Although fictional, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s short story The Visit provides a glimpse into a world where gender roles are reversed; men stay home and care for the children and home while women go to work and provide financially for the family.
This role reversal throws a spotlight on some of the inequalities women face by placing men in their position.
The story helps to highlight why there is a need for increased efforts to create a more equitable society for all genders by bringing into stark relief some of the issues that are swept under the rug due to lack of representation of the affected gender in top decision-making spaces.
In the story, women held Presidential positions and other positions of power resulting in the formulation of women-centred policies such as Pregnancy Allowances while issues of concern to men were relegated to the background. A key moral of the story is the need for a more egalitarian society where all concerned groups have equal representation.
In the real world, where gender inequality often affects women negatively, women’s issues often take a backseat due to inadequate representation in decision-making. There is therefore a need to increase women’s inclusion and participation in decision-making particularly at the local level.
Overview of Local Government Structure in Ghana
The local government in Ghana was instituted to promote grassroot participation in the management and organization of local government institutions in order that the direct needs of the citizenry would be addressed and met.
The local government serves as a key component of decentralisation and is comprised of the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs). Within these assemblies some officials are appointed while others are elected.
The position of Metropolitan Municipal and District Assembly Chief Executive (MMDCE) is one that is appointed although there have been calls for this to be amended to an elected position. At the District Assembly level however, members are elected thus, this serves as a key point of entry for women to participate in local decision-making.
Current State of Women’s Representation in Local Decision-making
According to the UN Women’s 2022 Report on Women’s Representation in Local Government, the SDG region with the highest percentage of women’s representation in local government is held by Central and Southern Asia with 41% of elected seats being held by women. In Sub-Saharan Africa on the other hand women hold 29% of elected seats in local government.
These percentages have largely been made possible through the implementation of legislated gender quotas that aim to undo past gender disparities by increasing women’s participation in local government.
The UN Women’s report states that about fifty-four percent (54%), that is, more than half of countries have some form of legislation for a gender quota in local government representation.
These quotas may include any of the following types: candidate quotas, candidate quota and ranking, and reserved seats. In some countries these quotas are instituted with sanctions thus serving as an inducement to ensure they are met.
The 2021 Africa Barometer report on Women’s Political Participation revealed that in West Africa a mere two percent (2%) of local government seats were held by women. However, there has been an increase overall in women’s political participation across Africa over time although numbers are higher in some countries and lower in others.
In Ghana, only thirty-eight (38) women were nominated as MMDCEs in 2021 making up 14.62% of the 260 appointees.
At the District Assembly level in Ghana, the number of women elected has frequently fallen far below the minimum threshold of thirty percent (30%) set by the UN. Thus, it is imperative that key stakeholders collaborate to increase the number of women in these spaces.
Importance of Increasing Women’s Participation in Local Decision-making
As the level of government closest to citizens, local government can play a key role in addressing issues of gender inequality and building women’s capacity by involving them in local decision-making, planning and management.
Studies have also shown that when women are elected to or placed in key decision-making positions, they not only help to bring issues of concern to women to the fore but also use these platforms to place priority on the concerns of children, the elderly and other vulnerable groups.
It is also important to encourage more female youth to engage actively in local politics. This will go a long way to ensure an intergenerational dialogue and continuity. The inclusion of these younger women can facilitate the development of novel ideas and can lead to the creation of mentoring relationships geared towards future political leadership positions.
The inclusion of women helps to bring new perspectives into decision-making as women bring their varied experiences to the table. Women play key roles in various sectors of the society including agriculture, health, and education, to name a few.
In these roles women face various challenges and unique experiences from which they can suggest and implement transformative policies that can address these issues should they be granted the opportunity to occupy key positions of power and influence.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The upcoming 2023 Local Government Elections in Ghana is a prime opportunity for women to take up the mantle to participate in local decision-making. There is therefore a need for concerted efforts to be made towards encouraging women to stand as candidates for the various seats and to make use of their voting power to support female candidates. Political parties should be urged to lend the same level of assistance to female candidates as with male candidates.
Recommendations from the African Barometer Report for improving Women’s Political Participation can also be adopted in the Ghanaian context. Some of these include electoral reforms and temporary special measures, gender aware electoral laws and processes and, gender training for the media and media training for women politicians. These can be achieved through collaborations between government institutions and civil society organizations.
Additionally, the institution of sanctions can help ensure effective implementation of existing quotas for women in local government. Ensuring increased women’s participation in local government can help with the achievement of Ghana’s SDGs particularly goal five which aims to achieve gender equality. This will facilitate a holistic and gender inclusive approach towards the achievement of the other SDGs by 2030.
Returning to Chimanda Adichie’s The Visit, her fictional depiction of a society where roles are reversed and one gender is still in a subjugated position, it can be concluded that a role reversal is not the answer to gender inequalities.
Rather, strides can be made towards the creation of an egalitarian society where issues of concern to one group are the concerns of all. In Ghana, increasing women’s participation and representation in local government can be one way through which we can begin to realize this goal.
This publication is made by ABANTU for Development with support from the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF).