‘My Wife, My Sister, My Mother’ : Electing More Women to Parliament in Ghana [1]

‘My Wife, My Sister, My Mother’ : Electing More Women to Parliament in Ghana [1]

In Ghana’s 2016 election six more women were elected to parliament than were elected in 2012; this brought the number of women members of parliament (MPs) to 36, or 13.1 percent of the total – up from 30 women MPs or 10.9 percent of the total in 2012. This is a 20 percent increase over the figures in 2012. If this rate of increase persists, it will take until 2044 for close to 50 percent of Ghana’s MPs to be women. As a result of the 2016 election, Ghana will move up from being ranked 150th out of 192 countries worldwide in terms of women’s representation in parliament to around 138th. At 138th, Ghana will still lag well behind about two dozen African countries that have 20 percent women representation, or well more, in their parliaments (not to mention dozens of other countries globally with more women MPs). [2]

Over the years, many reasons have been offered to explain the very low percentage of women in Ghana’s parliament. Tsikata refers to three main explanations: the impact of gender-based inequalities, resistance from political parties and traditional leaders, and the failure of governments to implement international commitments. Darkwa identifies three others: few women candidates because of violence in Ghanaian politics, the power of a discriminatory gender ideology, but also of political party affiliation, and parties’ overall unwillingness to facilitate the effective participation of women in politics. [3]  More fundamentally, Ghana has a plurality majority – ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral system, like the United States, the United Kingdom and many Anglophone African countries. This electoral system, in which individuals stand for office in single member constituencies, is considered much less ‘woman friendly’ than the proportional representation electoral system found in most European countries and in many African countries (in which voters vote for political parties and their lists of candidates, rather than for individual candidates). In addition, Ghana has no electoral gender quota for parliament (despite having one briefly in the early 1960s). All over Africa (and other parts of the world), electoral gender quotas have helped dramatically to boost women’s representation in parliaments. [4]

In the 2016 parliamentary elections 136 out of 1,158 candidates were women. Thus, as in most elections in Ghana since 1992, women won seats in parliament roughly in proportion to their candidacies, or a little better (see Table 1). Indeed, in general elections in Ghana, women candidates for parliament stand a good chance of winning – there just are not enough of them. Of the 136 women candidates in 2016, 40 were from the NDC and 29 from the NPP; the remaining 67 were from smaller parties or were independent candidates and were highly unlikely to win a seat under Ghana’s stable two party system. The fact that 36 of the 69 NPP and NDC women candidates won their seats suggests, at a minimum, that Ghanaian voters do not discriminate against women candidates in the general election. Of the 36 women who won, 12 are from the NDC and 24 from the NPP. In the last (sixth) parliament, 16 women MPs were NDC and 14 NPP, reflecting the parties’ respective strengths in parliament. The fact that only about a third of NDC women won and that such a high percentage of NPP women won may again, simply reflect the relative strengths of the parties in parliament. What the numbers do not clearly reveal is whether the two major parties were strategic in the way that women were – or were not – encouraged to stand in a given constituency.

In Ghana, as in many African countries with plurality majority electoral systems, the critical moment for women candidates is during the party primaries. We do not know for certain whether the problem is that not enough women are willing to stand in the primaries of the two major parties, or that they simply are much less likely to win if they do stand. [5]  We do know that primaries have been prohibitively costly for all candidates in Ghana – because they are ‘cocoa season’ for party executives, or the ‘time to chop’ for those who select the candidates. [6]  And primaries are especially costly for women who are likely to have fewer resources and for whom fundraising is much more challenging. We also know that a fairly vicious ‘politics of insult’ pervades elections in Ghana, perhaps especially during the primaries, and women candidates are particularly targeted in a host of unsavory ways. [7]  In recent years, the two major parties have attempted some measures to bring more women into parliament such as discounted filing fees for women aspirants and they have considered (though not necessarily implemented) other measures such as standing women candidates in ‘safe seats’ or in seats already held by women MPs. In the most recent primaries the NDC sought to mitigate the influence of vote-buying by expanding the electorate and preliminary findings suggest that more women may have won NDC primaries as a result; as noted, there were 40 NDC women candidates compared to 29 NPP women candidates. [8] But for real change to come to Ghana – for women candidates standing for elections into parliament – the primaries process must continue to be carefully evaluated and continue to be considerably reformed. Only then will there be a larger pool of women candidates from which to elect more women to parliament in Ghana.

