ACCRA - Women may hold some of the highest positions in Ghana — including attorney general and foreign affairs minister — but that doesn’t mean the country doesn’t have a gender-equality problem.
Charlotte Osei was appointed head of the electoral commission in June 2015, the first woman to hold the post. But last month, Kennedy Ayapong, a male member of Ghana's parliament, said in a speech to supporters in southern Ghana that Osei traded sexual favors to get her post.
Ayapong’s comments have opened the figurative floodgates on the issues of sexism and discrimination. Women have protested in Koforidua in the eastern region, and on social media under the hashtag #IamCharlotteOsei.
"So, do men also SLEEP their way to the top?" wrote one woman on Facebook.
Another wrote: "This attitude affects us all. It's time for change."
‘In the kitchen’
Ursula Owusu-Ekuful has been an opposition MP for eight years. She is no stranger to insults, and says she even has been called a prostitute.
"I have a thick skin so can let it ride,” she said. “I had a few run-ins with my male colleagues. One of them actually had the nerve to tell me that I am a woman [so] I should be serving them dinner. Another person also [asked if I thought] I was in the kitchen. … All statements reflect the state of mind that many of the male MPs have about the women: Your place is in the kitchen."
Owusu-Ekuful says she sent a complaint to the speaker of parliament about one kitchen comment in 2015, but nothing came of it.
In addition, she says, women in government are punished more harshly.
In 2013, a deputy communications minister, Victoria Hammah, was fired after she was recorded in a private conversation allegedly saying she would not quit politics until she made $1 million.
Some advocacy groups criticized her dismissal, saying that the government did not fire two male sports ministers who were actually found to have misappropriated state funds. One of them, Elvis Afriyie Ankrah, was asked to pay back $30,000 and ultimately transferred to another government office.
Hammah says she hopes her sour experience does not deter women from pursuing their political ambitions.
"Politics is a tough area to operate,” Hammah said. “It's difficult for both men and women. There are men who were former ministers who were jailed for some lack of due diligence and so if we do not encourage women to go into politics for whatever reason, then we cannot achieve equalization. No matter what it is, the struggle continues."
The government insists there is no double standard.
"Women are not asking for favors or to be given a carte blanche,” said Nana Oye Lithur, minister for gender, children and social protection. “The fact that we are female ministers does not mean that we are immune from the code of ethics and the code of conduct that guides public service."
But prominent women say their treatment reflects the patriarchal nature of Ghanaian society.
However, there are signs that may be slowly changing.
The male MP who made the sex-for-job comment last week was pressured to apologize. So far, he has refused.