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October 06, 2003

You Go, Girls!

In much of Africa, to be born a woman is to be born a second-class citizen. If you're lucky, that is. In some places on that continent, a woman isn't a citizen at all, but chattel, something akin to livestock. Western women who make the most cursory study of the female condition in Africa must be reminded of how fortunate we are to have the freedoms that we enjoy. We must also remember the brave women who came before us, earning our rights. Our grandmothers, and their mothers, and their mothers before them.

In Ghana, such heroines are fighting for the rights of their countrywomen. A Women's Manifesto is being penned by several women's organizations, aimed at giving women a common platform and a unified voice when approaching legislation on women's issues. Ultimately, the framers of the document hope to help level Ghana's hilly sociopolitical playing field.

Dzodzi Tsikata of ISSER, one of the participants in the Manifesto project, had this to say about the document in a recent speech:

...Economic empowerment of women is one of the most critical concerns that the manifesto should contain. She said that women have been at a disadvantage in the economic sector of the country because of structures and policies that favour men to the neglect of women.

She said for example that women engage in too much unpaid labour such as the household management and most of them are found in the informal sector which brings very little financial output. Men on the other hand do jobs that bring visible financial benefit. They tend to own property, which can be used as collateral when asking loans from the bank.

At best she continued, economic policies tend to place additional burden on women's time-they spend more time caring for the sick even when they are in hospital. She also said that economic policies tend to discourage social investments which results in a stagnating social indicator.

On education, work and resources,Tsikata said about twice women as men have never had formal education. "Given that access to most formal employment now requires secondary education or higher, then only 5.7% of women and 15.8% of men can work in the sector," she complained.

She said again that in the case of girls and boys dropping out of school, more job options remain for boys than for girls and not only that but also the jobs boys are better paid than that of girls.

High maternal mortality rate as well as women's vulnerability to the HIV/AIDS pandemic were among the issues Tsikata proposed for inclusion in the manifesto.

She said that even though women are giving birth to fewer number of children, that has not reduced the rate of maternal death, which usually occurs during childbirth and wondered why it was so.

She also said that , "Apart from the fact that HIV is spread more often from male to female because of physiological reasons, socio-economic factors including gender inequalities are central to women's generally greater vulnerability to the virus than men."

In the home and in society generally, women are more susceptible to physical, emotional and mental violence that further make them ineffective in society.

Again, it is most of the time women who fall victim to harmful cultural practices all over the country. These then are among the issues that Tsikata said should not be ignored in the proposed manifesto....

The women of Ghana are seeking the most basic of rights, and the chance to better themselves. From the rhetoric of this Dzodzi Tsikata, they deserve it. Not only does the Manifesto seek to help women push legislation beneficial to them, but its framers understand that just sticking women in government is not the solution.

At an earlier meeting with selected women District Assembly Members, there was a call on government to make 30% parliamentary seats easily accessible to women aspirants in the bid to get more women to the legislature....

Even when there is the agreement for more women to easily get into Parliament, one issue still hangs around to be answered as has been expressed by many people who are more concerned with quality output instead of mere numerical representation in political decision-making.

Dzodzi Tsikata of ISSER took the wind out of people's sail when she explained the need for women to be properly equipped to compete with men candidates and win on merit and become part of the decision-making body in Ghana.

They don't want power handed to them, they want the chance to become equal, to earn offices on merit. That, folks, is true feminism, real feminism. I wish them luck. I hope that we are seeing history in the making.

Posted by at October 6, 2003 12:03 AM
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