Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pages From History: Women and Politics in Ghana

Women and Politics in Ghana

By Kofi Dei
The Ghanaian Times

Women who desire to enter politics but tremble as they scan the political landscape need to turn, for inspiration, to the courage of their female counterparts who were so buoyed up by the ‘Can Do’ attitude of the time that not even the political terror of those days could deter them.

They did not wait to be cajoled by NGO support; they simply stepped into the trenches and battled alongside their male counterparts.

Though apparently low key, the crucial role those women of courage played in the pre and immediate post independent politics is yet to be fully appreciated. They did not merely present CVs for political positions, but fought alongside their male counterparts deep in the trenches of the nationalist struggle for independence and post independence national reconstruction. They were prepared to make sacrifices for a greater cause.

One of the areas of national development where the British colonial regime failed Ghanaians was the human resource base of the country to meet the challenges of early Gold Coast independence as the Colonel Henry Ord report in 1850 proposed. The House of Commons Select Committee tasked with the study of the Ord report consequently recommended that the people of the Gold Coast "should be groomed for self determination before leaving".

The colonialists, particularly the colonial administration and the settler mercantile groups, were not in the least happy with that suggestion and did all they could to thwart every effort to empower the Gold Coasters through education and political participation for early independence.

When the nationalist struggle gathered momentum, the nation’s human resource shortfall was very huge. Very few of Dr. Nkrumah’s Verandah Boys and Girls, as their elitist opponents called them, had high formal education enough to take national leadership roles. The worse hit in his human resource base were the women. That was an era when very little attention was given to female education.

Though not very visible like their male counterparts in the frontline, the female politicians nonetheless provided a vanguard force, rallying their families, communities, trade and various interest groups to join the struggle for national independence.

Soon after the formation of the CPP in 1949 for instance some of them, notably Akua Asabea, stood shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts like Kofi Baako and Sacki Scheck as they toured the country and addressed large rallies to spread the message of ‘Independence Now’ for Ghana.

Hanna Cudjoe, for instance, did not only heroically rally the people behind the independent struggle but went a step ahead in establishing day care centres and day nurseries.

She worked extensively in the North under the direction of Dr. Nkrumah who gave her the task of convincing women in certain parts of the North to discard the outmoded culture of walking in the nude "with leaves to cover their waist to the use of second hand clothes she freely distributed to them". (K.Budu-Acquah, Toll for the Brave. Part one, 1988, Accra).

The women were also actively involved in organising the CPP’s Youth League. The Women’s Wing of the party sponsored rallies, provided speakers, formed singing bands and cultural troupes to mobilise supporters for CPP functions and the independent struggle (Edzodzinam Tsikata, women’s Political Organisation, p.77.)

During the early period of the struggle in May 1951, the CPP appointed Hanna Cudjoe, Ama Nkrumah, Letitia Quaye and Miss Doku as propaganda secretaries and with the responsibilities of organising the CPP Women’s League.

Under the league, the women were subdivided into sections at branch and ward levels. They organised rallies, dances and picnics as strategies to mobilise more people for early independence delayed by the colonialists for about a century.

Hanna Cudjoe was the head of the Ghana Women’s League and was to lead it to protest the decision of the French Government to test an atom bomb in the Sahara area of Algeria.

In 1960, however, Hanna Cudjoe’s Women’s League and the Ghana Federation of Women led by Evelyn Amarteifio were merged to form the National Council of Ghana Women, to replace the Women’s Section of the CPP.

The women’s movement was inaugurated by Dr. Nkrumah on September 10, 1960, as the only organisation under which all Ghanaian women were to be organised to help achieve government post independent political, social, economic and educational development of Ghana.

The women’s organisation was a central wing of the CPP and had representation on its central committee. Inspite of the role of women in the political struggle, there was no woman in cabinet when Ghana attained Republican status, though; nine out of the 103 members of the National Assembly were women namely:

* Miss Anin Lucy, Brong -Ahafo
* Miss Regina Asamani, Volta Region
* Miss Comfort Asamoah, Ashanti Region
* Grace Ayensu, Central & Western Regions
* Mrs. Bukari Ayanori, Upper Region
* Miss Sophia Doku, Eastern Region
* Miss Mary Koranteng, Eastern Region
* Miss Victoria Nyarku, Northern & Upper Region.
* Miss Christiana Wilmot, Central & Western Regions.

Female political leaders were less visible in the opposition then led by Dr. Busia, Dr. Kuranchi Taylor, Mr. Victor Owusu and Dr. Joe Appiah. This assertion does not in any way discount the possibility that females in the opposition parties at that time might have played equally crucial roles in mobilising support for their political parties.

The leading roles the women played in the nationalist struggle need to be fully recognised and state institutions, streets, foundations, etc named after them as a way of motivating more women to take up greater challenges in the area of national leadership.

If the Asabeas, Hanna Cudjoes etc. were able to defy challenges of their times to rub shoulders in the nationalist struggle though with little education, the large population of highly educated women are expected to do better, be more courageous and step forward with or without NGO and state support, to exhibit sterling qualities in order to help win the remaining nationalist wars over poverty, disease, ignorance, environmental degradation, corruption and backward cultural beliefs.

The writer works with the Information Services Department

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