Nana Oye Lithur, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection designate
The bane of global development is that in spite of rapid civilization, human well-being is in persistent lag. The cause includes the huge disparity between economic growth and Social development.
According to the World Bank, an emphasis on social development increases the access and capabilities of more individuals to improve their well-being. It builds the capacity of groups to exercise their agency and decision making power and to transform their relations and participation in the development process. Social development builds society to reconcile the interest of its constituents in a manner that yields optimum welfare and balanced development for all.
The relations between women and men impinge on the dynamics of social development in a very significant manner. These gender relations, in many ways, determine the extent to which women, men and children harness and benefit from national resources and how the vulnerable and excluded are protected from the harsh social and economic realities of this global village of inequities.
Many may have been worried when the President announced the creation of a new ministry, presumably to replace the known Ministry for Women and Children’s Affairs (MOWAC). It is obvious that changing the names of Ministries does not necessarily imply an improvement in the delivery of their mandate.
We have had the Ministry of Manpower Youth and Employment (MMYE) changed to Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare (MESW), Ministry of Information (MOI) becoming Ministry of Information and National Orientation and back again to MOI, and so on.
However, a change in name indicates a shift in thinking regarding government policy and programming. With a change in name is an expected modification of the concept, mandate, focus and performance of the new ministry. This is why the new name for MOWAC generates interest for development programming.
First, moving away from a focus on “Women” to “Gender” would result from an understanding of the sound theoretical underpinnings that have occasioned a paradigm shift in the policy and practice of countries whose social development frameworks have narrowed the gap between women and men in the wielding of resources and the determination of their rights, roles and responsibilities in national culture and development.
The creation of MOWAC occasioned a persistent misconception in the minds of many that it was only for women and children; that women, as opposed to men, had so many problems that a whole ministry needed to be created for them. It was similar to the perception created by the defunct Women and Juvenile Unit (WAJU) of the Police Service.
In that case, we were quick to realize that the fundamental issues were cross-cutting domestic violence rather than an exclusive victimization of women. When WAJU was changed to DOVVSU (Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit), among other changes that occurred, both women and men begun working together with the police against domestic violence, with more men feeling a part of the solution for domestic violence.
In a similar fashion, changing from “women” to “gender” initiates a critical orientation in the minds of both women and men that, the fundamental issues affecting the wellbeing of women and hindering the optimization of their rights and roles in national development are also very much the concerns of men. But MOWAC was a good starting point. It was the ice-breaker that translated a long advocacy for improving the welfare of (Ghanaian/African) women into practical policy, programming and action.
“Gender” is not merely about women. It is about the discrepancies in access to voice, opportunity and control over resources occasioned by socially constructed perceptions of the roles of men and women in a given culture as a result of multiple factors including arbitrary traditions and institutional misconceptions.
Thus, a gender approach to dealing with the inequities in the power relations between women and men in the context of governance and national development, will call for a posture that provides a holistic view of how to effectively promote the participation of women in development. Taking cognizance of the disadvantages suffered by women as a result of a male-dominated access and control of resources is a critical but preliminary step in confronting the compact mix of issues that have sought to entrench vulnerabilities upon our women.
A gender approach brings to the fore, the fact that empowering women is not a favour made to a particular sex out of the magnanimity of the other sex but rather a tactical move to establish sustainable development for all. It will challenge men to realize the selfishness and short-sightedness of seeking to dominate access and control of resources.
A well programmed implementation of a good gender policy will expose the inordinate attitudes in both men and women that derail our development. For example, why should anyone think herself/himself to be more intelligent than the other person so as to consider himself/herself more deserving of power? Why should the one who does more work at home, on the farm, in the market and on the street be the one who has less access and control of relevant resources? Why do people use their “privileged” position to unduly subdue others?
It is not men doing this to women only; men do it to other men, women do it to men and other women, adults do it to children and children do it to adults and other children. The underlying factors of the unethical relations among women, men and children are beyond mere sex-related differences. They are located, partly, in the lack of knowledge and misunderstanding of the rights, roles and responsibilities we all have towards the development of our society. The lack of knowledge and misunderstanding are of long origins as to have been cast as acceptable norms.
In the name of religion men have sought dominance over women, adults have sought dominance over children and religious “leaders” have manipulated “followers”. In the name of governance politicians have accessed and wielded power to enrich themselves at the expense of the people. In the name of business, corporations and companies have ripped off their customers. In the name of tradition and culture, traditional leaders subdue their subjects.
These examples make it clear that vulnerabilities are not merely occasioned by sexual differences but, more importantly, by the largely inordinate allocation of resources to the various role-players in social development. The Mahama Administration and this new ministry responsible for gender should keep this in mind.
Second: it should be understood from the forgone that a proper understanding of gender will immediately gel with the need to rapidly improve the resources we commit to the development of our children. It is true that in many of our indigenous cultures, an almost immediate dichotomy is created between girls and boys from birth, often to the disadvantage of girls. However, this differentiation becomes disadvantageous because it moves beyond biologically related factors to social constructs based on ignorance.
The culture of ignorance is the mother of all debilitating cultures. To improve the wellbeing of our children the chunk of the resources should be directed towards the provision assimilation and application of relevant knowledge to children, families and communities. Many issues affect the welfare of children: child labour, child abuse, child protection and participation and more. These must be connected in a coherent programming framework that will strengthen the effectiveness and coordination of interventions.
Third: Social Protection is a critical aspect of social development. But social development goes beyond social protection. Therefore, the new ministry should avoid the pressure of limiting social development ot social protection. The creation and sustaining of sofety net for the vulnerable and improvement in access to voice to enhance social inclusion for the marginalised will only thrive in a holistic regime of well a well-constructed social development policy.
The combination of the three huge blocks of Gender, Children and Social Protection into one composite is an indication that framers of the idea recognize the high synergy that can be harnessed from such a triploid.