A History of Women in Politics in Ghana 1957-1992
A History of Women in Politics in Ghana 1957-1992
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This work examines the history of Ghanaian women's involvement in the politics of the country prior to the launch of the Fourth Republic in January, 1993.

The political history of Ghana prior to 1993 showcases experience with various political systems. Ghana, for example, had the experience of life under Prime Ministers, Presidents and Military Heads of State. Within all these experimental and sometimes even purely adventurous environments, women played various roles. The roles, however, differed from one regime to another.

This work has tried to briefly tell the political history of Ghana but highlighted the role of women in the life of this young West African country..


Women have played an important role in the politics of Ghana since independence. This has been in spite of the general perception of women as subordinate role players in the Ghanaian society. This perception has even not been as formidable as the patrilineal and matrilineal systems of inheritance and a patriarchal society attendant upon them. Another aspect of the Ghanaian society that has not helped women is the assignment of domestic chores. Domestic chores have largely been the customarily assigned responsibility of women thus contributing to cut them out effectively from the exercise of political functions which are usually exercised outside the domestic environment. As far as the traditional assignment of domestic chores is concerned, women are more burdened than men. The naturally assigned biological functions of baby making and child -nurturing have also jointly been one of the barriers to women and their desire to participate in politics. Again, one can also talk about the expectations of traditional societies in terms of the general roles for women. Women are constantly faced with the traditionally expected functions of being a daughter, a mother, a wife, a sister and a contributor to household income all at one and the same time. In most cases, they have no options. Where they have, they are limited in choice. This is because the seeming availability of choice only presents women with the choice of being considered conformists or deviants.

The perception of women as the unequals of men has been a realistic part of the socio-political philosophy of the generality of Ghanaians thus even making it difficult for people, especially males, to accept a woman as a leader. The various women who carved political roles for themselves within 1957 and 1992 did so against the backdrop of the existence of this socio-political philosophy. Ghana gained independence from Britain in 1957 but did not experience sustained stability and democracy until after 1992.

With independence attained, President Nkrumah successfully pushed for the passing of an affirmative action -type legislation to purposefully make ten women members of the new parliament of the Republic.(Ghana Parliamentary Debates Official Report, 1960) This, though criticized, afforded the House the opportunity of benefiting from the ideas, suggestions and contributions of the fairer sex. The Nkrumah experiment was enhanced and the number of women was increased to eighteen in 1965 when Ghana became a one-party state.

After Nkrumah's fall in 1966, the nearest women came to participating in the government of the National Liberation Council that succeeded Nkrumah was the inclusion of Akua Asabea Ayisi, Ayishetu Ibrahim and Ruby Quartey-Papafio as members of the National Advisory Committee of the National Liberation Council. This was a body to advise the military leaders. (Ghana Gazette, 1967)

The second Republican government under Prime Minister Dr. Kofi Busia (1969-72) was also one of the worst governments for women as far as access, representation and participation in government and politics was concerned. Catherine Katuni Tedam and Lydia Akanbodiipo-Kugblenu were the only Members of Parliament. (Danquah, 1969) They, however, made a lot of useful contributions to the deliberations of the House.

Perhaps the worst military regime for women in terms of recognition and appointment to political positions was the National Redemption Council (1972-79). This regime did not appoint any woman into top national position. Ironically, this was a regime that received a lot of support from Ghanaian women. Its offshoot, the Supreme Military Council, however, appointed Gloria Nikoi to head the Foreign Affairs Ministry. (Daily Graphic, 1979)

The Armed Forces Revolutionary Council succeeded the SMC for a brief period of three months. It did not assign itself a political role per se.

The third republic saw the re-birth of parliamentary democracy in Ghana. The elections that were organized in 1979 saw five gallant women entering parliament. They did contribute to discussions on a variety of national issues thereby justifying their presence in the House.

The Provisional National Defence Council, the last military government in Ghana (and hopefully the last in the history of Ghana), saw the rebirth of vigorous women's participation in politics. Ama Aidoo, Joyce Aryee, Aanaa Enin, Efua Sutherland Addy, Gertrude Zakaria, Mary Grant and Vida Yeboah were some of the women whose influence and contribution helped the sustenance of the Council. (Nketiah, 2005)

It is worthy of mention that there has never been any legislation in Ghana (especially in the post -colonial era) debarring women from taking part in politics.

In all the instances of constitutional rule, for example, sexual equality in terms of the enjoyment of rights including the right to participate in politics had all been guaranteed. In military regimes, too, there was no dichotomy between the rights enjoyed by men on the one hand and the rights enjoyed by women on the other. In dealing with realistic and practical situations, however, constitutional guarantees of equality before the law, equality in respect of political participation and in the enjoyment of rights do not count for much. This is especially true when these guarantees have little or no effect on traditional and customary law.

With the notable exception of the regimes of Kwame Nkrumah and Jerry John Rawlings virtually no governmental efforts were made in the 1957-1992 period to place women in the mainstream of national political activity. One can, to a considerable degree, therefore, say that both traditional systems and contemporary political systems of the post-colonial era have not acted to encourage women to take part in active politics albeit covertly.

The activities of non-governmental and other feminist-oriented organisations especially in the post -1975 period played a role in the re-awakening of both government and women themselves as far as political participation was concerned. This is one of the interpretations that can be given to the upsurge of women in politics in the 1981 -1992 period.

Another aspect of the question of women's involvement in politics in Ghana in the 1957-1992 period which accounts for differences in the treatment of women is the peculiar nature of the regime or government. It can be said that the treatment of women under the various regimes depended on the degree of elitism in the government. In the military governments of the National Liberation Council, National Redemption Council and Supreme Military Council which were very elitist, women were to a very large extent not made an integral part of government and this affected their political standing. This is because under those regimes the only way one could play a part in politics was to be a part, directly or indirectly, of the government. This is in view of the fact that political opposition was not guaranteed under those regimes. In fact, political opposition was proscribed. Viewed from another perspective, one can say that it was only those in government who could take part in politics. The second and third republican regimes also had semblances of elitism. The intellectual elite were predominant in the former whilst the old political elite dominated the latter. What perhaps provided some respite for women was the presence in those regimes of parliaments that afforded all citizens, including women, the opportunity to occupy seats and partake in deliberations. This saw some women taking up those opportunities. The difference between all the governments mentioned above on one hand and the governments of Nkrumah an

Eric Sakyi Nketiah is a Historian, Researcher and Lecturer at the Faculty of Social Science Education at the University of Education, Winneba in Ghana. He is a member of the Historical Society of Ghana (HSG), the Royal Historical Society (RHS) of the United Kingdom and the American Historical Association (AHA). He is engaged in teaching and research in a number of fields in Ghanaian, African and International history.


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