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Opinions of Monday, 10 June 2019

Columnist: Umar Mohammed

On Gender parity and lack of dynamism from Ghanaian women

I have watched the 8-minute video clip of our beloved president at the Women Deliver Conference in Vancouver, Canada at least 10 times and have even gone ahead to transcribe the exchange, paying close attention to Nana Akufo-Addo’s words and phrases.

I have decided to finally pen an analysis of what happened in Vancouver for posterity and to add what I can to the conversation on the situation in Ghana regarding the allocation of power and how to ensure that this system of power allocation is balanced and fair to all Ghanaians, especially political power.

I want to begin by exploring the theme of the plenary on which Nana Addo was a member: “Power. Progress. Change.” This was the overall theme of this year’s conference; interrogating power at three levels, the individual, the structural, and at the movement level. These dynamics of power was envisioned as discussion topics to interrogate how at all these levels, power can and has served in the hands of various actors as an instrument for stagnation and as an instrument for change and progress.

The various actors and participants invited to the conference were supposed to have distinguished themselves either in their capacities as organizers, community activists, scholars, or leaders of institutions, movements, or states. As is often the case, these gatherings such that in Vancouver are meant to help these various disparate actors working to improve one or two social ills and problems to link up, share ideas, and help one another to become better at what they do.

In this case, the issue for which this talkshop was organized was the improvement of the lives of women, a rather large behemoth in the workings of the world whom it is generally acknowledged are underrepresented in the upper echelons of power.

On the panel of which Nana Addo was part, the opening panel, you had youth leaders, educators, journalists, and leaders of states. All of them had one pedigree or the other on work to improve the lives of women. They were all supposed to be knowledgeable about the subject under discussion. Nana Addo went there in his capacity as the African Union Gender Champion. In the eyes of the conveners of the conference, he was supposed to add knowledge to help participants go back and be more effective organizers, activists, and leaders on this issue in their communities.

The question then arises as to whether Nana Addo’s performance at the conference vindicated the titles that sent him there and for which he spent taxpayers dollars to go alongside his coterie of state functionaries and sycophants or whether he embarrassed the nation and instead belittled Ghanaian women at the conference to an international watching public, and by so doing exposed the sordid state of gender politics in Ghana. We will try to go through the text of his appearance.

First, on any and all issues, knowledge is the first thing any speaker needs before he or she can/should comment. Knowledge can be gained by education; either through experience or purposeful learning/reading/listening. In Nana Addo’s case, as is the case for most men who want to call themselves as allies like myself, the best way to know about women’s issues is through purposeful learning, reading and listening because we do not often have the ability to experience first-hand the problems of women in Ghanaian society.

We might observe problems women go through because we have mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, and lady friends. But to truly understand and gain knowledge, we have to read/listen to women. It is not just men who need this listening/reading/learning, many women live very sheltered and protected lives such that the challenges that hold back many women are as alien to them as they are to me as a man. In essence, Nana Addo should/would have been expected to read/listen/learn about the topic under discussion for which he was invited. It may have been taken as a given his illustrious titles and commendations on gender issues that he was already well versed on the subject at hand. It will appear that he let many observers, and conveners of the conference and scholars in the field down in this respect hence the uproar.

Nana’s opening statements up to the point he references Natasha are innocuous and basic statements that any simple non-authority on the subject could as well lob at the panel hence they really matter not. They are repetitive, non-committals that adds nothing to the conversation in any substantive manner. So we will start from when he says “At the end of the day, communities or groups talking for themselves and be representative does not translate into power. The most important thing is power, that you sit around the table whereby decisions that you make are enforced, and becomes the norms and regulations by which the society lives.

I think that is for me what I have seen in the two and half years that I have been in office.” This is an incredible statement to make. Absolutely incredible. Is Nana Addo telling the Ghanaian public that he spent likely millions if not hundreds of thousands of Ghana cedis to go and sit at this conference which he essentially called useless? What was this but a group of like-minded individuals sitting down talking to each other, sharing notes, and strategies about how to improve the lives of women around the world? By these maxims he espoused above, he is rubbishing any and all sensitization projects which he will later cite as one of the progressive things he is doing. It is evident on the face of it that Nana’s statements above were ill-informed or very little thought was put into uttering these words at the Vancouver event.

People talk and strategize and learn before they go out on the streets to get political power to effect change. If people don’t even know that they can have a say, how do they agitate to get into the rooms where decisions are made? How do illiterate people on any subject know that they can or should or deserve a seat at the table? They may get to that point because they have been informed, they have been afforded the opportunity to gain that knowledge and encouragement and barriers to their entering that room to gain a seat are made less stringent and formidable.

Nana Addo, a highly educated man is basically telling organizers of the event that the coalition they are building does not matter when as an astute politician, he knows how movements are formed. The NAACP in the United States started as conferences for like-minded individuals to get together to share ideas and strategies which they used back in their respective communities. The machinations that these conferences of like-minded individuals spawned helped change American society for the better and stopped the mutilation of generations black men and reduced the subjugation of a race as second class citizens.

If left at this, we might have given Nana Addo the benefit of the doubt but the more he opened his mouth, the more he dug himself into a deeper hole. His next batch of statements were the ones that caused the most stir. He said that “That not enough movement is being made by the 52 percent of the Ghanaian population that are women to be able to be in the position to make these decisions…this may sound to the people like Alaa very [inaudible]. We are not seeing enough dynamism and activism on the part of those who are seeking this new…I am talking about dynamism where it matters. Dynamic is not sitting here talking.

I am talking about electing people to parliament, controlling political parties…they are the instruments by which our society makes decisions. We are talking about decisions, not wishes and hopes. We are talking about decisions.”

In this succession of statements, our dear president echoes what is essentially the mainstream Ghanaian attitude as to why not enough women are in political office, ie, that they are not doing enough by themselves or they are just not cut out for the rigours of political office. It becomes fait accompli. They say it before women even put in an effort, when they fail or are denied, the denial becomes evidence of their disqualification.

In the above, Nana Akufo-Addo spoke as a politician, but he also forgot conveniently, his role in perpetuating the political system that ensures women are generally shut out of places of power that he mentions (i.e) control of political parties and getting elected to parliament. Joining a political party, becoming a leader in a political party, getting selected as a parliamentary candidate for a political party in a constituency, getting selected as the flag bearer of a political party, are all sordid corrupt affairs where party bosses lean heavily on who gets selected for these positions.

Perhaps coming from a political dynasty and family like the Dankwas, Nana Addo wants to play oblivious to the machinations that party bosses engage in at all levels of the political process in determining who gets chosen for these posts. Later in the conversation Alaa and the moderator attempt to hold Nana accountable for his own role but he keeps shirking responsibility and shifting the onus on others.

These party bosses, including Nana Addo who for historical reasons are largely men, keep leaning heavily on male candidates for parliamentary positions, yet Nana comes to an international conference and blames Ghanaian women for not being dynamic enough to seek political office. Each time you (Nana) and your advisors (mainly men) pick or support a man for a constituency post, it is another seat you are denying a possible qualified woman. We are all in this country and we know the kind of ineptitude that we have in some members we call honourable in our parliament, yet Nana thinks they are more dynamic than perhaps a hundred other women in their constituencies.

Nana can brag about nominating 32% of women in his cabinet and give an excuse that he couldn’t do more because the constitution requires most ministers come from parliament, yet he and his handlers deliberately and purposefully took decisions regarding who they supported in the parliamentary elections which led to fewer women MPs to choose from. The same applies to his comment about control of political parties.

We all knew the president had his thumb on the scale for selection of party bosses from all across the political ladder. It will be one thing to hear this coming from a man who doesn’t call himself an ally because his values and obligations are not to ensuring fairness in political representation, but for a man drowning in I dare say unearned plaudits regarding his gender championship to not factor women representation in his calculation during these events tells us a lot about this man.

That he is a phony in this regard. That these titles are unearned. That perhaps he is only an ally if it suits his convenience. That he does not go out of his way to live his professed values when they really truly matter like he outlined above. Substantively, the party he leads is not much different from his opponents that we could easily point to showcasing the positive impact of an ally being in power. The NPP has just over 13% of female MPs while the opposition NDC has just over 12% female MPs.

When the moderator challenges Nana to show what he is doing as a leader of Ghana to change attitudes of men, he mentions #He4She campaign recruiting 5 thousand men for sensitization, Free SHS, National Health Insurance Scheme, first female chief of staff, second female Chief Justice, close to 100 people in his government are women. Before I go to Nana’s response, I want to say something about the question’s phrasing: I believe the phrasing is problematic and causes some of the caustic responses from some male quarters on this issue. It is not just about changing the attitudes of men.

Patriarchal societies and structures are not just about what men think. Sometimes women are the biggest defenders and enforcers of patriarchal norms and structures. I give you an example that just happened recently to which I was a witness. I talk about the frame, not the substance. You have two siblings with some issues mainly caused by disrespect of one by the other’s wife and just general caustic and disagreeable behaviour on her part. The mother says something must be done about the daughter in-law’s behaviour, that she must be made to understand that “no matter how big a leg grows, it can never reach the size of the thigh, that a man will always be above a woman and the daughter-in-law must be made to understand that the other son/man is never her equal to say just anything to as she pleases.”

