BY KATHRYN DAVIS
Women and girls in Ghana have been victims of sexual assaults and other gender-based violence at some of the highest rates in the world, and Ghanaian officials say they have made little progress in stopping the violence.
“We still experience high rates of gender-based violence in many societies globally, Ghana included, violence within families, culture and it defies all of our efforts,” Martha Ama Akaya, Ghana’s UN ambassador, said in March.
But Amb. Akaya said the country hasn’t given up and has instituted innovative strategies for prevention and response. In addition, the country is sponsoring research that can help local governmental bodies and NGOs to understand the persistent problem of violence against women and girls
Key stakeholders both from the government, non-governmental organizations, and also women of Ghana attending an event on March 21, to discuss these issue as part of the 60th Commission on the Status of Women, held in New York.
Many were disappointed in the lack of progress. Anti-violence activist Hillary Gbedemah, said policy was not turning into action. “Some policies have passed, but yet still we have a problem… it’s unequal power between men and women. Do we need to address this differently? Outside of legislation?” Gbedemah is an official with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence Against Women.
As Amb. Akyaa noted many countries have problems of recurring violence against women and girls. The question is can this be solved by a top-heavy approach such as legislation cannot solve everything and that the conversation of legislation changes? Or must legislative reforms be coupled with culturally appropriate local programs?
Ghana decided to take a different approach to high-level policy changes and commissioned research on women in vulnerable populations. These include women working in markets and as prostitutes. In a household survey of 5,000 people, the research found a need for centers for survivors of gender-based violence at the local markets. Currently there are three operating within Ghana, and they have seen massive success in providing free health and legal services.
Nana Oye Lithur, minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, discussed the lack of previous research and evidence on gender-based violence in Ghana until now and how that has hindered their action previously. “It was not a public issue until 1990s, it was then until 1996 when it was truly documented nationally in Ghana. It is now that we have a gender-based violence dedicated unit, with female officials that make up a part of this unit”, she said. Lithur’s ministry has received an additional 12 million pounds from the British government.
“Part of this new funding”, Minister Nana Oye said, “will go towards adding an additional three more gender-base violence response centers for women in markets in Ghana in Tamale and Ashanti Regions, there are a lot of dialogues going on about gender-based violence now because of this.”
Putting the services in the market place was based on preliminary research that identified the most vulnerable groups and their biggest barriers to accessing the centers and service after an incident of violence. Lack of transportation and high cost were some of these issues, and so the market based centers allowed women who were already going there for activities to also discreetly access the services they needed without needing to travel a half-day on a local bus, or expend money they did not have for a private clinic visit.
A market lady from Ashanti region who has been involved in the implementation of the centers, said “the Minister of Gender gets to the grassroots, she comes to the market and is contacting market women and they are giving women a chance to be a part of the system with these centers they have built.” The African Queen Cultural Network, an NGO in Ghana representative added that, “they were thankful to be involved in policy, planning, and now the implementation of the centers.”
In a show of firm solidarity with local Ghanaian women, three members of the country’s Parliament were in attendance at the event in New York. “Our job is to make the law, but we must all no matter what laws we make, implementation is our problem,” said one of them, Haija Laadi Ayamba, chair of a committee on gender and children. “The question is what’s wrong with our society? If more than 1,000 cases of rape, why should we not have 5,000 being prosecuted, convicted, they should see it’s wrong to do these things.”[/right]
Ayamba also noted that these are cross-border issues and that she supported “the idea that our ministers should work with others from these countries.” The audience applauded that proposal.
Minister Nana Oye stated that looking forward into to the future of gender-based violence services in Ghana. “The Ministry is working with civil society, the market women, non-governmental organizations, we are doing this together, she said. “The situation of these women is well known to all of us in Ghana and we’ll see new results coming soon.”