Election Day in Ghana: She Votes

  • Elizabeth Lewis, Robina Namusisi

On December 7, Ghanaians will vote in their seventh general elections since the return of democratic rule in 1992.

These highly anticipated and closely watched elections will cap off an interesting year for electoral contests in Africa; highlighted most recently by the Gambia’s December 1 presidential vote, which saw opposition coalition candidate Adama Barrow defeat 22-year incumbent and authoritarian President Yahya Jammeh who unexpectedly conceded the election.

On Wednesday, voters will elect a president and 275 members of parliament. The presidential contest includes seven candidates and is led by incumbent president John Mahama of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party’s (NPP) Nana Akufo-Addo. The race has already garnered a lot of attention from both Ghanaians and the international community who are keen to see the country maintain its stature as a model for peaceful democratic elections in Africa. Just as significant but perhaps less known are the 137 women contesting in tomorrow’s elections. Most notably is former first lady Nana Konadu Agyemang Rwalings, who is running on the National Democratic Party ticket. The remaining 136 women are standing for parliamentary seats. At first glance this figure may look impressive, but it pales in comparison to the total number of parliamentary candidates at 1,144. Twelve percent representation as parliamentary candidates is just a bit higher than the 10.9 percent of seats held by women in Ghana’s current parliament, meaning that women’s representation will remain status quo at best and one of the lowest in the region.

Without a doubt, Ghana has a long way to go to reach gender parity in national elected offices. Beginning in August 2016, IRI set out to explore in-depth women’s political participation in Ghana through the lens of the current electoral cycle running from 2012 through to Election Day tomorrow. The goal is to identify barriers and challenges, make recommendations and raise awareness regarding the participation of Ghanaian women in elections and other political processes. In IRI’s joint pre-election assessment mission to Ghana conducted in partnership with the National Democratic Institute (which had the broader scope of assessing various aspects of preparations for Ghana’s presidential and parliamentary elections), we identified the marginalization of important segments of the population, namely women, as a top challenge facing the elections. The delegation’s findings specifically cited the threats made against and harassment of women candidates and women in positions of political leadership.

From there, we commenced a two-phase gender assessment mission to explore issues of women’s engagement in the electoral and political processes as voters, candidates, party executives and members, election officials, etc. During the week of November 7, we fielded a distinguished delegation of women leaders and activists from the region with wide-ranging expertise in gender and elections to conduct high-level stakeholder consultations with representatives of the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection; women presidential and parliamentary candidates; political party leaders; civil society organizations; media representatives; religious and traditional leaders; and development organizations.

Phase two of the gender assessment is occurring this week. Earlier today, we had the pleasure to visit the Women’s Situation Room in Accra. Piloted in Liberia in 2011 as a women-led initiative to partner with youth to monitor and respond to electoral violence or conflict, the Women’s Situation Room is considered a best-practice in the region and featured in recent elections in Nigeria, Uganda and currently in Ghana. The Situation Room features a call center where ordinary citizens and monitors can call to report issues as they arise and action can be taken to respond through networks of youth, eminent women leaders from the region, and other actors such as the police and Electoral Commission. We were impressed by the buzz in the Women’s Situation Room today and look forward to following them tomorrow and in the days that follow the elections. You can too on Twitter by following @WSRGHANA or #PeaceInOurHands.

We are in Ghana with four of our IRI colleagues who have been deployed around the country, namely to observe women’s participation on Election Day, a coordinated effort named She Votes. In partnership with Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF-Ghana), we will observe voting in seven of Ghana’s ten regions. Like all of the international delegations in Ghana for Election Day, we are excited to see how women engage tomorrow in the process as voters, candidates, security personnel, election officials, party agents and domestic and international observers – particularly given that women constitute the majority of registered voters in this election.

To follow along with us tomorrow and in the days after the elections, check out @IRIglobal and #GhanaDecides on Twitter, updates here on Democracy Speaks and on our Facebook and Instagram pages.

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