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Nana Sifa Twum BLOODY SHAME? GENDER HARRASMENT IN GHANA’S PARLIAMENT

One would have thought the opposition in Ghana’s parliament would have by now rendered an unqualified apology to the newly elected New Patriotic Party (NPP) member for the Ayawaso West Wuogon Constituency, Hon. Lydia Seyram Alhassan, they harassed and humiliated during her swearing-in some few weeks ago to put the matter to rest, but this has not happened.

The fourth parliament of Ghana has witnessed many spectacular scenes since its inception which included slapping of a member by another, displaying of presidential shoes, woeful mispronunciations among many others, but what appears to be mind-boggling out of all these is the much talked about the name-calling of the latest woman member as BLOODY WIDOW by the minority National Democratic Congress (NDC) members in parliament.

The opposition NDC in parliament, as a result of the violence which occurred at the recent by-election in the Ayawaso West Wuogon Constituency, did not only refused to acknowledge the duly elected MP for the constituency, they also boycotted her swearing-in ceremony at the Parliament House and unfortunately held placards tagging the widow of the late Member of Parliament for the said constituency, Emmanuel Kwabena Kyeremateng Agyarko who had stepped forward to replace her late husband as a Member of Parliament.

A situation, which has been described by almost everyone including some members of the NDC as unfortunate, irresponsible, reprehensible, inexcusable and shameful. Civil Society Organisations, Religious bodies and women activists groups have all added their voices in condemning the act of the august house as offensive and far below the belt.

Notwithstanding this, the NDC lawmakers including lawyers and women amongst them had vehemently struggled to justify the words they used on the calm and respected widow.

For them, they used those two words to express their dissatisfaction and also to register their protest against the occurrences at the one of the polling stations within the constituency, La-Bawaleshie polling station. They also claimed the voter turnout of less than 20 percent is not the true reflection of the residents of the constituency.

The members of the left hand side of the speaker of the house are also not happy about the government’s inability to swiftly identify and bring to book perpetrators of the violence, which also saw one of them, the Member of Parliament for Ningo – Prampram, George Sam, being molested by some security personnel.

On Thursday, January 31, 2019 the nation’s electoral commission had organised by-elections to elect a candidate to replace the late Member of Parliament Emmanuel Kwabena Kyeremateng Agyarko. Reports have it that violence broke out at around the Bawaleshie residence of the NDC’s candidate, Delali Kwasi Brempong, ended with many suffering gunshot wounds, a number of them with life-changing injuries.

Some observers have note that what the members did is about the worse occurrence in any parliamentary sitting in the history of the country and that they have brought the institution into indelible disrepute. As members of the elite and respectable house they should have acted more responsibly and well mannered that what they did against somebody who is today one of them.

There is no doubt that, the Parliamentary institution is of great repute and respect. That’s why all over the world, MPs, as ascribed with high respect and honor hence, their title, Honorable.

Looking at the history and the functions of parliament it is an institution of great power and huge influence. The first parliament, which was established in England, was created from what was then known as Magna Carta 1215. It was a very powerful charter, which controlled the right of the barons who were considered as very wealthy landlords. The English parliament and all other parliaments around the globe, which have its roots and type from the English, have been powerful and respected till now.

That is also the good reason why it is the only institution that makes laws for the people to obey and not even the Heads of State or religious leaders. This is to say; every law has to be laid before these honorable people of the land before passing. We generally believe it is God the Creator, who alone enacted laws of all kinds, such as the moral, natural and health laws for mankind but parliamentarians now have the authority to do what only God can do – making laws.

So the MP is seen in society as not an ordinary man. He is unique and on a different pedestal in life. He or she must therefore live above reproach and petty mistakes. He must not do the things the common man does. Simply put the MP is inimitable.

It was therefore a surprise and shocking to hear and read about the unfortunate situation that occurred on Tuesday, the 5th of February 2019 at the Parliament House when the leadership of the house decide to conduct a swearing – ceremony for the new MP.

The NDC members of the Ghanaian parliament bluntly did not accord any respect to the elected woman of parliament.  One philosopher once noted “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university”

The situation was more dishonorable particularly so when the victim was a woman. Someone who perhaps had still not recovered from the sudden death of the husband. Someone whose children and some family members were present to witness a graceful event, which rather sadly turned to be a disgraceful one. Someone who just needed a pat at the back for taking a bold step to continue his husband legacy. She rather faced humiliation and ridicule.

It was indeed Ghana’s day of shame, parliament day of abuse and women’s day of embarrassment and harassment. It was a day of sexism, harassment and violence against women in parliament of Ghana, which was hugely characterised with prejudice and discrimination, particularly against women, on the basis of hatred.

Our MPs must learn to develop and promote a culture of respect, fairness and dignity (which they also deserve) and extend them to other citizens of the land for it is said “Respect for ourselves guides our morals, respect for others guides our manners.”

With all the powers members of parliament as individuals and as an institution wields and with all the respect they command, one would ask, was this the best method to use in addressing the challenge they faced?

Members of the Ghanaian parliament have by this, did not exercise the huge powers bestow on them especially in the case where the members on the day walked out of the parliament to go and see the Ghana Police leadership, an institution they could easily haul or summon to the parliament house, for some reason, they rather chose to go the feet of the police hierarchy. Could this be described as a misapplication of the powers that be?

Could we conclude that the MPs on the minority side erred in respect of the laws they enact? They have blatantly disregarded the constitution of the land which calls for by-elections and the swearing-in of a legitimate elected MP.

The issue about their decision not to recognise Lydia Seyram Alhassan as an MP is also laughable. Legally and constitutionally and if you like, by the standing orders of the parliament the new member doesn’t need the recognition of any one such as the minority to be an MP, not even the Speaker. She has been voted by the people to represent them. Period.

If they continue to walk out as and when Ms. Alhassan takes the floor, as they have decided and promised the good people of this country, voters in their respective constituencies would be the best deciders.

“Honorable” please try to provide a safe, secure and welcoming environment for all who work with you. You may don’t like everyone and what they bring on board but you are mandated to accommodate, unite, promote, respect, and promote fairness and dignity within the august house.

This is because everyone deserves the right to work in the parliament floor once a group of Ghanaians have decided on him or her as their choice of representation.

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