I am raising the topic of Ghana's Constitution as it is due for a review period in coming months. The Constitution of the Republic of Ghana was created in 1992 and maintains its stature as the supreme law of the land. As this monumental document is now being reopened, revamped and updated, interest groups around the country are tasked with the act of assembling their constituencies and clearly identifying the key issues in they would like to see reflected in the update constitution.
Various organizations are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to meet with the Constitutional Review Commission to discuss what they would like to see in the updated Constitution. Among these groups is an assembly of women and men who represent the interests of women and gender activists all over the country. These representatives are to meet with the Constitutional Review Commission today, Wednesday August 11.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to a forum on Monday August 9 where members of women's groups, assemblywomen and men, politicians, MPPs and media alike were gathered to review how the Constitution can better address national gender issues. The "Validation Forum on Gender Proposals for the Constitutional Review" was organized by NETRIGHT and the Women's Manifesto Coalition (WMC) and took place at GNAT Hall (a teacher's college in Accra).
A representative of ABANTU opened the forum by providing some background on the constitutional reform process. When the Constitution was formed in 1992, Women's groups were not as organized and thus their voices and concerns greatly omitted. When the constitutional review process was announced in February 2010, a great opportunity opened up for a much stronger and more sophisticated Ghanaian women's movement - a movement that has vastly increased its political clout over the past two and a half decades.
ABANTU and NETRIGHT met with the Review Commission soon after the announcement in February to ensure that this time around, women will play a significant role in shaping the updated Constitution. A meeting date was set and women's groups got to work.
NETRIGHT asked its member organizations to submit proposals for the changes they wish to see in the new Constitution. These recommendations were consolidated and reviewed by a committee of legal experts who synthesized the proposals into key recommendations.
ABANTU joined in the action as well, commissioning Chris Dadzie, Chief Legal Officer for the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, to produce a report on proposed amendments to the constitution that will better reflect the needs of women.
Mrs. Dadzie's presentation on proposed changes was thorough and meticulous. Each article, sub-article and (in some cases) sub-sub-sub article, was examined with a fine-toothed gender equity comb (available for purchase at your local Feminist Book Store... comes with a free bumper sticker).
To ensure the Constitutional Review process was not solely left in the hands of select panel of experts (a major challenge in any political movement), the room of about 120 forum attendees representing all regions of Ghana were given their very own fine-tooth combs to further probe Mrs. Dadzie and NETRIGHT's proposed amendments. The room was divided into four groups each of which was given a set of Articles to review. The groups were to record whether they agreed with the proposed changes to the original Constitutional text and whether any further modifications were required.
If this sounds like an incredibly exhausting task to you... then you are right. Challenging though it may be, it was necessary if NETRIGHT, ABANTU, the WMC and other women's groups are to confidently communicate on behalf of women across the country - a slightly more onerous task, n'est pas?
I was fortunate enough to be the secretary for group 3 - recording the comments of a group of 25 - 30 people none of whom were at a loss for words. It was a wee bit challenging to synthesize all the opinions into a few bullet points, particularly when discussions got especially heated and folks would converse in Twi. Every now and again the group facilitator would look over her at me and voice a casual "you understand?"
Here are some of the highlights and key amendments that will be proposed to the Constitutional Review Commission:
- The addition of a bill of rights for women that details the forms of discrimination against women in Ghana. Currently nondiscrimination clauses in the Constitution focus only on maternity rights. The proposed revision would employ a more holistic, all encompassing definition of discrimination against women.
- Legislating special measures to accelerate women's success and progress in Ghana. What this means is pushing the government to move from a stance of simply stating that women and men are equal to a position of proactive enforcement. A good example of this would be the implementation of affirmative action - insisting that a certain portion of parliamentary and municipal leaders are women.
- Recognizing and addressing the plight of women in rural areas where poverty and ill health are much higher. Many of these women are central to the survival of their communities but their work lies in the informal sector. In other words, their contributions are non-monetized and thus largely overlooked.
Other reforms proposed a number ways to address the gender gap in education, employment and public life.
All in all, it was quite an experience to witness and even participate in such a vital part of the democratic process. Ghana's women activists have every reason to be optimistic about the impact the reviewed Constitution will have on the nation. Other African countries who have recently revisited their constitutions have reported positive progress in the ways of gender equity and women's rights (Kenya is a most recent example).
I certainly hope that all the marginalized groups in Ghana are afforded the same opportunity as ABANTU and NETRIGHT to contribute to the rewriting of Ghana's Constitution. Yay for the wheels of progress!