What American Women Can Learn from Ghanaian Feminists

by Tami Winfrey Harris

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 Womens 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 Womens 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 Womens 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.

  • http://gravatar.com/bossladi bossladi

    Wonderful Article!

  • africana

    This is amazing. Thank you

  • http://gravatar.com/ofloveandshadows ofloveandshadows

    A step in the right direction for Ghana!

  • TT

    AS a Ghanaian Canadian I’m proud to see clutch bringing such news to the forefront.

  • http://collectingstamps.wordpress.com Camaro West

    “But the unified voices of women coupled with clearly-stated goals cannot be underestimated”. This line is really important to me. As a Canadian woman working in Ghana for the past 7 months on gender issues, my mind automatically wants to jump to all of the challenges I encounter with gender inequality daily. But this is a nice reminder that, although progress on gender equality in Ghana is slower than where I come from, there are people here who see the value and importance of fighting for women’s rights, and who will continue working together to achieve those goals long after I’m gone.

    In terms of an American Women’s Manifesto (or Canadian or Women of Colour); I don’t know how realistic that would be given the many ways that we identify that shape our experiences, but also divide us. And not necessarily divide in a negative sense, but in the sense that different experiences have different needs. To come up with one manifesto incorporating the diverse needs of all women regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, ability etc. would either be ridiculously long or very vague.

    Ghanaian women have to contend with fewer of these divisions*; partly because of the relative non-issue of race, but also because their fight is at a stage where it’s still new and there are fewer complexities to take into account.

    Furthermore, in order to effect political change, any manifesto would need to be accompanied by a plan for how to pressure those in power to actually act on promises.

    I’ve learned a lot from the Ghanaian women I work with, who talk about the work we all need to do as individual women and the accountability we need to take in order to ensure that we are better leaders.

    In a space where it would be easy to assume that all of the women present were the same, I saw women acknowledging their differences and encouraging their peers to work on what needs to be done in their particular communities. In addition to unifying around common goals; respecting that what might be a priority for your community of women, may not be a priority for another, is also something I think we can learn from Ghanaian women.

    *Still, there are those who would tell you that the voices of some Ghanaian women are still not reflected.

  • http://gravatar.com/whattamisaid Tami (Clutch Contributor)

    Thanks so much for your comment. I agree, the extreme diversity of the US (cultural, racial, religious, ethnic, class) often makes coming together as women difficult. It’s why “intersection” becomes such a fraught topic and it’s why so many people like to speak of “feminisms” rather than feminism. But I think this manifesto did a good job of highlighting some issues, like representation in government and political parties, that are relevant to all women in Ghana. If we had to identify those issues from an American perspective, I wonder what they would be?

  • http://www.facebook.com/bre.solmone Bre’ Solmone

    I think as American women we are letting too much of our differences get in the way. In countries like Ghana or Sweden who have better and improving conditions for women in politics you’ll notice that nine times out of ten they are going to be of the same race. I am not saying there won’t be any exceptions to the rule but that’s just what they are, exceptions.

    The widespread diversity among American women is both an advantage and a disadvantage. At one point we get to hear many different of voices fighting for their rights but on the other hand we tend to let these other issues cloud what we are fighting for to begin with; women’s rights. We are no longer in the suffrage movement, first wave feminism is over and second wave feminism made huge strides in getting diverse voices heard as did the Civil Rights and Gay Rights movements but we have strayed from the number one issue and it is allowing politicians to come in and revoke all the rights and power we have gained. I’m not saying our differences aren’t important because that’s simply not true however we shouldn’t be focusing on how our differences separate us but how they unite us and make us stronger as women. That’s the lesson we as American women must learn.

  • paul

    “Furthermore, in order to effect political change, any manifesto would need to be accompanied by a plan for how to pressure those in power to actually act on promises

    Unfortunately this is one hurdle that the (black) american “sisterhood” can’t get over

    In america it’s enough that they get a non-white into the white house, with a photogenic black wife who gives herself mommie in chief titles and wears expensive designer clothes.

    The mommie in chief thing is important to them, you see, because it demands that (white) america accept black woman in the “mom” role, an accolade white people have traditionally denied them –


    That’s about as “radical” as it gets in some quarters (like this one) states side.

    So there won’t be any rocking of the boat Obama boat, that is necessarily involved in the kind of action you’re talking about.

    That’s assuming of course that YOU’RE serious about your intentions.

  • Egypt

    On point..As always a great read, Tami! :)

  • A

    Me too!

  • justanotheropinion

    Thank you Camaro. Great, fresh perspective.

  • justanotheropinion

    Thank you Clutch! More articles like these, please. Lot’s of food for thought and some introspection. Much needed and welcomed. Article may not get as many feedback posts, but it provides food for thought (me included – gave me things to ponder that quick key strokes can’t do justice to). Thank you.

  • Fantastico

    Great post!!! Please write more articles like this!

  • cabugs

    Great article! I love that Clutch posts such engaging, non-patronizing articles about things happening in different areas of the continent every now and then. Honestly I really do appreciate it because it’s not the doom-and-gloom, “dark continent” ideas that you find lingering in articles on mainstream sites, but at the same time it’s not all “let’s gloss over all the problems and put Africa on this “wise ancestors/wise people” pedestal.” This is modern, this is relevant, this is not exoticism nor fetishism; this is something that we all as women, as well as we all as people of color can relate to or at least learn from. Thank you!
    (from a Ghanaian woman in VA)

  • http://twitter.com/Author_JGail J. Gail (@Author_JGail)

    awesome, go head Ghanaian sisters

  • funkyhairchic

    This piece made me smile! I, too, am Ghanaian American and its refreshing to read about the progress Ghana is making over these issues. Thank you, Clutch for sharing!

  • http://thebrokejetsetter.com brokejetsetter

    As a Ghanaian-Nigerian born in America, I can honestly say that I am proud of Ghana for the progress they have made. I was just there in June and each time I go there are major improvements for the small West African country. Transitions during election time are always hard in Africa and I am praying the upcoming election coming in December will be one that is smooth. While there are still many things that need adjustment to better the lives of Ghanaians, progress is being made.

    As culture and the private realm is held as more important than things such as government legislation, it is very difficult for implementation of goals as stated in the manifesto. In addition, the word ‘feminism’ alone may give off the wrong vibe, as it does here in the states to many women. Feminism is such a broad word that has various meanings and goals to various people that it can be hard to state the true intention. I hope that one day the goals of the Manifesto can spread to women of Ghana as well as women everywhere. I also believe it has to be something not solely articulated to women. Men need to be educated as well and fight alongside women so that true equality can be reached.

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  • Tamara

    As a Ghanaian women (or teenage girl, whichever way you put it, lol) I am proud to hear about the progress going in my home country. I can’t wait to hear the results of the presidential election.

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