Students in political science at University of Ghana. Photo: Dominic Chavez, World Bank.

Gender quota a step forward – but not enough

Affirmative action could, if correctly implemented, help Ghana on the fast track to gender-balanced political representation. But according to gender researcher Diana Højlund Madsen, a gender quota reform has to be combined with other measures.

Diana Højlund Madsen

With only 13 per cent female representation in parliament, Ghana is lagging behind most other African states. A government committee is preparing a bill for affirmative action, but the issue is sensitive and the first drafts of the bill have met critique. In a new policy note, gender researcher Diana Højlund Madsen assesses the barriers to women’s political representation in Ghana.

“Elsewhere in Africa, change has brought opportunities to promote women’s political representation. For example, a quota was introduced in post-conflict Rwanda, and in Senegal constitutional reforms have created openings for change. But change of that kind has not occurred in Ghana”, she writes.

Diana Højlund Madsen argues that the electoral system is one of the main obstacles for gender equality. The ‘first-past-the-post’ system comes with an in-built winner-takes-all bias that can lead to distorted patterns of representation.

Proportional representation is more women friendly

Diana Højlund Madsen

“Proportional representation is more women friendly, as it is more open to newcomers”, she argues.

Money also matters. Election campaigns cost and female candidates in general have less funding than male. Højlund Madsen suggests that international donor organisations and development cooperation partners should earmark funds for electoral financing of female candidates.

“This has been done successfully in other African contexts. For example, in the 2009 elections in Malawi, where donors and the government assisted women aspirants with financial resources and publicity”.

Højlund Madsen also emphasises the importance of political parties working across party lines to put up policies to address different forms of violence against women in politics – from verbal abuse to physical attacks – especially at election time.

Women’s Political Representation and Affirmative Action in Ghana – Policy Note No 1:2019
Download the full-text version from our online repository Diva or read it online as an e-booklet.


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Politics in Ghana has always been dominated by men. From 1960 to 2016 the percentage of female members of parliament has only gone up from 9 to 13 percent. Data from Frempong (2015): Elections in Ghana 1951-2012 and

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The level of female representation in parliament in Ghana, 13%, is far below the average both in the world (23%) and in Africa (24%). The percentage calculation is based on women representation in unicameral parliaments or the lower house of parliament. All data reflects the situation on 1 January 2017. Source: UN Women, 2017.

More on gender quotas in Africa

Male and female members from the Rwanda Parliament walking and talking outdoors.

Quotas not enough to break stereotypical roles

Real gender equality requires political will to achieve a general change of attitude in society.

Interview with Heidi Hudson, guest professor at the Nordic Africa Institute.

Text and infographics: Henrik Alfredsson

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