The NCWD and the Beijing platform for action

TWN-Africa. Prepared by the Gender Unit

Ghana’s official instrument for the advancement of women is the National Council on Women and Development (NCWD). It was created in 1975 by the then military regime in response to the UN. Originally under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, its location within government has changed several times. Currently it is under the Office of the President but heavily subject to the informal control of the first lady and the December 31st Women’s Movement (DWM) of which she is president.

On the eve of the BeijingConference, the NCWD had been weakened and its social standing eroded by avariety of factors including a haemorrhage of experienced staff, inadequatefunding (and dependence and external donors) and a decade of managementinstability due to high turnover of chief executives. The current executivesecretary is the fifth since 1986.

The NCWD regularly sendsrepresentatives to UN meetings for women, such as the Commission on the Statusof Women. Prior to the Beijing Conference, the NCWD had already undertaken anumber of activities including participating in the Africa and global prepcoms.

The NCWD’s 15-year draftPlan of Action (Plan) incorporated some provisions on institutional mechanismsfrom the Beijing Platform for Action (PFA), and addressed some of the institutional issues of the NCWD identified by a study into its problems.Government approval for the Plan, which would restructure and revitalise theNCWD, was expected by 1997. Restructuring was to address the urgent need formaterial and human resources at all levels, and the NCWD would also secure abefitting national secretariat. In terms of NCWD's relationship with statestructures. The Plan also included a recommendation that a presidential stafferbe assigned for NCWD affairs.

The Plan called for theestablishment and registration with the NCWD of gender focal points in allinstitutions in the country by the year 1997. It included the aim ofself-financing of NCWD, but expected donor support to continue. It called forthe institution of procedures for government consultation of women’s groups inthe appointment of NCWD members and the executive secretary. Finally, it expectsto have a parliamentary committee on gender and development to monitor andevaluate the implementation of the Platform for Action, and a programme toenable the NCWD to monitor the progress of implementation of its own 15-yearPlan, with publication of a report on women every five years, is also included.

There are many good points inthe Plan’s proposals for strengthening the NCWD. The proposed measures arepatchy, however, and they do not fully incorporate the recommendations of thePFA. This is particularly so with regard to the role of NCWD in governmentpolicy-making processes,  theclarity of its mandates, and the strengthening of its resource base. The Plandoes not fully address some of the central problems ailing the NCWD, such as itsstaffing and resource problems, its powers and legal status, and its politicaland legitimacy problems. Though acknowledging the urgent need for human andmaterial resources, the Plan makes no proposal on how to deal with it. The Planis also weak on proposals for the collection and dissemination of genderdisaggregated data and law reform. In spite of these weaknesses, the Plan ifimplemented would address some of the problems of the NCWD and set it on theroad to implementing some Platform for Action provisions.

The NCWD’s implementationrecord

In a report on itsimplementation of the PFA, the NCWD mentions the (still to be finalised) draftPlan of Action as one of its achievements. Other successes it claims include: anaffirmative action proposal, which focuses on women in decision-making at thedistrict regional and national levels and female access to education. Accordingto the NCWD, the vice president pledged that the proposal will be implemented bythe year 2000;  the setting up of anational CEDAW sub-committee to monitor its implementation and that of theaffirmative action proposals;  anational gender strategy policy document (under preparation); the creation of gender focal points; the media dissemination of the PFA.

There are some problems withthese claims. A majority of persons interviewed in a study commissioned by theThird World Network (TWN-Africa) were ignorant of the provisions of the Platformfor Action and NCWD priorities for its implementation. This means that suchissues are not really in the public domain and have not begun to influence thepost-Beijing work of many organisations. This has partly to do with the NCWD’smethods of work and its failure to publicise its plans and consult with thecivil society organisations working in this area. There were no consultations onthe affirmative action proposal and very limited consultations on the genderstrategy document. To date, the membership of the Ghana CEDAW Committee has notbeen publicised. The NCWD’s relationship with the gender focal points isunclear.

Part of the problem with theNCWD’s post-Beijing implementation has been the weak institutional base of theprogramme. This is partly because the agenda is being driven by the first lady(who led the country’s delegation to Beijing) rather than by the NCWD. She set up the committees to prepare the affirmative action proposals,the Draft Plan of Action and the media dissemination plan. Her location outsidethe NCWD and lack of an institutional accountability and legitimacy on questionsof the Platform for Action have created difficulties for the NCWD in its work.

Despite expectations of theirinvolvement in its implementation, preparation of the Draft Plan of Action didnot involve women’s organisations and other interested NGOs beyond circlesassociated with the first lady’s December 31st Women's Movement(DWM). Not surprisingly, five years after Beijing, most of the provisions havenot been implemented. The NCWD has very limited resources and its staffingsituation remains precarious. Its board has been reconstituted withoutconsultation of civil society organisations. There was no announcement when apresidential staffer was put in charge of its affairs.  

The NCWD’s poorimplementation record extends to other areas of the PFA. Many people interviewedin the TWN survey did not know the NCWD’s priorities in the PFA. NGOs inparticular lacked adequate information about the specific interventions of theNCWD with regard to the PFA. Only a small minority of respondents were able tomention a few of these priorities: education and the girl child, poverty,health, peace, and women in decision-making. A few also mentioned the areas of economic independence and employment aspriority areas chosen by the organisation. Many NGO respondents, however,complained that they had no idea of how these issues came to be chosen aspriority areas and the extent to which the NCWD had implemented the PFA. 

Away forward

Thegovernment has to urgently deal with the NCWD’s organisational and resourceproblems so it can implement its mandate in general and the Platform for Actionin particular. In the first place, the donor dependency of the NCWD needs tochange, and the Government should commit enough resources to the nationalmachinery as part of the process of demonstrating its commitment to the work ofthe organisation.

Given the wide ranging natureof the PFA mandate, it would appear that multiple institutions in differentlocations, with different forms, and clearly demarcated roles and powers areneeded to fulfil clusters of functions. Advising on policy, implementing policy,monitoring and evaluating policy and its implementation, playing a watch-dogrole and so on require different combinations of skills, resources andinstitutional forms.

Some functions cannot beperformed from within government. Some respondents to the TWN survey proposedthat the legal status of the NCWD be rooted directly in the Constitution,instead of in legislation. Parallels were drawn with the Commission on HumanRights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), which was created by the 1992Constitution and has since gained great respectability. The main advantage citedwas the fact that the NCWD would be independent of and not subject tointerference by governments, be held in high esteem and have wider powers topromote women's concerns.

While constitutional bodiesmay be guaranteed some protection and autonomy, CHRAJ experience shows that theyare not protected from rear-guard actions such as being starved of resources andhaving their decisions ignored. Thus being a constitutional body does notguarantee success without other favourable conditions such as good qualityleadership and staff, a vigilant civil society and a progressive media culture.

The NCWD needs to regain itslegitimacy and leading role. The draft gender strategy document, the affirmativeaction proposals and the Draft Plan of Action should be put out for discussionand debated by all organisations and institutions engaged and interested ingender equality work before being finalised as policy to be implemented. The NCWD also has to review its relations with civil societyorganisations and involve them more systematically and consciously in itsactivities. They in turn should offer it more support.

Finally, the NCWD’ssubordination to the first lady has to end. That relationship has contributedsignificantly to the NCWD’s loss of legitimacy in the eyes of many groups andindividuals working on women’s and gender issues.