By Ray Ankomah
Dorcas Mensah, 45, is among seven women contesting Ghana?s forthcoming District Level Elections (DLE) elections in the Abura-Asebu-Kwamankese (AAK) District in the Central Region of Ghana.
Though she is the incumbent assemblywoman for the Bentsir Electoral Area at Moree, she decided a few days to the polls to withdraw from the race due to stiff opposition from five male contestants.
But the thought of six of her female counterparts contesting at Moree in the Nyanfeku Ekroful electoral area emboldened her to go ahead unperturbed.
Dorcas was strengthened in her resolve to stay in the race by Victoria Araba Dennis, Executive Director of African Women International, a women?s civil society organization, who encouraged her to seek a place in the local assembly.
Dennis, who has been organizing a sensitization program for women to boost their confidence, said she believed they had special qualities to lead their communities.
She said she chose the Abura-Asebu-Kwamankese District and the Komenda-Edina-Eguafo-Abrem (KEEA) Municipality from the Central Region due to the low grassroots participation of women in the two localities.
Her organization has already trained women on leadership qualities such as addressing the public, lobbying skills, and channeling their agenda forward.
The move is to assist women to help in improving the living conditions of their communities.
Dennis said she was ready to assist the female contestants with financial and technical support, and urged Dorcas to go ahead to contest and retain her seat in the local assembly.
All over the country, women have been receiving similar support and exhortations to stand for election in the country?s District Level Elections originally scheduled for March 3, 2015.
However, Ghana?s local government system hit a snag as a result of the Electoral Commission?s inability to organize nation-wide elections to reconstitute the assemblies following a Supreme Court ruling that halted the process.
The situation has been exacerbated by a directive from the Ministry of Communications announcing the dissolution of all MMDAs by the close of work on March 14.
The directive further asked Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCEs) to take over the day-to-day administrative functions of their assemblies.
?Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives shall be responsible for the day-to-day performance of the executive and administrative functions of their assemblies under Article 243(2) (b) and (c) and (d) of the Local Government Act, 1993 (Act 462).?
Ghana?s local government administration consists of a regional coordinating council, a four-tier metropolitan and a three-tier municipal and district assemblies structure.
The assemblies are classified into metropolitan (population over 250,000), municipal (population over 95,000) or district (population 75,000 and over) known by their acronym of MMDAs.
They are below the level of a region (province) and are ?created as the pivot of administrative and developmental decision-making in the district? and constitute the basic units of government administration.
The MMDAs are assigned with deliberative, legislative as well as executive functions, and are established as a monolithic structure to which is assigned the responsibility of the totality of government.
In line with Ghana?s local government structure, this is ?intended to bring about integration of political, administrative and development support needed to achieve a more equitable allocation of power, wealth, and geographically dispersed development in Ghana?.
District Level Elections, like the presidential and parliamentary elections, are also public elections. The only difference is that the former are organized on non-partisan basis.
The first district assembly elections were held in 1988-1989 under the PNDC Law 207, which states: ?The District Level and Unit Committee elections are conducted every four years.?
Act 473 of 1994 and C.I. 18 of 1998, amended under Act 801 and C.I. 68 of 2010 regulate the district level elections for the current 6,156 electoral area or units.
The law requires that candidates for the District Assembly and Unit Committee Elections must contest the elections strictly on individual and not on political basis; that is, the elections must be conducted on non-partisan basis.
Candidates are also barred from using party colors, symbols or slogans, and that any candidate breaching the laws shall have his or her candidacy withdrawn or cancelled.
Though the district level elections are held on non-partisan basis, one invariably finds rival political parties lending their support to candidates. The implication is that the elections are gradually assuming a partisan posture.
The assemblies therefore serve as a stepping stone or a launch pad for members to aspire to higher national office as members of parliament or even as district chief executives.
The Chairman of the EC, Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, has told parliament the commission spent 317 million cedis or 99.06 million U.S. dollars on preparations for the elections, which would have ushered into office new assemblymen and women.
This means the tenure of office of all members of the MMDAs has ended and new members must be elected to reconstitute the assemblies for the next four years.
Afari-Gyan has meanwhile requested an additional 90 million cedis or 28.1 million dollars if fresh elections are to be conducted possibly in July, this year.
But Dorcas and her colleague female candidates are still looking forward to the day to pitch their strength against their male counterparts.
The actual number of women contesting the DLE is not known but they could make a significant impact on Ghana?s local government administration, judging by the encouragement and support they have been receiving lately.
Though past district level elections indicated low turnouts at the polls, more women are likely to contest the election to push forward the ?Beijing Agenda? of empowering women to assert themselves in all spheres of life.
Ghana?s National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) has mounted a sustained education to encourage more women candidates to present themselves for election to serve their localities.
The EC and the country?s legislature are now putting their heads together to reschedule the district level elections at a date yet to be agreed upon.
It is anticipated that when the election eventually takes off, Ghana will see more women contesting to take their deserving places in the Municipal, Metropolitan and District assemblies. Enditem.