Now, even though I agree with the old lady that the daughter in-law’s behaviour is unacceptable, I completely disagree with her phrasing placing uneven gender signifiers of worth on the son and the daughter-in-law prior to or aside interrogation of the substance of their beef. In this case, this woman is a guardian of a patriarchal social structure that places a woman lower than a man a priori. Phrasing any discussion of gender issues with a sweeping placement of the need for attitudinal change on one sex is not right and counter-productive. This woman’s question in a way does in a small way what Nana was doing placing all responsibility for lack of female representation in the levers of power on just women alone.

Now, Nana immediately mentions the #He4She Sensitization Campaign without missing a beat. A heartbeat ago, he just rubbished sensitization that this conference is doing, yet he immediately goes to list as his accomplishment a rather limited, I dare say ineffectual sensitization project he is undertaking. Very incongruous statements that show he was not prepared for the discussion. He was just not ready. His handlers should have prepped him better. If we place responsibility on Nana himself, he should have done his homework before spending tax payer’s dollars to attend this conference.

At least he wouldn’t have engaged in these self-contradictions. I will not even engage his Free SHS and NHIS for they are just laughable and stray bullets and have no place in this discussion. But his mentioning of again, few figureheads he has appointed in the persons of the CJ and Chief of Staff are good symbolic acts but does little for substantive reorientation of the political power structures to include women that he bemoaned is lacking above.

Alaa does part of my work for me in the next couple of exchanges so I will reproduce what happens here. Nana comes back to his point placing the onus of under-representation on the underrepresented women…You are looking for using the levers in the society that allow you to get control of the process of decision making. If you can’t make the decisions, you are not able to enforce the views that you want. You can create the atmosphere, but at the end of the day, you need to be able to make the decision. When Alaa mentions the fact that there are incredible dynamic women to whom doors remain closed to because there is the need to explain the systems that shape societies so women do not get to be in positions of power, Nana Addo asks her, “How is it going to open?” [They basically get into a shouting match, each one telling the other he/she is telling him/her.]

Nana Akufo-Addo says, “What you are saying is not going to open those doors”. [Alaa responds] “It is important for male allies in positions of power like yourself to look around and recognize the impactful, incredible dynamic women in their communities, and amplify them, not empower them because they have agency, amplify them and put them in positions of power. That’s how it changes.”

If nothing convinced you of Nana’s unpreparedness for the conference, the preceding paragraph should, especially if you listen to the kind of questions he was asking, very basic questions that a gender champion should need no education at such a high-powered panel at an international conference. What Alaa says at the end of the last paragraph is basically what I tackled in paragraph 7 of this essay.

But that is if we just hyper-focus on just the political arena and what party bosses like Nana Addo can do. If we expand our minds to the larger society, we tackle issues of socialization which I partly covered in paragraph 8. How often have you head a Ghanaian man or woman arguing that men are natural leaders and women followers?

This attitude is fertilized by a history of male occupancy of powerful positions traditionally in the form of chiefs and Tendaanba, and in the onset of state power in the form of formal education and civil service the European colonial authorities giving opportunity to only men.

You can add a rather debilitating role of our two foreign borrowed religions which insist on a priori male leadership to which our society clings desperately. We have a pretty tortuous political culture and it is particularly vicious towards the few female politicians. You need just go on a news article in which a female politician says anything, you will notice commentators completely ignore the issue at hand but attacking her womanhood and how she should not be there by virtue of her being female and by dint unqualified.

Other male politicians will more likely have their logic and arguments questions but many women simply get attacked for being women and daring to be in a political position. I remember a month or so ago a good friend of mine’s mother, a learned fellow, professor and former education minister said something regarding the education situation and average Ghanaians go on to insult her womanhood. I was shocked so I purposefully tried to block out that episode. Zenato Rawlings recently had similar crass rank misogyny directed her way when she dared comment on what is happenings around Nana’s promises. Simply and generally put, Ghanaian men and women are socialized from the home to the pulpit to see men as natural leaders such that even with years of misrule, men’s role as leaders is rarely questioned as intensely as that of women. We simply recycle these proven inept men.

Like Nana Addo, many Ghanaians think women are not in leadership positions and in rooms where power is wielded and decisions are made because they are just not cut out for it…Nana dresses it up as the women movement not having enough dynamism.

