By Kester Kenn Klomegah
Globally, violence against women and girls persists. Besides, there are all kinds of gender discrimination. Some governments are steadily making efforts to eradicate violence and discrimination using legislation, and supporting public platforms devoted to discussing these. In this interview with Kester Kenn Klomegah from IDN-InDepthNews, Mrs. Baptista S. Gebu, Executive Director of ProHumane Afrique International, discusses the situation of women and girls in the Republic of Ghana in West Africa.
Here are the interview excerpts:
What issues would you say are the most pressing for women today?
In my opinion, there are five most pressing issues facing women, and that includes violence against women and girls, which is the broader subject matter. It can be broken down to embrace—child marriage issues, intimate partner violence against mostly women, sexual harassment, and rape issues, trafficking in persons, violations against displaced women and girls. There are also girls’ education and women’s rights violations.
In Ghana and globally, according to statistics, during the lockdown, cases of violence against women and girls have greatly increased. For instance, in Ghana, teenage pregnancy cases were recorded in greater numbers. More than half a million teenagers are on record to have gotten pregnant over the last five years, data from the Ghana Health Service District Health Information Management System (DHIMS) reveals. On average, a little over 112,800 teenagers get pregnant annually and we know teenage pregnancy is a driver of child marriage.
The gender pay gap is trending due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This is because men and women in the same employment performing equal work must receive equal pay unless any difference in pay can be justified, our non–adherence to equal work for equal pay creates the “gender pay gap”.
The world is appreciative of the support of health professionals, truth is that with Covid hitting our shores the world’s dependence on women has increased. In moments of the pandemic when more women are at the frontline of the pandemic response, it would have been welcome news for us applauding equal work for equal pay in times like this.
But women are still working and facing discrimination in earnings. Though globally 70% of women are health and social workers and have been at the forefront in the fight against Covid they get paid 11% less than their male counterparts as the World Health Organization has pointed out. Similarly, the average gender gap of nearly 30% still occurs in the health workforce.
Non-universal access to the internet and digital illiteracy is equally pressing. Covid-19 has moved the world online. The virtual space is booming and is the newest cash cow. Most people especially women and girls do not know how to access this virtual space and are not digitally literate to take the opportunity of this new normal. Access to the internet becomes another obstacle that needs to be addressed. Poverty and stigma, under-representation of women in decision-making and in hems of affairs appear the most pressing issues to me now.
What would you say about the representation of women in politics generally in African countries including Ghana?
The representation of women in politics generally in Africa including Ghana is still not very encouraging. Some efforts have been made this past decade but the data still shows a record of low for most African countries. In Ghana, for instance, looking at the trends for the 8th parliament in terms of party representation for the two dominant political parties, we can infer that the National Democratic Congress (NDC) recorded a low of 14 female members, dropped to 13 then increased to 20 during 2013, 2017 and currently 2021 respectively.
The New Patriotic Party (NPP) recorded a 16, 24 and now decreased to 20 during 2013, 2017, and 20121 respectively. This is really a record of low because the 8th parliament of the 4th republic of Ghana comprising 275 members could only boast of 40 women, 20 each for both dominant political parties. Meanwhile, we know when women win we all win. For Africa, there is an average record of 24% women representation as put forward by the 2017 UN Women data on the subject. We need to continuously educate, create awareness, and strongly advocate for more women representation in the political sphere as women are known to be better leaders.
Do you feel that women are not strongly encouraged in this political sphere? Do you also think they face discrimination in their professional careers?
Yes, personally I feel that women are not strongly encouraged in this political sphere and still do face discrimination in their professional careers. But globally some level of success has been recorded, this is because women in every country now in the world have the right to vote. The right to vote is very important and very basic in my opinion and since 1893 when New Zealand as a country granted females this right to vote, we now say the world allows this because since 2015 Saudi Arabia as a country also granted this right to its females.
Progress has been slow on this front also therefore the adaptation of purposive policies like quotas can help as Arab countries are exploring currently. Aside from religious and cultural issues, it’s interesting how perception has had a greater toll on us also. In discussing these issues mostly, you will realize that majority of people even in developed countries like America prefer to see women in top leadership positions but not in politics. Aside from the name-calling and marriage challenges, women do not have an easier path to politics, in my opinion, and are mostly expected to prove their worth.
As a woman, you cannot expect to yearly switch your scope and ambitions. You cannot attend to marriage life this year, do childbirth the next and switch to a career subsequently keeping the rest on hold. We need to learn to multi-task and do all progressively. We combine yearly depending on our situation, career, marriage life, childbirth, and many others. The reason, women rather need support. When women are in leadership positions in this political sphere, they represent themselves first, other women and children that are past half of the society.
This is why when women win, we all win, but discrimination even in professional careers discourages a lot more women to rise. Women naturally support their spouses when they are at the top but very few men are seen supporting their wives vice versa. The narrative is changing as more women are now supporting and pushing other women, opposite from what was happening before — women seen to be their own enemies in my opinion.
