By Michael Mdladla Ndiweni
Women in general play a key role in development and imparting them with relevant knowledge, skills and positive attitude increases their participation in local governance. This is very crucial especially in the Northern region of Ghana where women still constitute low numbers in contesting for positions decision making bodies. For example only 4% were who filed to contest for local government elections in March 2015 and only 5,7% women filed for Unit Committees from a total of 4156 seats. Studies have also revealed that women are the largest part of the population but their voices are not yet heard in critical decision making bodies but are sidelined to focus on unpaid care work that is burdening them than their male counterparts.
The ActionAid Ghana Global Platform has introduced Women in Governance course that seeks to improve women participation at district, regional and national levels at the same time empower and inspire especially young women to actively participate in local decision processes, demand accountability and more gender sensitive policies, and further campaign and challenge themselves to seek elective positions.
As part of efforts to help young women demand accountability and understand local governance a local government official was invited to talk about local government in Ghana. The most exciting part of the presentation was the fact that Ghana has a decentralized system of governance that created 216 districts under the Local Government Act of 1993. The presentation also pointed that this system encourages local participation and young women can utilize opportunities provided to push for policies that address their needs and other issues that affect them. The system also transfers functions, functionaries and funds for local governments to champion the development agenda. The course challenged young women to utilize the system since it is nonpartisan and also lobby to have their interests represented in 30% seats allocated for special interests groups. The presentation also pointed the importance of understanding local government as it gives people power to demand accountability, influence the allocation of resources and understand their roles and responsibilities as citizens.
Young women participants expressed dismay that they felt allocation of resources to district assemblies was often politicized and deserving districts were not given a priority due to vested political interests by political leaders. The young women demanded fairness in the allocation of resources so that district assemblies address the need for social amenities pertinent women and girls who walk distance to access services such as healthcare. They also challenge the local government to create more spaces and engage with women as there are most affected by poor decisions. They also demanded concrete strategies that will increase the voice of women in decision making processes and make them safe cities for women and girls.
Other challenges of the decentralized system of governance is that sometimes there is delay in disbursement of developmental funds from the central government level, poor or weak district structures to demand accountability and also influence budget allocation.