So Nana asks egregiously about the dynamic women when they are everywhere and can be found if only he could remove the huge log in his eye. A generation of Ghanaian men, little as we might be, have grown up getting educated by a great many Ghanaian gender activists. They are changing minds and making sure that the revolution that Nana is asking for is in the works and might actually work once the dinosaurs like Nana leave the system. Our only hope is that they don’t infect too many of our generation with their gender politics realpolitik.

Now I want to wind down by paying homage to such women that I hinted at in the prior paragraph. I come from a very patriarchal family. This patriarchal system to which I was socialized is anchored by tradition and religion. One of the outs for me and the influences that have shaped my current gender politics is Gifty Anti.

Her StandPoint program is one of the few programs on TV that I watched copiously as a youth because most of the things discussed were so at loggerheads with my upbringing that I gravitated towards her program. If for nothing, the story of Ya Asantewaa and other female folk heroes and new ones that Anti often highlights in her program helped shape my mind to seeing women as worth being in positions of power as natural as our male folk heroes.

So today when I see party foot soldiers harass her claiming she has achieved nothing in her long years of activism, I feel saddened but also hearty because it shows that in many issues, the intended education we have been subject to flies right off many people’s heads. But I believe we have a battalion of children socialized by that queen and we laugh at these foot soldiers in their ignorance, even if sadly.

I want to end by saying that in more ways than not, what happened in Vancouver is great for gender politics in Ghana. I say this because Nana Addo echoed what a significant section of the Ghanaian public believes about women. Like many issues, we in Ghana often tend to report better results than what is on the ground. The African Union was so impressed by our president that they named him the AU’S Gender Champion.

Clearly, that was unearned or at least he has a lot to do to justify accepting those plaudits. I am happy because any opportunity for engagement is great for the movement and education and progress. Even though many might insult and argue endlessly, in the quiet of their rooms, they might reflect and see the light. Even if a small number will, they are new converts and any movement must always be happy to embrace new converts.

I am happy because it showed me something; that our new crop of activists are actually more influential than they might think or their detractors want to accept. Pepper Dem figures need just speak on an issue and it becomes an issue that makes national headlines in this industry with so much cacophonous voices. But PDM gets sustained media mentions in print, radio and TV. It is interesting to note that even any woman speaking forcefully about gender issues becomes a Pepper feminist even if she is not affiliated with PDM. Nana asks women to be more dynamic, I hope he pays attention to the many female voices including PDM to hear the dynamism in Ghana. I hope he pays it as much attention as he pays a tantrum by an overpaid and ageing footballer.

If Nana is indeed an ally, let him show it by his actions, not just a polished speech every now and then or some token political appointment every now and then. Amplify the Pepper voices.

One of the things that happen to many of us who go abroad is that we get into the habits and mindsets of these societies we go to. One of such habits is that of extreme optimism about the power of freedom and free will and reaching to the stars to attain your goals. In those countries, having those habits might work very well for you but a possible mistake we make is believing we can live with those habits in Ghana. Our president talked about lack of dynamism among Ghanaian women. Listen to this: in the US, one of my professors’ husband is a stay at home dad. I used to play pick up soccer with him. Very smart and gregarious gentleman. He stays at home looking after their kid. My professor is one of the smartest and most motivated people I’ve ever seen. She attained tenured professorship in record time and she’s still high flying. No one bats an eye that he’s staying home. His wife can afford to be dynamic. 101% of Ghanaian men and 99% of Ghanaian women will baulk at this.

When you go abroad and see for instance the Prime Minister of New Zealand enjoying such widespread support for her bringing her baby to parliament, you come home with wild dreams of how undynamic Ghanaian women are. Meanwhile, let one child murmur be heard in Parliament, both men and women will be on the street telling her she’s in the wrong place and why that shows women don’t belong in leadership. One time I mentioned that I am perfectly happy to be a stay at home dad if my wife is a career woman and earned more than me enough to ensure our household needs and aspirations are met and many men…and women told me that was impossible. By Ghanaian standards, that is unthinkable.

The few oddball Ghanaian man here and there who does this is seen as queer and unmanly (by both men and women) for which reason most men will shy away from such a path. I, like the president, have lived abroad and we might appreciate how much women go into politics but it is not for lack of dynamism on the part of Ghanaian women that they are fewer than their Finnish or Norwegian counterparts in positions of authority, it is the systems and structures of socialization, education, religion, politics and economics of which our dear president’s hands are dipped into that determines whether our dynamic women will be noticed and their dynamism rewarded instead of lampooned as borne of bitterness, witchcraft, whoredom, sex starvation and other such things Ghanaians like to ascribe to activists on gender.

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