It is yet another beautiful Friday evening as the Readers’ Hub brings to you another informative, insightful and intellectually engaging segment on its Social Media Monk session.
Tonight, we shall be discussing the topic: The Role of Women in National Development: The Challenges, Prospects and the way Forward. My name is Bassing Kamal, and I shall be your moderator for tonight’s encounter.
Our guest for tonight’s Social Media Monk session is currently pursuing her LLB degree at KNUST. She serves as the current Vice President of the KNUST Faculty of Law and she is also an active debater.
Indeed, her (British Parliamentary style) debate career began on an enviable note. She is touted to be one of the top 5 active female speakers in West Africa.
It is instructive to note that a lot of her achievements have the tag “first Ghanaian female debater to win.” These include:
➡️Champion, Ghana Universities Debate Championship 2019 (Novice)
(Member of the first female team to win GUDC).
➡️World Universities Debate Championship, Thailand 2020 participant; equaled the record points for West Africa
(A member of KNUST Debate Society first 2 teams at Worlds)
In the same development, West African Womxn’s (Virago) Open is the brainchild of our guest. It is a debate tournament dedicated to training novice speakers and women to reach the peak of their debate abilities.
Our distinguished guest believes that debate, unlike other spheres, is a competitive space that uniquely provides an avenue for maximum expression and participation of the female gender.
In her view, this provides a great level of grooming that allows one to actively interrogate and engage societal structures and narratives.
Tonight, the Readers’ Hub is pleased to have such a personality to take us through a thematic concern of national relevance as held supra.
Among others, we shall find out from our guest; the extent to which our cultural believes and institutional structures inhibit women’s ability to develop themselves to the fullest of their potentials to enable them to fully and actively participate in national development.
We shall also find out from our guest what needs to be done to wipe up the interest of women in leadership positions/politics at the early stages; our cultural barriers notwithstanding.
Ladies and gentlemen, please help me welcome our guest for tonight’s Social Media Monk session; Abena Achiaa Otuo.
Bassing: Please madam, you are most welcome to the Readers’ Hub Social Media Monk tonight.
Abena Achiaa Otuo: Thank you for hosting me. An absolute pleasure
Bassing: Please for a start in your view, what is women empowerment and how could that be done?
Abena Achiaa Otuo: Empowerment literally means to promote the self-actualization of a person or group. Women empowerment will therefore reflect a targeted approach to promoting the actualization of women as a collective approach.
In the same development, the extent to which cultural believes and institutional structures inhibited the ability of women to develop themselves to the fullest of their potentials and effectively participate in national development is very large due to three major reasons:
- First, the long-standing historic cultural practice of not educating the girl child which has now been broken down in recent times is one that systemically sectioned women into the lower class within society because that didn’t just deny them education and decent jobs, it mostly ended them up in the kitchen as housewives who always had to depend on men for survival.
- Secondly, also with the historical lack of education as its premise, women could not occupy leadership positions and affect the changes they needed or at least put their issues in spaces of relevance because they were not part of the educated elite and so did not understand the political structure.
- Finally, due to the first two reasons, a large amount of women even after gaining access to civil, social and economic right were disproportionately caged within the informal sectors of the economy.
Women empowerment can therefore be achieved by addressing these three major issues.
They include but not limited to,
- Educating females and encouraging them into competitive spaces that are currently dominated by the male counterparts.
- Conscientizing society to view women on the same pedestal as men
- Economic emancipation of women in the fields of their interest
- Political representation of women to not only speak to women related issues but issues of national relevance
Bassing: Interesting perspective. But based on your submissions: When it comes to matters of care, be it care for children, husbands or a nation, women are inherently more caring than men and any nation that relegates women in its development process is bound to be a careless nation. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this assertion?
Abena Achiaa Otuo:: I agree with the fundamental premise of this statement which is a recognition that women inherently are more caring than men and that is due to how society is conditioned to bring up women to be more caring, compassionate and tolerant when compared to the way in which men are brought up, mostly been told to be less concerned about emotions.
Even when women are encouraged to be strong, relentless, persistent and courageous, they are still encouraged to carry and value alongside these other traits, care and compassion and this means that when you have women in power and engaged in developmental channels and processes, there is increased attention and concern for the people’s need and the urgency that come with it.