Could you please tell us more about how women are generally perceived (public opinion) in society, in Ghana, and perhaps in the neighboring West African countries?
Due to traditional and cultural norms, most people in Ghana and West Africa still hold the perception that the women’s place is the kitchen. I’m not sure there is data available to speak to the issues of how many housewives there are currently in the sub-region. By observation, the percentages of women in paid employment are very low and Covid-19 is making an already sad situation worse due to layoffs and a decline in certain jobs. This perception has greatly affected most girls’ ability to have access to quality and continuous education to the highest level helping those becoming economically empowered women.
The situation is just difficult as most girls are expected at some point to end up in the husband’s homemaking babies and taking care of children and the home. Some of these cultural norms are hindering progress to eradicating gender-based violence in our communities. A man can rape his own wife. Usually, concern must be obtained and granted for meaningful sex. In the same way, we can negotiate our ways to sex in marriage as partners, but once one partner forces the other without obtaining concern nor negotiating, we see rape happening already.
How many of the women and girls in the sub-region know this? Can you imagine the situation of child brides? How can a child take care of another child?
Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread human rights violations in the world. It knows no social, economic or national boundaries. The harmful old-fashioned practice of child marriage continues worldwide. In developing countries, more than 30 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18, and 14 per cent before they are 15, according to data from UNICEF.
Defined as a customary, religious, or legal marriage of anyone under 18, child marriage occurs before the girl is physically and psychologically ready for the responsibilities of marriage and childbearing having major consequences for public health, national security, social development, human rights, economic development, and gender equality. This is the main reason why we all need to be aware of the issues and contribute to stopping child marriage now.
According to snapshots of the key findings from the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) from 2006 to 2018 in Ghana, the percentage of girls in union before age 18 by residential segregation remained insistently high in rural areas than recorded for the urban curtain’s. Girls with little or no education were usually more likely to get married before age 18 than those with secondary or higher education and highest again among the poorest households, and lowest among the richest households.
Child mothers and their children are more vulnerable to infections and deaths than adult mothers and their children. Looking at the West Africa situation, to curb the menace, I propose among other things that; we empower girls and boys to be better able to prevent child marriage, influence positive change in our communities’ beliefs and attitudes and social norms that drive child marriage, fast-track access of adolescents, particularly girls, to quality education, increase data and evidence available to inform policy and programming and also ensure effective harmonization of the various initiatives to end child marriage.
How is the state or government committed to change this situation, most probably by enacting laws or formulating policies promoting women’s empowerment?
There is a five-year Strategic Plan to address Adolescent Pregnancy in Ghana, a National Gender Policy and its Strategic Implementation Plan, a National framework on ending Child Marriage, and a National Domestic Violence Policy and Plan of Action to implement the Domestic Violence Act, 2007 (Act 732). The government is enacting and formulating laws to promote women’s empowerment. We have the laws in adequate numbers, but most are not aligned and are with gaps. Child marriage is illegal in Ghana because the 1992 Constitution and the Children’s Act 1998 (Act 560) set the legal age for marriage at 18 for both girls and boys.
The controversy begins with the same law, our Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29) outlines the age of sexual consent at 16 years old, which is the minimum age at which an individual is considered legally old enough to consent to participation in any sexual activity. So, I ask, how can we juxtapose this? That a child can consent to sex at age 16 but should not be pregnant nor marry at 16. A policy without enforcement to me makes it merely an advice. We need more government support to manage enforcement as these aspects of the law have left a gap between these two child legislations and must be addressed by the legislature. That is why a proposed increase of the age of consent to sex from 16 to 18 will be a step in the right direction.
Do you suggest governments have to act now to accelerate discussing these issues raised above and sustain progress on gender equality, specifically in Ghana and generally, in Africa?
Globally, the rates of child marriage are slowly declining, but progress was not happening fast enough until the Covid-19 pandemic introduced its own dynamics to the situation. If pre-pandemic trends continue, 150 million more girls will be married by 2030. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this may increase by a further 13 million girls if nothing is done about the issue now. The clock is ticking and research has it that, covid-19 will stay later with us than earlier perceived reason government needs to act now!
The lives of innocent women and girls are in danger due to someone’s lack of enforcement of the law. We need to muster the courage to hold the bull by the hone. Government must act now and not later. Because, in pandemic times, aside from bread and butter issues many suffer violence in silence.
The President of Ghana is calling on Ghanaians to be citizens and not spectators, humbly do I request the president also deliver on his promise to the people on the issues of violence. The murders must stop and we believe our government can support putting an end to this by involving the right stakeholders at the right time and be a listening leader desirous of positive change across the board.
Data from the Statistics Research and Monitoring Unit (SRMU) of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Ghana Police Service indicates that some 306 murder cases have been reported to the police from January 1 to June 30 this year. This is because, if we don’t speak on their behalf, who will do that.