By Mavis Otinkorang, 4 June 2012
Laws are meant to regulate society and protect the human rights of all citizens. The 1992 Fourth Republican Constitution has clear provisions guaranteeing the fundamental human rights of all citizens.
Article 12 of the Constitution guarantees every person in Ghana‘s fundamental rights and freedoms and Article 17 provides protection against discrimination and enjoins the State to take steps to end all forms of discrimination on grounds of gender, race, colour, ethnicity, religion and creed, social and economic status. Article 35 (5) (6) enjoin the State to end all forms of discrimination through law reforms and affirmative action.
In addition to the Constitution, there are both national and international laws which address the issue affecting particular segments of the population. Examples are the Labour Act 2003 (Act 651) and the Children Act 1998 (Act 560) protect the right of workers and children respectively.
Laws, instrument and Convention to improve Women?s Status and Promote Gender Equality
On women, laws have been paased over the years to improve their situation. These include the Intestate Succession Law PNDC Law 111(1985), Customary Marriage and Divorce Registration Law PNDC 112 (1985) and the Labour Act 651 (2003).
Amendments of some criminal laws, now contained in the consolidated Criminal Code, have provisions which protect women from harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation. These provisions have also broadened protection against sexual violence. The Children’s Act protects children from early marriage, and Matrimonial Causes Act supports women seeking divorce under both customary and ordinance marriages.
Ghana has also obligations under international human rights instruments such as the UN Chapter of 1945 and Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) of 1979.
Ghana also has obligations under regional instruments such as African Charter on Human and Peoples Right. The state is required to incorporate the provisions of these instruments into national laws.
In addition there are commitments arising from various UN conferences on women. The 1985 Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies (NFLS), the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action (PfA) and the 2000 review on Beijing commitments known as the Beijing + 5 as well as, UN conferences such as the Vienna Human Rights Conference, the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) (1994), the Social Summit (1994), and the 2000 Mellennium Development Goals (MDGs) have clear provisions for improving the status of women and promoting gender equality.
Women continue to live with discrimination and biases
In spite of these laws and instruments, women continue to suffer bias and discrimination in Ghana. International Human Rights instruments have not been fully integrated and enforced within national law.
In addition, national laws do not go far enough and fail to address the requirement of a comprehensive review of all laws to ensure the repeal of discriminatory laws. Certain legal instruments such as the Bill on Property Rights are yet to become laws, although years have passed since the 1992 Constitution called for their passage.
As a result, women continue to contend with discrimination and practices in employment, marriage, divorce, and in access to resources such as land, labour, capital and technology.
For example, only a minority of women in formal employment enjoy protection from labour laws. Also, women continue to live with discrimination in relation to their rights and obligations in marriage and the grounds for divorce. Additionally, women, can be divorced under customary laws on grounds of witchcraft, stealing and adultery, while these are not grounds for divorcing a man.
Practices such as polygamy, though lawful under customary and religious laws, are discriminatory, unconstitutional and increase women?s insecurity and vulnerability in marriage life. Several men who are involved in acts of bigamy are not made to account for their actions even though the Criminal Code makes such acts unlawful.
Court decisions show that the law governing the distribution of marital property after divorce does not sufficiently take into account women?s non-monetary contributions to the acquisition of such property.
There are also critical issues of poor implementation of the law due to bias against poor women and men, lack of resources, low capacity, undue delays in court processes, entrenched patriarchal attitudes and systemic gender inequalities. Furthermore, there is limited or no access to legal processes as a result of problems of cost availability of services.
The few women are who are able to access the legal system find themselves dealing with an unduly formal and alienating environment. Very few women and men are fully aware of women?s rights under the law partly because of the poor performance of institutions tasked with legal education.
To ensure that the law becomes an effective instrument for gender justice, Ghanaian women are demanding that, among others that, government initiates a constitutional review process to ensure that all constitutional provisions promote the principle of fundamental human rights, freedoms, economic and social rights for all women and men on an equal basis.
Also, it is being demanded of government to complete the review of the entire body of laws in Ghana to ensure their conformity with the 1992 Constitution and obligations under International and Regional Human Rights Instruments.
While recorgnising the validity of polygamous marriages under customary and religious laws, the government and law enforcement agencies should ensure that the laws against bigamy are properly enforced.
Again, government should put in place policies and programmes which discourage polygamy and encourage monogamy, with the view to abolishing polygamy as a form of marriage in Ghana in the future.
The grounds for divorce under customary laws should be amended to make them uniform for both men and women.
Women?s non-monetary contributions to their household should be recognised and valued through equal distribution of property acquired during marriage and divorce and inheritance proceedings.
The Customary Marriage Registration Law should be reformed to enable either party to register a marriage, if it is established that the other party is obstructing registration without justification in order to protect the right of persons in customary law marriage.
Economically, government should by 2015 complete reforms of the entire social security system to expand its scope and coverage to ensure the meaningful protection for all citizenry. Specifically, women demand that the conception scope of social security be expanded to enable all citizenry of Ghana to enjoy unemployment benefit and pensions as taxpayers. This also implies a fundamental reform of the tax systems to broaden and strengthen the revenues base.
Also, that the coverage of Social Security benefits is expanded to include medical care, sickness insurance, family and maternity benefits and unemployment benefits.
That the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSINT) vigorously implements the changes in the current Social Security laws to extend coverage to all citizens irrespective of the nature and place of their work.
Government should by 2008 make and implement an Affirmative Action policy with legal backing to ensure the full integration of women in all spheres of public life.
Additionally, law enforcement institutions should vigorously implement laws passed to protect women?s rights including the prosecution of violations of such laws.
Also government by 2012 should enact and fully implement specifics laws and measures to promote and protect the rights of women and girls in accordance with the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against women (CEDAW) and all international and regional instrument regarding women?s rights and take steps to ratify the Optional Protocol to CEDAW to enable women in Ghana to benefit from its provision.
Others are that, the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) develops and implements a comprehensive programme to raise awareness about provisions of international, regional and national women?s rights laws and instruments, and inculcate in the general public respect for the rights of women.
Lastly, the Ministry of Education should activate Human Rights education from primary to tertiary levels of education.