This, to some extent was proven with various study report published by the “Center for Economic Policy Research” and the “World Economic Forum” which shows that female-led countries like Germany, New Zealand, Denmark, Taiwan and Finland handled the coronavirus outbreak systematically and significantly better than male-led counties.
They suffered half as many deaths on average as those led by their male counterparts because they reacted more quickly and decisively in the face of potential fatalities. They locked down earlier than leaders in similar circumstances led by males and all these quick and responsive efforts can be attributed to the fact that they inherently cared more.
However, I think the conclusion that if women are relegated from development spaces or processes, nations become careless is an extreme conclusion.
Yes, the exclusion of women is a very terrible idea and a bad decision to make and it is not good for any society to do that because it reduces the level of sensitivity and care within the system but it doesn’t mean that their absence then creates complete carelessness because that assumes that men are heartless.
But that is not the case. Men also possess some level of care and so they are moderate or at best quick in their response to situations and levels of sensitivity while on the other hand women are quicker in their response to situations and have higher levels of sensitivity because inherently they are brought up to care more than men.
Bassing: This is indeed intellectually stimulating. However, based on your submissions, what is you view on this school of thought? Women are already naturally assigned a considerable amount of care responsibilities in society, especially in areas of childbearing and development. For instance, they carry a pregnancy for about nine months, breastfeed for six months or more and among other responsibilities. Would you agree with me on the view that these preordained care responsibilities are the main impediments on the career growth and development of women?
Abena Achiaa Otuo: I completely agree with both the premise and the conclusion of this statement. This is because the world has seen a sharp inclination towards capitalism and the constant pursuit of maximum profits within a very competitive capitalist space where maximum work output is demanded by corporations so that they can make the most profit out of the system.
This has led to the institutionalization of an economic structure that is increasingly requiring workers to sacrifice significant aspects of their social lives to make more time for work; and culture disproportionately harms women more than men because men have less social duties but also can perform some remotely that’s why a farther can work in a different city and still speak to his children daily and that will be enough to establish a good father-child relationship but a woman cannot do that with things like pregnancy, breastfeeding or the fact that she needs to close early to go and take care of her family and feed her children.
This has led to the point where for most women to have successful carriers, they are forced to make a strict choice between their work and the social lives mainly their nuclear family because companies for instance are more likely to replace women who go on maternity leave with men because they can’t afford the revenue loss which that employee void creates.
This has led to more employers refusing to employ married women and women with children or even women who have plans of marrying in the near future and that is increasingly impeding on the growth and development of women within the current corporate structure.
It must however be pointed out that, this is not because those voids cannot be temporarily filled with assistants or national service personnel, it is just a reflection of society’s constant search of an excuse to disenfranchise women.
Bassing: To what extent has Ghana’s cultural believes and institutional structures inhibit Ghanaian women’s ability to develop themselves to the fullest of their potentials to enable them to participate in national development effectively?
Abena Achiaa Otuo: As stated earlier, the extent to which cultural believes and institutional structures have inhibited their complete emancipation of women are due to three reasons further explained.
- First, the long-standing historic cultural practice of not educating the girl child which has now been broken down in recent times is one that systemically sectioned women into the lower class within society because that didn’t just deny them education and decent jobs, it mostly ended them up in the kitchen as housewives who always had to depend on men for survival. That amplified the social, economic and political power that men had over women because then the marriage system literally gave men a structure of ownership over women.
- Secondly, also with the historical lack of education as its premise, women could not occupy leadership positions and affect the changes they needed or at least put their issues in spaces of relevance because they were not part of the educated elite and so did not understand the political structure. This exclusion from power was further deepened by cultural narratives and believes that portrayed women as weak, second to men and even going as far as denying women the ability to speak or contribute to decision-making even when the decision is one that affected them. This meant that women we’re not understood and their needs where not made central to the operation of the political structure.
- Finally, due to the first two reasons, a large amount of women even after gaining access to civil, social and economic right were disproportionately caged within the informal sectors of the economy. Aside the fact that these sectors provided very little economic benefits, the government usually ignores these sectors and there is less funding and attention and so the growth within those sectors is very poor. Also, the modern economic growth indicators like GDP that governments use to evaluate their performances and the growth of the economies in counties like Ghana are only reflective of growth within the former sectors that have more structured growth measurements systems. Even with that, it is very deceptive and not reflective of the real growth because an increase in growth for the top 1% is portrayed as a general growth that everyone benefited from. Governments have shown to care less about the informal sectors and invest less into these sectors meaning that the people who participate in these sectors who are disproportionately women get less improvement and development in their economic lives.
