Former first lady exhorts women rights in New York

Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings, former First Lady at the weekend, observed that women are the only oppressed group in society that live in intimate association with their oppressors. She explained that the struggle of women for equality has been a long and arduous task and asked African leaders not pay lip service to gender equity, but ensure its enforcement at all levels and spheres of society. Nana Konadu Rawlings made the observation in an address on: “Mobilising African Women for Economic Development,” at the New York University, under the auspices of the Africa House Faculty and the Wagner School of Public Service. The address made available to the Ghana News Agency in Accra said: “I am not here today (New York), to describe what women had to go through and continue to go through to obtain equality, but believe that some insight into the struggle of women yesterday, today and tomorrow forms part of the equation of women empowerment towards economic development of Africa,” she said. “As President of the 31st December Women’s Movement in Ghana, I understand the problems women encounter first hand as my organisation has been at the forefront of women empowerment since 1982.” Nana Konadu said poverty, trade and economic issues were very much related to women’s rights, due to the impact they could have in society. She noted that gender equality and the well-being of children go hand in hand and to facilitate child survival and development. Nana Konadu Rawlings said: “Gender equality produces a double dividend: It benefits both women and children. Healthy, educated and empowered women have healthy, educated and confident daughters and sons. Gender equality will not only empower women to overcome poverty and live full and productive lives, but will better the lives of children, families and countries as well.” She said the life of women must be enhanced in three distinct arenas: The household, the workplace and the political sphere. Nana Konadu said: “A change for the better in any one of these realms influences women’s equality in the others, and has a profound and positive impact on a child’s well being and development.” She stressed that gender equality was not only morally right; it was pivotal to human progress and sustainable development. “Promoting gender equality and empowering women will also contribute to achieving all the other goals, from reducing poverty and hunger to saving children’s lives, improving maternal health, ensuring universal education, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and ensuring environmental sustainability.” Nana Konadu stated that women in Africa continue to face enormous obstacles, and added that the growing recognition of their contributions has not translated into improved access to resources or increased decision-making powers. She said women empowerment required a tough approach from women and national leaders… to galvanise their colleagues to take up the challenge. “It is not about competing with our men. It is about working hand in hand for national development. We must convince men that we are partners in progress,” she stressed. She said once women are empowered the sky was the limit as far as development was concerned. Nana Konadu said programmes to promote the health of mothers through maternal and childcare services and family planning services had been undercut by reductions in government expenditure in the health sector, shortages of drugs, scarcity of medical personnel and inadequate health infrastructure. She expressed dissatisfaction that many governments have ratified conventions and international legal instruments on women's rights but often, failed to enact them into national laws. “Traditional practices and attitudes towards women have carried over into public life”, and explained that women were under-represented in high offices of state and positions of decision-making. “It is critically important for policy-makers to listen to and work with women to improve their positions and thereby accelerate Africa's development,” she said. She noted that a comprehensive approach must be taken by governments in conjunction with development agencies, in order to remove the social, economic and legal constraints facing women.