Source: Accra AllAfrica
The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) has begun a process of consolidating five major legislations on local governance and decentralization, namely the District Assemblies Common Fund Act, 1993 (Act 455); Local Government Act, 1993 (Act 462); National Development Planning (System) Act, 1994 (Act 480); Local Government Service Act, 2003 (Act 656); and the Internal Audit Agency Act, 2003 (Act 658).

To that effect, a draft Consolidated Local Government Bill has been developed by the Ministry for passage into Law.

According to the Bill's Memorandum, the draft Bill seeks "to review, amend and consolidate the major legislations affecting local governance and decentralization in Ghana {with the view} to allow for easy access to local government and decentralization legislation; synthesize the laws and remove previous inconsistencies and contradictions; and update the laws by incorporating the various amendments and new viewpoints on local government and decentralization."

Recognizing that addressing gender inequities is critical to the nation's sustainable development agenda, Ghana has committed itself to international and regional conventions and protocols which demand the implementation of policies and programmes that empower women, protect their rights and promote gender equality.

Among these Conventions and Protocols are: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948); Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA); Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa; Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and the Rights of Women in Africa; and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Government's commitment to international Conventions and Protocols is also in line with the provisions of Ghana's 1992 Constitutions. For example, Chapter 3 of the Constitution focuses on 'Citizenship', while Chapter 5 dwells on 'Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms'.

Article 17 (1) of the 1992 Constitution says "All persons shall be equal before the Law" while 17 (2) says "A person shall not be discriminated against on grounds of gender, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed or social or economic status." The Constitution further empowers Parliament under 17 (4) (a) to (d) to enact laws to address any structural and/or historical discrimination that infringe on the human rights of any group of persons that prevent them from enjoying their citizenship rights.

And, indeed, according to the United Nations (UN), the promotion of gender equality and women's empowerment is a goal in itself and a means for achieving sustainable development. The adoption of decentralization in Ghana's governance processes was, therefore, envisaged to promote popular participation and bring governance to the doorstep of women and men at the local level -- and women and other disadvantaged groups are expected to actively participate in decision making, using that space.

However, after almost twenty years of implementing the decentralization system in Ghana, the expectation that policies and programmes will be initiated to respect, protect and promote women's rights and gender equality has not been sufficiently realised.

Furthermore, the ability of women to participate and be represented in decision-making, have access to and control over productive resources have also been problematic as legislation on decentralisation have not fully articulated women's needs, demands and concerns.

Thus as a gender and policy advocacy Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) committed to influencing polices from a gender perspective and ensuring that all government legislations are gender-sensitive and responsive to the needs of different groups of women and men, ABANTU for Development, has positioned itself to demand accountability and transparency from government by assessing the extent of implementation of government's policy strategies and programmes.

ABANTU, with support from Star Ghana, is, therefore, spearheading a review of the draft Consolidated Local Government Bill, as part of a project on "Demanding accountability to women's rights and gender equality issues in the local governance and decentralization processes".

The project aims to address the structural barriers that limit women and other vulnerable, and marginalized groups from benefiting equitably from the local economy, and to promote gender equality at all levels of governance in order to ensure that both national and local governance institutions take concrete actions to increase the voice and perspectives of women and girls who constitute over 50% of the Ghanaian population.

Simply put, the project is intended to promote popular participation and bring governance to the doorstep of women and other disadvantaged groups in the country.

As part of the project, a validation workshop on 'Promoting Accountability to Gender Equality in the Local Governance System in Ghana,' was organised in Accra.

The workshop reviewed the draft Consolidated Local Governance Bill for gender gaps and also developed gender-sensitive policy guidelines and framework.

A paper presented by Ms Afua Gyapomaa, Research, Publications and Information officer of ABANTU on 'A Gender Analysis of the Draft Local Government Bill' at the workshop, describes the draft Bill as a gender blind document which is not in alignment with government's commitment to promoting gender equality and women's empowerment through gender mainstreaming of policies and programmes.

In other words, ABANTU, after a thorough analysis of the Bill, is of the view that there is no consideration of gender issues across components of the decentralization system, namely administrative, political, fiscal and decentralized planning.

ABANTU maintains in the paper that promoting women's rights and gender equality, particularly at the local governance level, are pre-requisites for the delivery of local economic development, with emphasis on reducing poverty and improving food security, and sustainable development.