- Arguably, conservative religious ideals also entrench and are a foundational cause of female marginalization.
Bassing: May you please throw more light on your last point; how does that happen?
Abena Achiaa Otuo: Hahaha Most conservative religious dogma stipulate a regime in which women are subjugated. Therefore, a “good woman” is characteristically submissive to male power, actively engages in feminine activities like cooking, washing, etc. and/or aspires for more feminine structures like a marriage, being a housewife, caterer, seamstress etc. Simply, that women are reproducers and men are producers and therefore women ought to act accordingly.
Also, most conservative religions actively prescribe the moral code of women. Consequently, women who don’t fall within this scope, for example polyandrous women, “hyper sexual women”, prostitutes, etc. are often stigmatized by religion.
Bassing: Fantastic, impressive yet in the same related development and based on your submissions, let’s look at this practical scenario.
Most affirmative actions that are intended for promoting women’s personal development and participating in national development often employ positive discrimination as the stratagem instead of fashioning and enforcing pragmatic policies to eliminate the cultural and institutional barriers that encumber the career growth and development of women. For instance, the Government of Ghana has propelled some public universities to lower the WASSCE aggregate cut-off points for female students seeking admissions to pursue some degree courses instead of focusing on identifying and addressing the factors that degrade the academic performance of female students in the Senior High Schools. What is your standpoint on this approach to women empowerment? How can women be empowered without compromising quality standards?
Abena Achiaa Otuo: In the light of the historical oppression of women that has led to the continuous marginalization of women, I believe firstly, women deserve affirmative action as a matter of right, irrespective of the outcome of this.
Nonetheless, my view is that these actions must occur simultaneously to achieve maximum and permanent emancipation of women. Even though a more extremist approach will be to overhaul structures and systems that degrade and dehumanize women, we still need affirmative action systems.
This is because these systems are very socio-cultural and religious and hence very pervasive and difficult to completely do away with. What works then is an organic systematic that alleviates and compensate women for the harms they presently face and that’s what affirmative action does. Bridge the gap that exists now in anticipation or a complete overhaul of social structures and narratives that prescribe women as second-class citizens.
Due to historical oppression of the female gender, it will be inequitable to expect women to actively compete with men who have enjoyed a lot of privileges. Consequently, affirmative action recognizes that the normal standards place unfair burdens on women.
Relevant stakeholders, thus, government and society, especially the male gender, ought to understand and internalize that affirmative action is not a mere rhetoric but rather important reparation to make up for the marginalization of women that predates the evolution of time.
This recognition will ensure that affirmative actions created for women are targeted to ensure the social mobility of women.
Also, they need to be a level of accountability as to the resources allocated for affirmative actions and the beneficiaries of same. This level of transparency will ensure that quality is not compromised
Bassing: One of the world finest diplomats, Kofi Annan of blessed memory, is reported to have made the following iconic statements about the role of women in national development:
- “When women thrive, all of society benefits and succeeding generations are given a better start in life.”
- “There is no development more effective than the empowerment of women.”
May you please help Readers to appreciate these statements in more profound ways?
Abena Achiaa Otuo: In making those two statements; I assume Kofi Annan took into account the sensitive and caring nature of women and how responsive they are to the needs of society and their families as explained in the first question. But also, he brought to light the extent of their beneficial impacts because their immediate society benefited from them; it could potentially broaden the chain of impacts and sparks a trickle-down effect that extends to succeeding generations.
Also, it was a reflection of the fact that women are the majority in society in terms of numbers. For example, there are more countries in which females are more than men in number than countries with the opposite to statistics. This means that numerically also, empowering women means empowering majority of society.
Bassing: Interesting perspective, great submissions. But let’s look at another practical scenario.
Out of the 275 Members of Parliament in the current Parliament of Ghana, only 37 (13.5%) of them are female; and only 3 (25%) out of the 12 presidential candidates, approved by the Electoral Commission to contest the upcoming presidential elections in December 2020, are females. What factors are accountable for low representation and participation of Ghanaian women in our national politics and what do you suggest as the way forward for improving the women participation in politics as Ghana elects her parliamentary and presidential duty-bearers in December 2020?
Abena Achiaa Otuo: Firstly, we need to break down the notion that men are born leaders and women are born to be followers. It may sound as a very simple notion but this is embedded in corporations, where you see most CEO’s and board of directors being men, embedded in schools, where male schools prefects are more respected than their female counterparts, embedded in family structures, where you hardly see a female family head and also embedded within the political structures of the state just like you seen it.
These notions and others that are similar to it create a system that undermines the trust that is needed for leadership when it comes to women and so; even fellow women hardly trust females who are seeking for positions and hence more voter apathy towards them.
Secondly, the long-standing economic and social disenfranchisement that women have faced need to be taken away so we can have more women with good qualifications, competence and strong understanding of politically relevant issues to dominate the political space. Because the more women dominate those spaces the more likely to win seats and change long-standing oppressive norms.
Bassing: Now based on your research and from where you sit: Aside from the foregoing challenges that hinder women development and participation in national development that we have discussed thus far: Are there other significant existential and/or emerging challenges?
Abena Achiaa Otuo: The Corvid-19 pandemic had huge impacts on women and to some extent retarded the progress they have collectively made so far through women empowerment.
For instance, the imposition of lock downs affected the informal sectors of the economy more due to the essential nature of human interaction and movement to their sales and also their inability to transfer their dealings to online systems due to lack of technological advancement and lack of technological know-how amongst the people within the informal sectors. And this is because most of them are illiterates.
Secondly, lock downs also saw the increase in domestic burdens on women because their husbands and children were always at home and so they had to spend more time taking care of them than they normally did and this made it difficult for even women who were in the formal economic sectors and could work from home through online systems to have ample time to keep up with their work.
It literally doubled the stress and strain on women in such positions. In addition to this, statistics show that gender-based violence against women and sexual abuse spiked during lockdown periods and that also hard very negative effects on lots of women. An arguable case study is South Africa.
These are the modern problems we have to focus on and look at the specific impacts the pandemic is having on women and address them and what this means is that we need to do more in the coming years to protect women and improve the quality of lives that they live.
Also, in a long-term perspective, automation of blue-collar jobs (by technology and the rise of Artificial Intelligence) which are dominated by women can potentially recline the economic mobility; the second wave of feminism fought for.
Bassing: Assuming at some point in our nation, half/50% of employees in both private and public sectors are women, and at any point in time, 10 – 15% of our formal sector workers are unable to work because some women are pregnant, some are on maternity leave, and others are battling with menopausal conditions, how would this scenario impact on our national development as a developing country that needs all hands on deck?
Abena Achiaa Otuo: Firstly, I think this scenario is less likely to happen. Not the part of having significant female employment but the fact that a significant percentage goes on maternity leave all at once and there is no one to replace them. Because realistically, it is highly unlikely that 10% to 15% would be out of work at the same time. The most reasonable scenario is that this percentage of people would go off in different times and spread out probably across a space of one year in small numbers and so others can fill in for them.
Also, pregnant women are able to work for most part of their pregnancies before going for leave but even aside that they are allowed to train assistants and prepare them to fill in and perform their duties in the interim until they return.
Most corporations both public and private also have more than one staff member for every department and so; one not being available for a period of time, doesn’t create too much of the working stress or void that is exaggerated. But even if those numbers of people are incapable of working, national service assistants and assistants that come along with youth employment schemes like NABCO can provide the manpower to hold those loose ends in the interim.
Finally, child birth is also extremely important in our society because of the need for continuity of life and also the constant need for youthful population to pick up the working structures to grow the nation in the future. Denying women employment due to their ability to perform that profound role is immoral an inappropriate; because the reality is that no matter the money or success built and accumulated by society, we would not exist without procreation.
Bassing: What has Ghana gotten right when it comes to empowerment of women and the development of intellectual potentials of the girl-child and what more should the Government of Ghana do, in terms of public policy, to promote the social and economic progress of Ghanaian women whilst ameliorating the bureaucratic, cultural and technical barrier bottlenecks that hamper or potentially hinder the greater participation of women in all spheres of our national development?
Abena Achiaa Otuo: I recommend the following though not exhaustive:
- Affirmative Action and scholarship schemes that help needy female students.
