Women constitute only 19 per cent of the membership of Parliament in most countries, Mrs Joyce Bamford Addo, Speaker of Parliament, has said. The threshold of 30 per cent advocated by the United Nations as a prelude to 50 per cent attainment to accelerate human development, therefore, continues to be an illusion for advocates of gender mainstreaming.
Mrs Bamford-Addo made the observation when she addressed the opening session of the Conference of Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP), West Africa Sub-Region, in Accra.
It is on the theme: “Increasing Women's Participation in Politics in Common Wealth West Africa-The Role of Political Parties.”
The CWP, Africa Region, was established by the Women Delegates at the 1989 Conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentarians Association, to promote an increase in the participation of women in politics and work towards gender mainstreaming in all programmes or activities of member countries.
The conference is to underscore the significant roles political parties could play in complementing the efforts of the Association.
It is being attended by members from Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, and the Gambia.
She emphasised that affirmative action measures, such as the quota system, were still critical steps for rectifying imbalances in women's representation in politics.
Mrs Bamford-Addo explained that the quota system had the potential to motivate political parties to engage women since it had led to an increase in women's participation in politics in Uganda, Rwanda and South Africa.
However, she said, some argue that the quota system was undemocratic because women who benefited from quotas were not elected and, therefore, unrepresentative.
“I want to assure them that the world as well as individual nations and political parties stand to benefit a lot from the quota system due to the versatility of women,” she added.
Mrs Bamford-Addo, however, noted that political parties and governments had the tendency of manipulating and patronising women in the name of Affirmative Action to mobilise support for them to remain in power.
She challenged the CWP to open a facebook account to reach out to the world, particularly, women and operate mobile short codes for individuals to contribute towards women's cause, to provide both human and financial resources towards enabling women to pursue their political agenda in financing electoral campaigns and other political initiatives.
The Speaker called on political parties to adopt gender budgeting strategies to support women and institute measures to ensure that such funds were properly accounted for to avoid misapplication.
She urged women politicians to use the media constructively to build positive image for women, and positively impact on the younger generation, particularly. young women to join their trail as politicians.
Hajia Mary Sakifu Boforo, Chairperson of Women Caucus of Ghana's Parliament, said globally women remained sidelined from the structures of governance that determined political and legislative priorities.
She said the global percentage of Women in Parliament had increased to 19 per cent from 16 per cent in 2005, while that of Women Ministers of State was still lower, averaging 16 per cent.
She said with only 16 per cent of women Parliamentarians, Commonwealth West Africa was rated among the lowest on the African continent, considering the 30 per cent international standard.
Hajia Boforo noted that when women's participation reaches parity, the traditional men-centred politics characterised by authority; domination; and sometimes violence, would yield to politics that was characterised by love, caring, cooperation, sacrifice and honesty.
Ms Samia Nkrumah, Chairperson of Convention Peoples' Party, (CPP) said the party had endorsed the African Union's Declaration of 2010-2020 as the African Women's Decade and would support all measures to end the marginalisation of women in society.
She said the party fully supports the Affirmative Action Bill before Parliament and the introduction of quota systems that would lead to greater democratisation of societies.
Ms Nkrumah called on African Governments to take steps to ensure the attainment of the Millennium Development Goal Three, for the promotion of gender equality not only through legislation but through the institution of programmes that would increase girls' education and make women less vulnerable to social and economic pressure.
Mr Johnson Asiedu Nketsiah, General Secretary of National Democratic Congress, (NDC) said that a lot had been said about the affirmative action quota system but what needed to be done was to address the challenges as a nation.
He noted that the legal architecture did not support the quota system and asked if a decision to choose a candidate was at the grassroots level, how would the quota system be applied?
Mr Asiedu-Nketsiah called for a review of the post electoral system to favour women who he said were their own enemies and suggested the need to form a political party for only women but pointed out that the NDC was the only political party that had fielded a woman Presidential Candidate.
Additionally, he said, the NDC had constituted the largest representative of women on National Executive Committee (NEC).
Mr Jake Otanka Obetsebi-Lamptey, National Chairman of New Patriotic Party, (NPP) said cultural difficulties were a setback in mobilising women to participate in politics, adding that, the NPP had 20 per cent of women politicians at the grassroots level, therefore, if the number was increased it would be 40 per cent.