International Women’s Day is March 8th. It is a day named by the United Nations. All over the world, organizations, governments, corporations and universities celebrate women with a variety of programs. Each year has a theme.
This year’s theme is ‘Press for Progress’. The 2017 World Economic Forum Report declared it would take another 200 years to reach gender parity. This year’s theme is about active acceleration towards that goal.
For Ghana, this offers a crucial moment to explore what that theme means for women for this government, this Presidency, our history, our businesses, our society and this country. When we think of pressing for progress, we are offered an opportunity to frame our future. March is a month that Ghana celebrates her independence in addition to this celebration that is International Women’s Day. They are just two days apart; March 6th and March 8th.
That offers us a moment to press for progress and frame our future within the ideals, struggles and sacrifice of an independence goal for this Nation relating to specifically to girls and women.
I listened to Ghana’s first president’s Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah’s inauguration speech. In thanking a nation for their struggle, sacrifice, blood-shed, tears wept, lives lost in pursuit of Independence, Nkrumah honored the youth and women. In that moment he recognized that a nation’s liberation was achieved because it was bankrolled by business women who had wealth, a commitment to a nation’s self-determination and a willingness to fight to win.
Can Ghana say she does the same for women today? Can Ghana say with pride and honesty that from girls in classrooms to women entrepreneurs, this nation honors the promise articulated by its first president?
It is a complicated question.
Comparison is both instructive and unhelpful. The party politicization of nation building means lesson learning from our history is too often framed in party colours. Drawing images of what if and what might have been with a different history serves only to wonder down lanes of reimagining and failing to plant feet firmly in the present and instead allow the past to be a history lesson of what works and what doesn’t.
Nation building is the hardest work.
The history of International Women’s Day reveals that it was rooted in fights and protests; for labour, legislation; for protesting injustice and war and fighting for freedom, equity and recognition.
The first International Women’s Day was 1909 in the United States. It was celebrated on 28th February. The Socialist Party of America designated this day in honour of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions. In the following years from 1910 to 1917, the day was expanded across European nations and the month it was honoured changed from February to March. It was still a day of action. The history of this day has been engaged to fight against war, to strike in protest against hunger and to battle for women to better determine their own futures. It was in 1975 when the United Nations began celebrating and honoring this day. In 1995, The Beijing Declaration created ‘Platform for Action’, a historic roadmap signed by 189 governments focusing on 12 critical areas of concern regarding girls and women. They included: every woman and girl should be able to exercise her choices, such as participating in politics, getting an education, having an income, and living in societies free from violence and discrimination. 2014 would see the emergence of the Millennium Development Goals that would focus resources on women’s empowerment and equality. .
The earlier history of this day excluded women of colour and African women. Their inclusion has been more recent as histories and nations have shifted due to movements fighting for their inclusion and recognition as citizens and nations.
History reveals this day and month as a space of focused, targeted activity. When we tie the 1995 Beijing Declaration’s Platform for Action to this 2018 press for progress, we can explore what action must look like in pursuit of implemented ideals regarding women in Ghana.
In some ways, this government fluently speaks the language of gender and the empowerment of women and progress. That language is not matched by action. The disconnect between the two is where our focus is required. Can we press for progress to pass the Affirmative Action Bill? Can we press for progress to support the Coalition Against Sexual Abuse (CASA) #TimesUpGH campaign: ‘Stop Sex Abuse in Schools!’
There are other dots to connect. This government’s theme and the Independence Day message continue to be Ghana Beyond Aid. Let’s link how we press for progress toward a Ghana beyond aid with what aid looks like for girls and women in Ghana?
When the government talks of AID, it is referencing a dependence that cripples a nation’s progress. When it comes to women, this word ‘AID’ requires closer scrutiny.
Women are often left without aid, without support, without the necessary economic heft to truly flourish – and still they build. In truth Ghanaian women and girls have known a world without aid in a damaging way for too many years by too many of Ghana’s governments.
There is little aid for victims of sexual assault and violence; there is little aid for women entrepreneurs when it comes to access to finance. The failure to pass legislation first introduced 20 years ago that would offer women equality, means when it comes to a legislative instrument that supports women, they are without aid.
Connecting these dots of ‘Press for Progress’ on ‘International Women’s Day’; ‘Independence Day’ and a ‘Ghana Beyond Aid’ matters, If this work of nation building is to move beyond soaring rhetoric and moving speeches.
What we bizarrely – and inaccurately – call ‘women’s issues’ are in fact a nation’s issues. For the girls and women of Ghana, pressing for progress means a Ghana coming to the aid of girls, practically engaging, understanding and supporting the challenges and realities women face. It means line items on the Minister of Finance’s budget.
There are multiple intersections here.
Connecting these dots enables us to frame our future, not simply allow it to drift unchartered and undirected. Recognize strong nations are built by a strong people, not by a person or a president – but by a people. Those people are women and men. They are girls and boys.
Let’s define this International Women’s Day within the world of education and acknowledge that to press for progress means creating classrooms free of sexually abusive teachers. Let us frame our future and press for a progress in which women’s self-determination and equality is recognized as an asset to nation building, and not a threat to masculinity. Can we press for progress by recognizing that no speech – no matter how inspirational the tone – is enough to create a progressive mind-set in a nation where attitudes to women and their bodies are impediments to progress, but are still problematically described as ‘our culture’?
To press for progress means to build a Ghana where women and girls get the kind of aid that serves a nation building vision. It means that when we frame our future, we finance it and we fight to make it real. We recognize that healthy, strong, violence-free girls and women working within spaces of equality can better contribute their brilliance to developing this homeland, Ghana.
Let’s leap beyond slogans and speeches; but move powerfully into action and achievement.
Let’s frame our future as we press for progress for girls and women in Ghana.
It is our time!
Coalition Against Sexual Abuse (CASA) campaign STOP SEX ABUSE in SCHOOLS! is in partnership with ‘Let’s Talk Consent, ‘OdodowGH’ and EAA Media Productions. CASA seeks to engage additional organizations for partnership and participation. The hash tags across social media for this campaign are:- #SilenceBreakersGH and #TimesUpGH. For more info contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Coalition Against Sexual Abuse (CASA) is an action and advocacy group of concerned citizens of Ghana committed to ending sexual abuse, sexual violence and sexual harassment in the country. CASA’s focus is impactful campaigns, citizen engagement, media and policy in this work. CASA works to educate Ghanaians about sexual abuse; to advocate for victims; to push for sensible legislation and enforcement against perpetrators; to engage the media in reform, language and their power regarding sexual abuse. CASA collaborates with other groups and individuals committed to ending sexual abuse.
Nana Awere Damoah
Nana Akwasi Awuah
Nana Yaa Ofori Atta
Ama Opoku Agyeman
Amazing Grace Danso
Prof. Eric Wilson
Nana Ama Adom-Boakye
Abla Dzifa Gomashie
The Ark Foundation
SCORP-FGMSA (Standing Committee On Human Rights and Peace – Federation of Ghana Medical Students) PepperDem Ministries