Researching the politics of development



A political settlement approach to gender empowerment: The case of the Domestic Violence Act and girls’ education policy in Ghana

Working paper 91

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Beatrix Allah-Mensah and Rhoda Osei-Afful
Although rightly lauded as one of the strongest democracies in Africa, it is striking that women do not have a political quota in Ghana, and that women’s rights have more often been handed down through the politics of patronage than achieved through civil society activism. This paper investigates the role of power and politics in influencing the adoption and implementation of gender equity policy in Ghana, focusing on two policy case studies: domestic violence; and girls’ basic education. The paper finds that although policy on girls’ basic education was easily adopted and implemented without any opposition, as it was considered a less ‘contentious’ issue, domestic violence policy faced significant opposition from religious and political groups. In response, the women’s movement adopted a highly strategic approach to swaying public opinion, focusing on religious and cultural leaders, marshalling support among local community groups, and making use of informal gatherings to raise awareness about the issue. However, framing domestic violence in such a way as to be non-threatening to existing gender norms and relations limited its transformative potential and contributed to implementation gaps. Policy implementation in competitive clientelist settings tends to be a highly personalised and political process, and with few political gains to be had from enacting domestic violence legislation, successive governments have failed to even present a plan for implementing the law. Both cases reveal the role of the political settlements in influencing policy-making on gender equity and point to the need to move beyond the influence of women’s presence in formal politics towards a deeper analysis of power and politics in shaping gender equity policy.