In preparation for President Obama’s visit to Ghana, the official White House release points out “The President and Mrs. Obama look forward to strengthening the U.S. relationship with one of our most trusted partners in sub-Saharan Africa, and to highlighting the critical role that sound governance and civil society play in promoting lasting development.
The significance of the visit is huge and multi-layered, especially with regards to promoting an agenda for women’s rights. Not only is this Obama’s first trip to the African continent in his new role, it is also the first time the US has had a president of African descent to visit the continent! Additionally, President Obama has emphasized to the world community that he wants to partner with other nations, rather than dominate. For Ghana, this visit is recognition of the country’s historic and current role as a beacon of democracy on the African continent. Indeed, Ghana has a long history as a trailblazer. When it gained independence from Britain in 1957, it was the first sub-Saharan African country to break free of colonial rule. In recent times, it has played a critical role in negotiating for peace in countries such as Liberia and Ivory Coast, and has set the example for holding peaceful elections in the wake of post-election violence in Kenya, Togo, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Ivory Coast. In West Africa, Ghana is considered a safe haven and offers a progressive environment. This history is what makes Ghana a welcome home for a number of progressive organizations with continent-wide influence, such as the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF), one of the leading grantmaking foundations focused on promoting the rights of women in Africa.
While the country can be applauded for its role as a leader of democracy, it remains a difficult environment for the realization of women’s rights. Cultural and societal norms oblige women to maintain deeply-rooted traditional practices that sometimes adversely impact their rights and health, and public debates sometimes ridicule and trivialize women’s efforts to push for their rights. It was only in 2007 that Ghana passed its first ever Domestic Violence Bill after women’s rights activists navigated around several political roadblocks that opposed the passage of such a meaningful bill. Even with their immense contributions in social, economic, and political spheres, too many women are systematically excluded from decision-making in their communities and homes, are subject to a range of harmful traditional practices including female genital mutilation and ritual servitude also known as “Trokosi”, and continue to lag behind men in education.
Prior to his visit, Obama said that "I think it's very important for African leadership to take responsibility and be held accountable." Obama’s visit offers an unprecedented opportunity for Ghana to step up and show leadership by speaking out against women’s rights violations and abuse across the continent. President Obama has publicly declared support of women’s human rights, and women’s organizations in the US are calling upon him to live up to his rhetoric and promises. So should trusted partners. At this historic moment, this is an opportunity for Ghana and the US to join hands and hold one another accountable for advancing women’s rights. The women are watching.
Resource: Read a blog by the African Women's Development Fund on President Obama's visit to Ghana.
Maame Aba Yelbert-Obeng is Program Associate for Sub-Saharan Africa at the Global Fund for Women. Photo courtesy Suhuyini Women Education and Empowerment for Development Association, a GFW grantee in Ghana.