Election Day Participation Demonstrates Women’s Strong Support for Consolidation of Democracy in Ghana
Accra, Ghana – On December 7, 2016, Ghanaian citizens went to the polls to vote for their president and members of parliament in the country’s seventh general election since the restoration of democracy in 1992.
A delegation of accredited International Republican Institute (IRI) staff observed the participation of women on Election Day in partnership with Women in Law and Development in Africa-Ghana (WiLDAF-Ghana), as part of its Gender Assessment of Ghana’s 2016 electoral process. IRI’s teams deployed to seven of Ghana’s 10 regions: Greater Accra, Ashanti, Central, Eastern, Northern, Western and Volta regions.
“The enthusiasm and level of participation by Ghanaian women in Wednesday’s Election Day activities demonstrated their commitment to the consolidation of democracy for their country,” said Elizabeth Lewis, IRI’s Deputy Regional Director for Africa. “While the official results have yet to be announced, we would like to underscore the commitment of the Ghanaian women who participated in Wednesday’s elections as candidates, voters, election officials, observers and security agents, in supporting the democratic process.”
Although Election Day is over, the process is not yet complete, as tabulation continues and final results have yet to be announced by the Electoral Commission.
The delegation observed that women were eager to participate in the elections, standing in long lines before polling stations opened, selling their wares at polling stations to enable them to vote without restricting their daily income, encouraging other women to vote, and staying late into the evening to witness vote counting.
The delegation was also impressed by the turnout of elderly women and women with young children, and notes the efforts of the Electoral Commission to facilitate easy access to polling stations and to accommodate their needs in the voting process. Women voters interviewed by the delegates said that they voted because they believed it to be a right and a responsibility of citizens, and would help to deliver a better future for their children.
Election Day was largely peaceful and well-organized, and polling stations opened at or just after 7 am with well-trained polling officials and materials delivered and set-up in a timely manner. However, frustration was noticeable as a result of the time waiting in long lines to vote. Security agents at polling stations contributed positively to the queuing process by maintaining order throughout the day. In the future, IRI recommends that the Electoral Commission give additional consideration to methods for reducing voting queues in order to improve efficiency and reduce tension.
The delegation noted the eagerness of Ghanaian women to participate in the election as voters, with women comprising 51 percent of registered voters. Data collected from polling stations visited by IRI shows women voters outnumbering men throughout the day.
IRI also observed women playing a positive role in the administration of the election at the polling station level, with women making up 47 percent of the election officials at the polling stations visited by delegates. IRI commends the Electoral Commission for its proactive recruitment and training of women to serve in these roles. However, IRI notes that polling station Presiding Officers were overwhelmingly men, and recommends that efforts are made to improve gender inclusion in future.
IRI commends election officials and voters for giving priority in the queues to pregnant women and women with small children, the elderly and persons with disabilities at many polling stations. Priority access enabled women with these special circumstances to vote who would otherwise likely be deterred by the long voting queues. IRI also noted the organization of separate queues for women and men in some communities to accommodate religious and cultural norms. Such considerations should be formalized in future election guidelines.
IRI observed that women’s candidature remained low in 2016, with only one of the seven presidential and vice-presidential candidates a woman, and 136 of 1,158 (12 percent) women candidates for parliament contesting in 106 of the 275 constituencies. Notably, the number of women candidates in the 2012 election was 133 and the level of women’s representation in the most recent parliament was 10.9 percent.
Despite efforts on the part of political parties to motivate and facilitate women to compete in elections—including expanding electoral colleges to enable more women to vote in party primaries and reducing or waiving the filing fees for women candidates— these measures were not sufficient to overcome persistent structural and financial barriers to running for elected office. Such challenges were further complicated by the disparagement of women candidates and sitting politicians by the media in the lead-up to Election Day, reflecting attitudes inconsistent with the goal of increasing women’s inclusion in Ghana’s political life.
At the polling stations visited by IRI, 54 percent of domestic observers were women, demonstrating their commitment to ensuring a free, fair and credible electoral process. Organizers of the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO) reported to IRI that women comprised 33 percent of their observer team. IRI congratulates CODEO, the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) and Women’s Situation Room for ensuring gender inclusion in their observation missions.
Conversely, IRI observed that only 18 percent of party agents were women at the polling stations it visited. IRI commends political parties for the effective preparation of their agents and notes their role in both the pre-election period and on Election Day in delivering a transparent, well-administered process. In future, IRI recommends that political parties strive to ensure women are well-represented as party agents in future elections to demonstrate a commitment to the inclusion of women in party activities.
This Election Day Gender Assessment is the second part of IRI’s Gender Assessment of the 2016 Ghanaian electoral process. During the week of November 7, IRI 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; district assembly, religious and traditional leaders; and development organizations. The Gender Assessment follows a pre-election assessment mission, which was conducted jointly with the National Democratic Institute from August 8 to 12, 2016.
IRI’s Election Day Gender Assessment followed the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observers, and was conducted with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy.