjoins states to – put in place specific and positive action to promote participative governance and the equal participation of women in the political life of their country through affirmative action.
  • African Union Agenda 2063 calls for parity to be achieved by 2063 in its Goal 5);
  • African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance – Adopted in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 30th January, 2007 calls for gender parity or 50% in governance.
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Let us also note that political party manifestos have all carried Affirmative Action as priority areas. Unfortunately in Ghana’s experience, we are left believing that these speeches and launches have become mere political aphrodisiacs. A tool with which to arouse the masses and then leave stakeholders high and dry. Does this appointment instantly make the NDC a feminist favorite at the expense of the NPP? I think this is one of the major points of acrimony for political opponents, but matter of fact, the NDC has not done enough to become an activist favourite overnight. And every activist knows that the appointment of Professor Opoku-Agyemang although substantive, does not bridge the gender gap. The NDC has also served in office while glaringly failing to pay attention to the Affirmative Action Bill, and so we will celebrate this win while simultaneously interrogating related concerns. Representation matters! And here I will quote excerpts from Sheila Minkah’s presentation at the speaker’s breakfast meeting on behalf of the Affirmative Action Coalition- ‘’Women have been marginalized in governance. The percentage of women in Parliament is a reflection of the imbalance. The percentage has ranged as follows: from 9.6% in 1960 to 8.7 in 2008 and peaked in 1965 to 18.2%. Others are 1992 8%; 10.9% in 2004; 11.3% in 2012. Currently we have 30 out of 275 in Parliament making it 13.5% placing Ghana at the 139th position on the Inter-Parliamentary Union World Classification. We have had one female Speaker of Parliament since independence with the rest being male. We have never had a female President or vice president. Ministerial positions have always had more men than women. The highest achieved for ministerial appointment since 1993 is 24%. For Cabinet appointments it is 15.8% on the average with the highest being 31.6% Articlee 17(4) of the 1992 Constitution. Article 17 prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender with an exception in 17(4)(a) which states that – “Nothing in this article shall prevent Parliament from enacting laws that are reasonably necessary to provide for the implementation of policies and programmes aimed at redressing social, economic or educational imbalances in the Ghanaian society.” Research has shown that there is gender imbalance in several spheres of life in Ghana and this provision allows for affirmative action to be taken to right the wrong of gender based discrimination.’’ Yet, Ghana’s president is the celebrated AU Gender Champion. Does this sound familiar? “as the AU Gender Champion, I must, perforce, single out, for special mention and attention, during my stay in office, SDG 5, which defines the goal of gender equality and full female empowerment. In my estimation, it is at the heart of the structure of the SDGs.” – President Nana Addo December 12 2017, at the launch of #HEFORSHE at the Independence Square, in Accra. The same president would do a full turn around to stun women in June 2019 at women deliver by showing a complete lack of understanding of the role of the political and policy process in bridging the gap. “I’m talking about dynamism where it matters…electing people to Parliament, controlling political parties because they are the instruments by which our societies make decisions. “We are talking about decisions, not wishes and hopes, we are talking about decisions that are going to make the difference,” President Akufo-Addo said. So our president’s words actually validate the appointment of Professor Opoku-Agyemang as supremely significant. Clearly beyond hopes and dreams, dynamism where it matters, the control of political parties! Aye! Beyond Politics, a future for young women. From Louis carol to Lydia Alhassan and Naana, it is imperative that we continue to celebrate every woman who finds the nerve despite social and structural restrictions to aspire to the decision making tables. We celebrate being lifted out of the backwardness where Ghanaian young women only dream of getting close to the presidency by becoming first lady. Professor Opoku-Agyemang has become the symbol of many dreams, these dreams now look up and believe IT IS POSSIBLE! A direct enablement of girls and women across the country to aspire to be president. That such a thing is possible within our country, IN OUR LIFE TIME.
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Ultimately, Women advocates of all political divides ought to be able to step down on politics and make a collective call on both the NDC and NPP to institute the politics that will ensure sustained and fruitful participation of women in politics because where inclusion matters, both the NDC and NPP need to accept they have failed Ghanaian women. Aluta continua! The battle is in no way won. By Nuong Faalong]]>