 

Table 1. Women Members of Parliament in Ghana, 1956-2016 Elections

Election Year

 

Endnotes

[1] The way in which women MPs may be addressed by men MPs in parliament in Ghana, according to one woman MP. On the threat of women’s empowerment to social relations and intimate relationships, see Takyiwaa Manuh and Nana Akua Anyidoho. ‘To Beijing and Back’: Reflections on the Influence of the Beijing Conference on Popular Notions of Women’s Empowerment in Ghana. IDS Bulletin 46 (2015): 19-26.

[2] For the latest 2016 parliamentary election results see: http://www.graphic.com.gh/news/general-news/more-women-for-seventh-parliament-of-4th-republic.html

Rwanda leads the world in women’s representation in a single or lower house of parliament with 63.8 percent women and 15 African countries have 30 percent women or more. See: http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm

[3] Dzodzi Tsikata, Affirmative Action and the Prospects for Gender Equity in Ghanaian Politics. Accra: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, 2009; Linda Darkwa. In Our Father’s Name in Our Motherland: The Politics of Women’s Political Participation in Ghana. In Constitutionalism, Democratic Governance and the African State, edited by Boni Yao Gebe, 239-274. Accra: Black Mask Limited, 2015.

[4] Gretchen Bauer. ‘A Lot of Head Wraps’: Africa’s Contribution to the Third Wave of Electoral Gender Quotas. Politics, Groups and Identities 4 (2016): 196-213.

[5] That research is ongoing; for a first glance at some of that research see: Gretchen Bauer and Akosua Darkwah. Gendered Electoral Financing for Parliament in a Democratizing State: Ghana Case Study. Paper presented at the African Studies Association annual meeting, Washington, DC, December 2016.

[6] ‘Cocoa season’ and the ‘time to chop’ refer to times during which money is more abundant – and in this instance to influencing party officials and voters, if not outright buying votes.

[7] See Cyril Daddieh and George Bob-Milliar. In Search of ‘Honorable’ Membership: Parliamentary Primaries and Candidate Selection in Ghana. Journal of Asian and African Studies 47 (2012): 204–220; Staffan Lindberg. ‘It’s Our Time to Chop’: Do Elections in Africa Feed Neo-patrimonialism Rather than Counteract It? Democratization 10 (2003): 121-140; Baba Iddrisu Musah and Ibrahim Gariba. Women and Political Decision Making: Perspectives from Ghana’s Parliament. Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences 5 (2013): 443-476; Westminster Foundation for Democracy. Cost of Politics in Ghana: Background Paper. 2016. http://www.wfd.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Ghana-Cost-of-Politics.pdf

[8] Until recently, major party primaries have been decided by between 200 and 800 primary electorates in a given constituency; the NDC reform expanded the primary electorate to include all party members in a constituency, increasing those who participated in 2015 to between 2,000 and 8,000 per constituency. In future, still more are likely to participate. See Nahomi Ichino and Noah Nathan. Democratizing the Party: The Effects of Primary Election Reforms in Ghana. 28 November 2016, http://sites.lsa.umich.edu/noahnathan/wpcontent/uploads/sites/413/2016/11/IchinoNathan_democratizingtheparty_20161128.pdf

About the Author

Gretchen Bauer is Professor of Political Science and International Relations and Faculty Fellow, Graduate and Professional Education, University of Delaware.

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