Bloody widow!’ read the placards.
The sign was held aloft as part of a protest walkout during the swearing-in of Lydia Alhassan, the new MP for the Ayawaso West Wuogon constituency. Alhassan won her seat after a political process during which there was violence.
The placard has ignited outrage, commentary, headlines all over Ghana.
Lydia Alhassan is MP for my district. My mother and sister voted during this recent election. They, like me and her are part of the 53% of women in Ghana who are citizens, participants and fundamental to nation-building.
I listened on morning radio, as Minority members descended on airwaves and television sofas to defend, double-down or deflect in response to escalating outrage.
The NDC’s action is an important moment to scrutinize and interrogate the ways sexism manifest in our politics and our political process and is then dismissed as being politics-as-usual and not gender-in-politics.
Essentially, it demonstrates an inability to recognize the ways our practice of politics and our practice of sexism are deeply interconnected.
What the minority did was to use a woman’s personal status to politically disqualify the process that elected her and during which there was violence and about which there has been much anger.
But here is the problem.
The Minority then doubled down on what must be condemned as an act of sexist action that was both hurtful and harmful to women, widows and their families across the country.
The NDC Minority has not – as it claimed – sought to shed light on the issues of the process that led to Mrs. Alhassan’s election and the violence during which those casting votes where badly injured.
That has not happened.
Instead, they have been roundly condemned and chastised. They have ignited the ire of women all over the country and that of citizens who stare aghast at such action and wonder where the political heart is of a party who would engage in such action and truly believe it would go uncritiqued.
I listened to morning radio and heard the an NDC MP claim she had not seen the placard and so was unable to comment. This is cowardly politicking. It is using denial to avoid a necessary reckoning with the outcome of a poor decision by her party.
Others from the party doubled down on the placard-wielding members even as outrage escalated. They continued to defend the action as social media erupted and spilled into 140-character condemnation on Twitter and long, furious posts and threads on Facebook.
The Minority NDC claimed it was making a political statement. It argued the intent was to demonstrate its anger at a ‘bloody process’. It was referring to the bloodshed that occurred after seven people were shot and injured as citizens voted during the Ayawaso election.
Such violence is a danger to democracy. Ghana prides itself on a peaceful participatory process within a democracy that stands as a beacon of political participation on the Continent.
I like thousands of others empathize with the Party’s anger at the police’s failure to so far apprehend those who may be responsible. The Party’s anger echoes that of journalists angry at police failure to apprehend those who have attacked them in a series of incidents and that of women who seek police action on sexual violence matters and find inaction is the response for their call to apprehend, arrest and investigate.
That is not justification. It is a difficult reality. It is one that must be addressed and resolved.
It is not resolved nor addressed by placard-wielding Party members whose abuses have now drowned out the voices of protest over the violence.
Indeed, the Minority failed to bring further scrutiny to the attack on citizens exercising their democratic right while placing their votes and being subject to bloody violence. Instead, they attacked a woman’s personal status; they poured blood on the corpse of her husband and then added fuel to the fire they ignited by defending and doubling down on their problematic action.
On morning radio, callers denied this was an issue of gender and sought to remind listeners that men’s rights are being infringed left and right without similar focus or condemnation.
This is false equivalency. And it is simply inaccurate.
Ghana has a history of attacking women who choose to run for political office and seek to represent Ghana as part of its democracy. There is both research and anecdotal evidence that highlights the multiple ways in which women are targeted as they seek political office. It is not their political capabilities or qualifications that are challenged, but instead, their personal status, their marital status, their culinary skills and their sexual behaviour all come under scrutiny. Even their hairstyles – as we saw and heard during the vetting of the former Minister for Gender, Madame Otiko Djaba.
In 2016, only 31 of Ghana’s 275 Parliamentarians were women and less than 30% are Ministers of State and District Chief Executives. Legal frameworks communicate equality, but political practice confirms discriminatory actions that impact our nation’s constant call for greater representation by women in our politics. Indeed, there is still an unpassed Affirmative Action Bill despite a president’s commitment to its passage and a weak apology during a state of the nation due to its lack of passage.
It is fair to demand further political scrutiny on the shots fired during the Ayawaso election. It is right to demand urgent action. It is understandable to expect all parties condemn the violence and wish the victims a speedy recovery. It is absolutely important to recognize that those voting are citizens who have the right to exercise their vote free from such threats of deadly violence irrespective of party.
All of those rights are diminished and ridiculed when a political party abandons the process and instead zooms in on a woman’s personal status – one not of her own making – in order to make its point. That it failed is apparent by the outrage. That the NDC Minority continues to defend its stance is a mark of poor leadership. And that it imagines our outrage is misplaced is evidence of political delusion.
The Minority was wrong. The placards were offensive and outside of the spirit of political protest and a long history of walk-outs. The defense of their placards is bloody-minded. And it has further reduced their likelihood of better endearing themselves to the women of this nation.
There is one answer to the Minority placard ‘Bloody Widow’.
Columnist: Esther A. Armah