The draft Bill, the paper says, does not have any linkage with or complement the Decentralization Policy Framework developed in May 2012 (where priority policy objectives include popular participation, social agenda and involvement of non-state actors in local governance) and that, apart from the memorandum on the Bill pointing out to the Bill as an outcome of a regional stakeholder consultative process on the review of the Decentralization programme, there is no alignment of the policy priorities in the Decentralization Policy Framework to the draft Bill [though is to accelerate the decentralization process].

The paper says even though the draft Bill seeks to promote policy coherence, it does not make reference to any measures to promote the participation and representation of different social groups in the assembly's decision-making processes, as there is very limited civil society role in the work of the District Assembly even though they are critical actors already contributing towards local level development.

The Bill, the paper says, does not conform to the principle of popular participation that is underscored in local governance because beyond the election of district assembly women and men, the citizens do not play any significant role in the assembly processes.

According to the paper, some of the major policy changes being proffered in the draft Bill may be discriminatory or infringe on promoting accountability, if the necessary clarification is not provided. For example, the paper says, under decentralized planning, the emphasis is still on economic development planning and spatial and physical development and that there is just a caveat indicating that for the assemblies, 'development' will mean Human Development as espoused by United Nations (UN) which is not reflected in the focus of planning and that there is no mention of social development, contrary to its provision in the Decentralization Policy Framework.

ABANTU is, therefore, calling for a review of the draft Consolidated Local Government Bill to reflect government's commitment to gender equality, women's rights, inclusiveness and citizens' participation to ensure that the demands and needs of the different groups of women and men in the country are addressed.

In making the call for a review of the Bill, ABANTU is convinced that gender equality and social inclusion measures in the local government legislation have the propensity to effectively increase the socio-economic well-being of women, men, boys and girls in the local area for effective development.

For ABANTU, what should drive Ghana's decentralisation system should be greater inclusiveness, gender equality and the prioritisation of the utilisation of local resources for the development of the local economy.

ABANTU is, therefore, demanding that the new formula for the creation of districts should take into consideration the population diversity of the area as well, rather than only the population size.

According to ABABTU, there is no criterion for the composition of the 30% government appointees, and demands, therefore, that the directive of having 30% of the 30% appointed being women be adhered to and increased to 50%.

It was also identified that the use of male pronouns in the Bill, such as 'himself', 'his', 'chairman' and 'chairmen' gives the impression that such roles are the sole prerogative of men and recommends the use of common nouns such as 'assembly member'.

ABANTU is also of the opinion that variations are likely to be created in the remuneration of PM's and that PMs emoluments and Assembly Members allowances should not be dependent upon the District Assemblies Common Fund (DACF), but fixed by a body.

It has also called for clear guidelines in the selection of students who qualify for scholarships, with much emphasis on girls, while the composition of all Councils and Committees, including adhoc committees, should be clearly defined.

It stressed the need for attention to be paid to sex/gender, disability, religion and ethnicity, and that measures should be instituted to ensure that every council, committee and sub-committee of the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) and the Regional Co-ordinating Committees (RCCs) have a broad representation (including women, youth, minority groups, People with Disability) and to ensure that there are clear guidelines on the selection of women and men into committees.

ABANTU says women should constitute at least 30% of every team and that this should be mandatory, especially for the statutory bodies within the District Assembly.

For ABANTU, meeting times and places should be specified clearly, If possible, in the bill to avoid holding meetings at places and times which are not conducive to women, while the composition of all councils and committees, including adhoc committees, should be clearly defined.

ABANTU has also recommended that the allocation and disbursement of funds should be informed by gender and sex disaggregated data.

It says bye-laws should be very affordable and MMDAs should hold public forums and durbars on new bye-laws when they are enacted to promote enforcement.

Furthermore, it says, where public hearings are to be conducted, Assemblies should ensure a broad representation of the people, with provision for ordinary citizens to sit in assembly sessions without contributing to the debate.

It stressed the need for the engagement of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and NGOs towards local government gender development in the districts for a successful local government and decentralization system in Ghana.

ABANTU also considers investment in Research and Development as critical to promoting gender equality in Ghana's Local Governance System.

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