(By Francis Ameyibor, GNA Special Correspondent, Geneva, Switzerland)
Ghana has submitted documents on Constitutional, Legislative and Institutional Framework adopted towards elimination of gender based discrimination to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), at its 59th session.
CEDAW is holding its 59th session from October 20 to November 7, 2014 in Geneva, Switzerland to review state parties report and responses to issues raised by the Committee.
Ghana News Agency information obtained at Geneva indicates that Ghana?s legal document focuses on Constitutional, Legislative and Institutional Framework; Access to Justice; National Machinery for the Advancement of Women; Temporary Special Measures; Social Protection Policies; and Stereotypes and Harmful Practices.
In defining customary law, the Constitution draws two important boundaries: the definition of ?common law? under article 11(2) includes the rules of customary law as defined by the Superior Courts of Judicature and article 11(3) which defines ?customary law? as the rules of law, which by custom, are applicable to particular communities in Ghana.
Explaining the issues in an interview with the GNA; Nana Oye Lithur, Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection said the harmonisation of customary law with statute and constitutional law is an ongoing process that is done through the judicial process, where decisions of the courts interpret customary law in line with the constitution and statute law.
She said the ongoing law reform process to ensure that some key statutes which address matters of customary law are updated to reflect the progressive realisation of women?s rights under CEDAW and other human rights treaties ratified by Ghana.
Nana Oye Lithur said the Attorney-General?s Department is working on amendments to the Intestate Succession Law, 1985 (PNDCL 111) to correct some flaws in the original law.
The Department has also prepared a draft Property Rights of Spouses Bill and Intestate Succession Bill, which was approved by Cabinet in 2014 and is being considered for promulgation by Parliament.
She said the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection has sponsored an Affirmative Action Bill on which consultations are currently being held, prior to its submission to Cabinet for approval.
The Gender Minister said the Law Reform Commission has undertaken research to develop new unified harmonized marriage law for the country.
Nana Oye Lithur said laws that are furthering the provisions of the Convention in Ghana; Matrimonial Causes Act, 1971 (Act 367); Human Trafficking Act, 2005 (Act 694); Disability Act, 2006 (Act 715); Whistle Blowers Act, 2006; and the Domestic Violence Act, 2007 (Act 732).
Others are Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Amendment (Act 484); Children?s Act, 1998, (Act 560); Criminal Offences Act; the National and Regional Houses of Chiefs ? both of which are constitutional institutions ? have begun the process of fully integrating Queen-mothers into both Houses.
The National and Regional Houses of Chiefs are vested with powers and given functions under the constitution to regulate matters of customary law and practice.
Nana Oye Lithur said the inclusion of Queen mothers therefore marks a significant step in strengthening their role in national and traditional governance and as women in leadership and decision-making.
?There have also been established, ten Regional Associations of Paramount Queen-mothers in the ten administrative Regions of Ghana. Through these Associations, Queen-mothers discuss and address matters relating to the welfare of women.
?Notably, for the first time in Ghana?s history, Paramount Queen-mothers in 2010 were paid allowances as their male counterparts. The amount paid was increased from ?150.00 to ?300.00 per month,? the Gender Minister stated.
On Access to Justice, Nana Oye Lithur said the Whistle Blower Act, 2006 (Act 720) is intended as an anti-corruption device to be used by citizens to report and expose instances of corruption, fraud, exploitation and other impropriety in both the private and public sectors.
She said the Act therefore targets economic crimes, miscarriage of justice, environmental destruction, wastage in Government, among others.
In 2013, Cabinet approved an amendment to the Act affording greater protection to private citizens who report corruption to the security agencies. The measures are intended to protect whistle-blowers from retaliation and vilification by their managers.
The amendments create a reward fund for whistle-blowers as an incentive to report impropriety.
In addition to the Human Rights Court, the Judiciary has established two Gender-based and Sexual Offences Courts to expedite the adjudication of cases of violence and abuse, she said.
Nana Oye Lithur explained that the Family and Juvenile Courts, which are constituted in the District Courts, use alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods to settle cases ? primarily on maintenance of children ? to facilitate access to justice for women who often bear the brunt of non-maintenance of children.
She noted that research indicates that women feel more comfortable with the ADR adjudication process.
The Family Court also has jurisdiction to deal with criminal cases and civil protection orders under the Domestic Violence Act. Apart from these state agencies, there are some civil society organisations such as the African Women Lawyers Association (AWLA) and Human Rights Advocacy Centre (HRAC).
Others are ABANTU for Development, International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Ark Foundation, Netright, Legal Resources Centre (LRC) and the Domestic Violence Coalition. These have carried out a number of awareness creation programmes on counselling, legal representation, law reform and women and children?s rights and access to justice for women across the country.
Nana Oye Lithur said both English and local language media have been used for these programmes, all in a bid to enhance women?s access to justice.
She said the judicial processes in Ghana are cumbersome and most poor people do not have access to the formal channels for justice services. Legal services are expensive, well beyond the pocket of the ordinary Ghanaian seeking justice. Cost is therefore a major challenge for persons seeking to use the formal court processes to access justice.
?Women are affected when the need arise for them to access legal services. In view of this, legal aid services are also provided for women who cannot afford legal fees.
?The Ghana Legal Aid, HRAC, WISE, FIDA, Ark Foundation, WilDAF provide various types of legal aid services in order to facilitate women?s access to justice,? she explained.
The Gender Minister said another initiative for improving access to justice is the introduction of the Community Mediation Centres (CMC). The CMC is the initiative of the Legal Aid Scheme, which is supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
She said the CMCs provide a platform where individuals or groups in dispute could resolve the dispute with the assistance of a trained third party neutral, referred as the Mediator.
The CMC centres handle civil cases such as tenancy issues, employment disputes, family conflicts, maintenance and custody of children and such minor criminal cases that are permitted under the law such as assaults, acts tending to disturb peace, neglect of dependants and cases referred by the police, the courts and other social service providers.
The objective of the CMCs is to offer an alternative to adversarial, cumbersome and expensive means of conflict resolution to improve access to justice for all people within the community and to create awareness about mediation centres as a preferred alternative to the centres.
Nana Oye Lithur said to further strengthen the realisation of women?s rights and to better coordinate the provision of services to women, among others, the Ministry of Women and Children?s Affairs (MOWAC) was restructured in 2013 and re-designated as the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP) by Executive Instrument (E.I) 1.
The new Ministry was thus a merger of MOWAC, the Department of Social Welfare (DSW), the National Council on Persons with Disability (NCPD) and the Social Protection Division of the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare (MESW).
She said in consonance with the Ghana Shared Growth and Development Agenda (GSGDA), MoGCSP has a new and expanded mandate to ensure gender equality, promote the welfare and protection of children, and empower the vulnerable, excluded, aged and persons with disability for sustainable national development.