THEME: THE ROLE OF YOUNG WOMEN IN POLITICS AND NATION BUILDING
TOPIC: BREAKING INTO POLITICAL LEADERSHIP – THE REAL CHALLENGE FOR YOUNG WOMEN
Protocols & Pleasantries
The legendary soul singer, James Brown once sang “This is a man’s world, but it would be nothing, nothing, without a woman or a girl”. This song was released in 1966 and reached No. 1 in the music charts. It acknowledges that without women the world would be nothing. God in his infinite wisdom created women with attributes and abilities that are different from those of men. Women can transform a house into a home. They multiply whatever you give them and from meagre resources they manage to feed families. They are very resilient and resourceful. With or without men they manage to survive and take care of children and others. I know this because of my mother who managed to raise 7 strong boys after our father died (It’s all in my book).
A teacher once posed the following question to her pupils:
Teacher: Kofi what do you want to be when you grow up
Kofi: I want to become a millionaire with businesses, employing thousands of people, owning ships, shops, Banks, real estate, with my own private plane and a fleet of cars. I would like my wife to drive a different car every week and shop abroad regularly.
Teacher: That’s impressive.
(Teacher turns to Adjoa and asks the same question)
Teacher: Adjoa what would you like to be in future?
Adjoa: I would like to be Kofi’s wife.
How many of you would also like to be Kofi’s wife? … there you go.!!!
So what does that suggest about women’s perceptions of their place vis-à-vis men. How do women perceive their role in society? Do they share society’s stereotypes of gender? Society usually considers young women mainly in terms of their sexy attributes and as objects of men’s attention, not as people with political or other aspirations.
Peter Reynolds, author and illustrator, in a witty statement pokes fun at the way society sometimes represents or perceives gender roles for men and women. It goes like this:
“Here’s a little advice to all who want long happy marriages. Create a working formula on decision-making and because you are the man and the head of the house, take decisions on bigger issues whereas your wife decides on smaller issues. Do not interfere in each other’s decisions. Smaller issues like how many kids to have, the neighbourhood to live in, which car you should buy, how much money to save, who, when and where to visit, which sofa, cooker, refrigerator to buy, monthly expenses, whether to keep a maid or not, where to go for holidays, whose mum you should visit etc., should be decided by your wife. Just agree to it.
Your decisions are only very big issues like whether America should attack Iran, the uranium enrichment in North Korea, whether Britain should lift sanctions against Zimbabwe, how to fully exploit Africa’s economic and intellectual potential, whether KDF (K enya Defence Force) should leave Somalia, whether Arsenal needs to buy new players or change their coach, etc., etc. Your wife will never object to any of these decisions and you live happily”.
Reynolds here, is playing on the perspective of the developed world where women are supposed to have made advances towards equalization of the sexes.
His pun captures conceptions of gender roles for men and women in most parts of the world. Women are supposed to be the managers of the domestic space, the mistress of the house. She’s the housewife or home-maker who takes care of the home and the whole family (herself, her husband, the children, manages the family budget, domestic chores etc.) – a sort of Minister of Home Affairs who is expected to work round the clock for little recognition of her efforts and no pay.
Unlike the housewife, the man is not referred to as house husband. He is the man of the house who actually spends little time at home. He is the main man, the public figure, the businessman, politician, the busy-bee, always on the go, attending high level meetings, etc., taking all the major decisions that govern society.
In short: Domestic space for women, public space for men.
This gender role-divide has characterized life in most societies across the world. In Africa and in traditional societies in general, it’s much worse for women. Even today, there are places where it is not a priority to educate girls let alone expect them to become leaders. Their preserve is supposed to be the domestic sphere and the marketplace.
Historically, in Ghana, politics has been the domain of men rather than women. During Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s time, we learn about women like Deedee Ashikishan, who were in the background supporting the activities of the leading political actors of the time, all of whom were men – the Big Six and others. In the course of Ghana’s history, we’ve had a few women emerging in political positions.
Yes women are the homemakers. Yes they are differently gifted. They outnumber men and yet politics remains a predominantly male preserve. With the evolution of democratic governance in this country the issue of women’s participation and representation in politics becomes pertinent.
Our subject today – breaking into political leadership, the real challenge for young women is therefore timely and relevant. What are the challenges facing women venturing into politics in this country? I think we can brainstorm and identify the challenges here and now. (Engaging the students/ audience and letting them identify the difficulties facing women venturing into politics).