- Encouraging girl child education
- Free SHS that has given every parent no financial excuse to deny their girl child at least senior high school education.
- Encouraging women into politics and the gradual recognition of the capacity of women within the major political parties in Ghana. E.g. The nomination of Prof. Jane Naana Opoku Agyeman as Running Mate for the NDC is a huge win for women.
QUESTIONS TIME WITH OUR READERS FROM THE READERS’ HUB
Benjamin: I believe the constitution of Ghana made provisions to ensure gender equality. Why is it not still being enforced?
Abena Achiaa Otuo: The Constitution, 1992 provides for gender equality and freedom of women and men, girls and boys from discrimination on the basis of social or economic status among others.
The problem is the constitution does not stipulate what this looks like and how it ought to be implemented by government. This leads to an interpretational problem where the ruling party prescribes what to specifically target female issues and how they will materialize same. This challenge also means that these actions are only directive principles and arguably not enforceable by courts.
The following are also contributing factors:
- legislative bureaucracy
- The charge of reverse discrimination against men
- Propensity of being an elitist agenda to benefit middle class women while not catering for the welfare of rural women.
- A tool for cronyism and favoritism by government in power and could be used for political ends. e.g. GetFund scandal
- Language of affirmative action is off-putting and militant.
- Fear of unknown- what would a gender equitable society look like?
- Not enough women with the necessary qualifications and knowledge to fill the positions created by affirmative action.
- Women are lacking in ambition and or unwilling to commit the time to these posts because they often conflict with their domestic matters.
- When women get posts, they are not able to make a difference because of class cliffs
Kaara: In your presentation you said religion contributed to women under development. Don’t you think men used the religious text to still control the women?
Abena Achiaa Otuo: I think conservative religious ideals have long been and are still used to oppress women. But I think the popularization of liberal ideals have helped counter this effect. Quite slowly but surely
Edward K.Manu: Thank you very much Abena for the insightful presentation. I am touched with your delivery and knowledge. May God bless you.
Abena Achiaa Otuo: Always an honor to speak to women issues
Bassing: Do you subscribe to the notion that “Women are the cause of their own problems”?
Abena Achiaa Otuo: I do not subscribe to the notion. As already argued, the cause of the problems women face as a collective unit are directly because of historically systematic oppression that pushed the narrative that women are reproducers and men producers.
Bassing: Is it possible we uproot these “historically systematic oppressions”?
Abena Achiaa Otuo: I don’t think so. The harms have already been perpetuated. What can best be done is organically yet completely overhaul patriarchal structures and narratives, supplemented by affirmative actions. I think that’s how best we can gravitate towards a world of gender equality
Bassing: What do you recommend is done or needs to be done to wipe up the interest of women in leadership positions/political at the early stages, our cultural barriers notwithstanding
Abena Achiaa Otuo: I recommend the following though not exhaustive:
- Female mentorship programmes to mentor women and females and groom them into the political structures.
- Breakdown any opposition to cultural norms that portray a male monopoly in leadership and encourage female leaders and amplify their exploits through the media.
- Current female politicians must be active in engaging parliament and the political system to provide an aspirational value for young females to also one day work to occupy leadership roles.
- Fight to educationally, socially, structurally and systematically liberate them so they can meet the standards of the political elite to breed quality and fair political competitiveness.
Bassing: Wow! Very irresistible to let go yet we have to allow our guest to rest for the day. The Readers’ Hub expresses its most profound gratitude to you for finding time out of your busy schedule to interact and share with us your deep-seated knowledge on this very important topic.
It was an awesome discussion and we are most grateful. May the good Lord shower His grace upon you in all your life endeavors. Thank you.
Abena Achiaa Otuo: Thanks for hosting me. An absolute pleasure!
Bassing: We may however call on you next time when the need arises😊
Abena Achiaa Otuo: Definitely!
Bassing: Readers, we have come to the end of yet another interactive, insightful and intellectually intuitive segment of our Social Media Monk session. We are most grateful to all those who find time to interact and asked questions where necessary
I am convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that Readers have picked some useful information out of the interaction on the thematic concern held supra.
Until we meet same time with another interactive segment of the Social Media Monk session next week, do have a fruitful weekend and a restful night.
NB: Please don’t forget to share after reading for others to also benefit.
Hub Editor: Bassing .A.M.A.Kamal.
! THE END!