Posted by: naomimcclellan | January 26, 2013

Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History!

Mepakyεw Maakye!

Today I am feeling the great vibes of an eventful few weeks wash over me. Work has taken a turn for the unexpected and I am bursting at the seams with excitement. Nana Oye Lithur, the CEO of HRAC, has been appointed by President Mahama as the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection. Soon, this will make her the Honorable Nana Oye Lithur. In a split second everything has changed and the impact for Ghana is great. So, what does all this mean?

For HRAC, it is the end of an era. Nana is stepping down as CEO. This will have a dramatic impact on HRAC as there are few African women capable of filling Nana’s HIGHLY competent shoes. I will not dare try and summarise all of Nana’s achievements here, however I will say that when it came to human rights, Nana ensured that HRAC had its finger on the pulse. Yet, it is all bitter sweet. While there is a melancholy feeling in the office, my colleagues are ecstatic because of the likely impact this will have for the success of HRAC’s projects. For example, this year we will be fighting for the government to adopt our protocol on Gender Based Violence. It is unnecessary for me to detail our findings on GBV here, suffice to say that it is an issue in need of urgent attention. With Nana on the ‘inside’ I believe that the government is far more likely to abide by its international legal obligations and embrace our protocol, which will make Ghanaian children far less likely to be subjected to violence, exploitation and abuse.

For Ghana as a nation, hope is ignited. Presently, the situation of women is catastrophic. Consider HRAC’s recent finding that TWO women are being murdered by their spouse a MONTH, which we argue is domestic violence in its worst form. This repugnant situation reflects the hallmark feature of Ghanaian culture: male dominance and female subordination. At this rate, Ghana will certainly not achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for 2015, especially MDG three (… and one, two, four and five!). However, I am confident that Nana will put Ghana onto the right track by placing a focus on women’s empowerment. The impact of a political strategy focused on the empowerment of women, as research has shown, is that women invest back into their communities, which in turn improves standards of health, education and wellbeing. In sum, the result of gender equality is phenomenal economic gains and human development for all citizens. Please don’t get me wrong, I know that this will not happen overnight (or even in four or eight years), however I do feel that Nana is the perfect person to fight this tremendously difficult battle within a very gendered system.

An expected consequence of a talented, intelligent and strong woman being appointed as a Government Minister has been threats, petitions and public outrage. I would argue that this attention proves what Laurel Thatcher Ulrich once said: “Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History”. Most of the propagated opposition has lacked substance, for example, consider the following quote from a member of the clergy who wrote: “[t]he appointment of Nana Oye Lithur, a proponent and supporter of gay rights, could be detrimental … particularly at a time [when] foreign aid to African nations is closely linked to the … country’s official stance on homosexuality.” This type of Ghanaian populist discourse is inevitable when someone is trying to change a legal system and culture that has traditionally subordinated women and oppressed the human rights of LGBT communities (among a long list of other minorities). However, Nana’s appointment by President Mahama is a testament to the fact that the ground is fertile to implement policies that will be catalysts for real progress and social change.

On a personal note, very unexpectedly, Nana has asked me to accompany her to the Ministry. All I can really say is that I feel excited and honoured to continue to work for such a brave and brilliant woman. This will be in addition to my internship at HRAC, so I am eager to tackle the amazing challenges that await me.

Some will argue that placing Nana in the government is an attempt to silence her on LGBT rights and an attempt to control her voice on women’s rights. The operative word being: ‘attempt’. I am convinced that the better view is that Nana will not be ‘tamed’ or silenced on the human rights issues that she has so fearlessly advocated for.

Happy 2013!

Naomi McClellan, Human Rights Advocacy Centre, Accra, Ghana

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