With modernization, traditional views about gender roles and stereotypes are now being challenged. Access to formal education across board has opened up public spaces to women who would have otherwise been excluded. Women outnumber men on most courses at any university. So now we have women in their numbers becoming doctors, lawyers, lectures, administrators, teachers, journalists, engineers, you name it.
Across the world, women are breaking into public spaces and into traditional male dominated occupations and positions.
This trend has gradually extended into the realm of politics. Across the globe we have more and more women going into politics. The UK Parliament, for instance, once a bastion of men in suits, now has numbers of female MPs. The Labour Party in the UK under Tony Blair made a conscious effort to introduce more women into political positions. Have you heard of the ‘Blair Babes’? Perhaps the Mahama Babes’? or the Akuffo Addo Babes’? And soon the Sly or Mensah Babes’ to include some of you.
Furthermore, apart from the thousands of women who have accessed various levels of political office around the world, we have had more than 70 female heads of government or women Prime Ministers such as Indira Ghandi of India (1966-1977), Golda Meir of Israel (1969-1974), Sirimavo Bandaranike of Sri Lanka (1970-1977), Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom (1979-1990), Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan (1988), Corazin Acquino of the Philippines, Elisabeth Domitien of the Central African Republic, Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo of Portugal in 1980, Dame Eugenia Charles of Dominica (1995), Gro Harlem Brundtland of Norway, (1986), Kazimira Prunskienė of Lithuania (1990), Édith Cresson France (1991), Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh (1991), Helen Clark, New Zealand (1991), Angela Merkel, Germany (incumbent), Julia Gillard, Australia (2010), Aung San Suu Kyi (Myanmar (2013) Theresa May (UK, 2016) (incumbent) and many more. Mrs. Clinton nearly became US President, but lost to Donald Trump. Who knows? Maybe one of you could one day rise into a powerful leadership position. (Please remember some of us when that happens).
Any married person will be aware of the unique insights and perspectives women often bring to the table in addressing issues. Research shows that such uniquely female perspectives, when introduced in the boardroom, help large companies to thrive and flourish and so it is with women in politics.
That notwithstanding, the ratio of men to women in positions of power and influence suggests that there is room for improvement. In Ghana, over the years more and more women have gained access to job opportunities that used to be the preserve of men. In politics a lot more needs to be done to give women greater access to positions of power and influence.
The political parties are considering ways of opening up political spaces to more women. There’s talk about quotas, all-female shortlists for certain constituencies and positions, etc. Under both the NDC and NPP governments, efforts have been made to appoint more women to Ministerial and other positions in government. Examples include; the Chief Justice, the former Female Speaker of parliament, the Electoral Commissioner, the Attorney General, Ministers, Ambassadors, MPs, DCEs, among others. Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable society.
Change is happening in our time. The wind of change is blowing. But are we setting our sails to catch the wind in order to move forward
Therefore instead of dwelling on challenges facing women aspiring to political leadership, let’s turn the topic on its head a bit and talk about opportunities for women aspiring to political leadership. For there is a time and there is a tide but are you ready for the opportunity when the tide turns in your favour.
I remember when I tried to contest the La Dadekotopon seat. The odds were stacked against me. There were those who gave me all the good reasons why this was beyond me and that I should back out. Even some senior political figures tried to dissuade me from contesting. If I had listened to them I would never have become an MP. But I was determined. I was like Blind Bartemeus in the Bible who wanted to see Jesus when Jesus was passing by. As people tried to stop him he shouted all the more “Son of David have mercy on me”. Eventually Jesus heard him and asked that blind Bartimaeus be brought to him and thereupon, Jesus restored his sight. He did not let the crowds intimidate, stop, or hinder him. This was his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet Jesus and have his sight restored and he wouldn’t let anything stand in his way. He persevered and got what he needed and wanted. So did I when I faced opposition to my candidacy. I won the seat against the odds because I persevered. Who knows what next I’m venturing into? And what about you?
Are you ready to seize the moment? Are young women of today ready to take their place in leadership? Nothing comes on a silver platter. If you want something in this world you go for it.
You need determination and perseverance. It does not matter whether you are male or female. The principle is the same.
You get what you are prepared to pay for.
