The Manifesto therefore provides a platform of a common set of demands for the achievement of gender equality and equity and sustainable national development. It allows women to articulate their concerns in the 2004 Elections and beyond. Women are thereby empowered to use their votes as a bargaining tool and recruit others to do the same. The Manifesto provides female and male candidates with an agenda once they are elected to parliament and the District Assemblies. Finally, it would ensure political party accountability as they would ultimately be assessed on the basis of where they stand in relation to issues that concern women as outlined in the Women’s Manifesto. (Read the full Women’s Manifesto for Ghana here.)
In America, we are so convinced of our brand of democracy’s superiority that we are loathe to look beyond our shores for inspiration. And if we did, it is safe to say we would not look to Africa, a place the mainstream still imagines as a “dark continent” of indistinct and disadvantaged countries and peoples. What could the U.S.A. possibly learn from a country like Ghana?
AfroPop’s documentary “An African Election,” which premieres at 8:30 pm ET, Monday, Oct. 1, on PBS’ World Channel, illustrates that riveting, hard-fought elections; charismatic politicos; and engaged, change-focused electorates are not exclusive to America. In a short 55 years, Ghana won its independence from the British, experienced four coups d’etat, and successfully transitioned into democracy. And there is something else to be learned by American women concerned about legislative efforts to curb our freedoms–Ghana is exactly where we might look for a response to the “war on women.”
In 2004, in Accra, Ghana, gender equality activists working under the name Coalition on the Women’s Manifesto, unveiled a 74-page edict calling for, among other things, that the country’s political parties ensure at least a 50 percent representation of women in their leadership by 2008 and that the government employ affirmative action to ensure that women made up 30 percent of the legislature by 2008 and 50 percent by 2012. The manifesto also explored the critical concerns of Ghanaian women and made demands for responding to them.
A preface to the declaration explains that it is one of several interconnected efforts; owned by a broad constituency of women; non-partisan, but takes positions on broad national issues, policies and the political system as a whole.
One issue addressed by the document is a familiar one for those of us who have watched with horror attacks on Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights in this country. According to a piece by Sen. Barbara Boxer in Politico, U.S. House Republicans have introduced more than 30 bills that would restrict a woman’s reproductive care. She adds that, “Legislators in 39 states have introduced almost 500 measures that tell women what type of health care they can or cannot have. Republicans introduced roughly 90 percent of these measures. Here in Congress, 116 Republicans in the House and 19 Republicans in the Senate are co-sponsors of “personhood” legislation, which would criminalize abortion with no exceptions for the mother’s life or health.”
In their proclamation, the Coalition on the Women’s Manifesto address reproductive rights head on:
That the government take steps to implement the measures needed to secure the reproductive rights of women as agreed in the ICPD, the Beijing Platform for Action and their Outcome Documents. These include but are not limited to:
a. Recognising and promoting the right of women to attain the highest standards of sexual and reproductive health.
b. Promoting women’s ability to make decisions about their reproduction without discrimination, coercion and violence.
c. Access to safe, effective and affordable methods of family planning of women’s own choice.
d. Access to information, counselling and care related to reproductive health, including family planning and safe abortion.
Pathways of Women’s Empowerment reports that the manifesto helped pave the way for Ghana’s Domestic Violence Act, Human Trafficking Act and Disability Act. A law has been passed to abolish female genital mutilation. And the country’s ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs funds efforts to support female candidates in local government elections. But in a live tweet-up, hosted by Racialicious on Wednesday, Ghanaian feminist Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, Communications Officer for African Women’s Development Fund, said tying the manifesto directly to legislation is difficult. And, to date, only the Convention People’s Party led by Samia Nkrumah has gender parity in its leadership.
But the unified voices of women coupled with clearly-stated goals cannot be underestimated. Ghanaian feminism is helping to shape the country’s future through coalitions like the Network of Women’s Rights Organizations. Ghana is not a feminist utopia. Sekyiamah says that “The women’s movement in Ghana is not as strong as I would wish it to be. Ghanaian feminists mainly reside within women’s organizations. There is a need for more Ghanaian women to be better informed about feminism as an alternative ideology to shape the future. Despite lack of dynamism and numbers in the Ghanaian feminist movement, there has been success in making gender central issue.”
And in this, the work of Ghanaian women can be a blueprint for women in other countries, including this one. An American Women’s Manifesto or an American Women of Color’s Manifesto, might help ensure that when our 2012 elections are over that both major parties back the rhetoric directed toward women with action.
Watch a preview of “An American Election” and join the live tweetversation using the hashtag #AfricanElection and #AfroPoPTV, beginning at 8 p.m., Monday, Oct. 1.