Gender equality is an irreducible condition for inclusive, democratic, and sustainable development. This has been recognised at both an international level by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and UNSCR 1325 and within the national policy frameworks in Ghana.

Role of Women in Ghana

To a large extent, many women are limited to roles of childbearing, subsistence agriculture and household management. These include the provision of water, fuel and food for the family. They care for children and vulnerable adults. Women and girls are weighed down by these responsibilities making it difficult for them to compete with men in a political or economic arena. Women hardly have a free hand to generate income without the permission of their spouses. The girl child is still discriminated against when a choice has to be made between the two genders for education. Women have limited say in household decision‐making and no legal recourse to assets such as land during crises and widowhood. These limitations often relate to other vulnerabilities such as domestic violence, lack of reproductive rights and exposure to HIV and AIDS. Centuries of tradition have created societal norms that regard women as subordinate, domestic service providers and child bearers. This has made most women less assertive, easily discriminated against and marginalized in public life.

In northern Ghana, the situation of women is especially restrictive of their involvement in decision making. Their property rights are limited by social norms, customs and, at times, legislation, hampering their ability to improve their economic status and seize opportunities to overcome poverty.

Level of Participation in Decision Making

Although there is a global upward trend for women to be elected to political decision making positions, the situation in Ghana fluctuates between 7% and 15% of women elected officials at both local and national levels. In 2010, of a total of 169 Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives, only 13 were women, representing 8% of the total. Under these circumstances, the voices of women in decision making in Ghana remain low, because they are minimally represented in government at the local and national levels.

The figures are even more abysmal in the three northern regions of Ghana, where, for example, in 2008 only 20 of more than 200 parliamentary candidates were women, only three of whom were elected to parliament. Currently only two women from northern Ghana are in parliament because of the death of one (the seat was subsequently lost to a man during by‐elections). Out of a total of 38 Chief Executives, only three (8%) are women in northern Ghana.

Barriers to Women’s Involvement in Decision Making

A baseline study of women’s participation in politics in the north of Ghana explored some of the issues faced by potential women politicians. At the national and district levels there are capable women who could occupy positions but the system does not encourage or support them to present themselves for leadership service. In addition, the nature and meaning of politics does not seem to resonate well with women and tends to discourage them from pursuing politics as a career.

There is a lack of acceptance among Assembly members and administrators of mainstreaming gender in their work; in many District assemblies, members don’t see the need or don’t understand how to improve conditions for women by assessing the differential impacts of programmes and policies on men and women. Even where there is awareness and acceptance of gender differences and needs, stereotypes limit what women can and cannot do in politics. These and among the factors that also limit the ability of women’s groups and individual women to engage government institutions, particularly District Assemblies, and call them to account on their responsibilities towards the needs of women and families.