Let us expand our tolerance threshold; Let us develop the capacity to tolerate the nuisance and nuances that come with competitive politics; Let us shake-off the element of fear – explanation (Natural and self-imposed)
Gaining independence was a struggle. Nkrumah spent time in prison for his political activities and so did the likes of Nelson Mandela and many others. Are we prepared to pay the price for our leadership ambitions and aspirations. If not let’s forget it. And what do we want to do with political leadership; just to enjoy the power, privileges and advantages that come with it? Then we are seeking power for the wrong reasons to spend it on our own selfish desires. We have too many people seeking power for the wrong reasons. That is part of the trouble with our world but that would be for another forum.
What is your motivation? Are we seeking power to serve or power to lord it over others? Do we have a vision for the people and society we want to lead? Are you driven by a certain sense of mission and purpose? What are your leadership credentials? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Do you have a “Can-Do” attitude? Gender doesn’t matter. Obama, a black man with his black wife made it to the White House against the odds and was President of the most powerful nation for 2 consecutive terms. History is replete with women who rose up against the odds to lead nations and peoples. Yaa Asantewaa comes to mind, and all the female Heads of State we mentioned earlier are examples in point. If anything, consider your womanhood as an advantage because the time for women to step up into political leadership has arrived.
That is why we are even talking about it. There is a time and there is a tide!
Haven’t the macho men in high places created enough difficulties in government, fomenting conflicts everywhere? We need a new kind of politics which benefits from the attributes of women – their maternal instincts, their ingenuity, their judicious attitude to resources, the peace-building approaches to conflict situations, the anti-corruption posture. As women you have what it takes, and the time is right, but are you ready? How prepared are you? Do you have a plan?
A cardinal lesson I have learnt in life is the need to prepare for the opportunities that life presents. Everyone of us here will have opportunities at various times and places. They are the stepping stones towards the fulfilment of your destiny and the realisation of your full potential. But will you be ready to seize the opportunity when it comes?
Let me provide an analogy
Vignette 1: Let’s suppose that an international organization in collaboration with the government of Ghana makes an offer of an all-expenses paid trip to Geneva, Switzerland, or to the US, for 3 months with $5,000 pocket money for each student on the trip. All arrangements are already in place, posh hotel, good food, tourist attractions to visit, etc. The trip is immediate. It is open to every student here without exception. The only condition is that you have a valid passport today, (not tomorrow, not next week), NOW!!! And you are ready to travel immediately.
The opportunity would have presented itself, begging you to take it. But would you have been ready for it. Only those who before the chance came up, had taken the trouble to go through the process of acquiring a passport without knowing that such a trip would ever happen, would have been able to seize the opportunity. And they would be returning to show off the nice things they bought on the trip.
Vignette 2: Just imagine that Bill Gates Foundation, as part of an assistance programme for women, is donating a fleet of cars to women in this auditorium. The only qualifying criterion is your ability to drive. Every person here who could drive and has a valid Driver’s Licence gets the keys to a car for keeps. Would you qualify? Those who are ready with the requisite driving skills can.
The moral in these 2 illustrations applies to most opportune moments in life. If, for instance, a job opportunity requires accounting skills, it is those who have acquired such skills who would be eligible. So when preparation meets opportunity the result is success.
Therefore take preparation very seriously or you’ll miss out. It’s like using what you already possess (ability, training, skill-set etc.) to obtain what you want.
Remember the parable of the 10 Maidens in the Bible who were invited to a wedding. Five of them were described as foolish because they were not ready when the Bridegroom came. They did not have oil in their lamps and they were denied entry. The other five were ready and they gained entry. So then those who are ready for the opportunity when it shows up are the ones who can seize it and benefit from it.
Preparation takes time, effort, sacrifice, determination, focus, diligence, learning, practice and persistence. When sportsmen and women step out to compete in championships, be it athletics, boxing, tennis, football etc., it is on the back of months and years of training and preparation (including medical supervision, special diet, strenuous exercises etc.). Those who do their homework well get the medals and trophies. Having the ability or talent is not enough. You need to develop it, train and use it.
This is a time of preparation for your future. Opportunities will open up for you to become MPs, Ministers of State, Lecturers, or work with leading international organizations, set up thriving business ventures and many more. The question is will you be ready when that opportunity comes. Will you be prepared? Will you have what it takes, the relevant skill-set, attitude and talent?
Oh Yes, You Will!
I have confidence in you