Celebrating my Sisters on International Women’s Day

Celebrating my Sisters on International Women’s Day

As I inch towards a second decade in the vocation of advocating for social justice, gender parity, maternal health and youth empowerment, I am constantly reminded of where some of the passion that drives me came from. With every sense of modesty, I like to think that the family I came from, (where among others, there are no household chores reserved for boys or girls) provided me with an initial disposition towards matters of social justice. I celebrate two of my Sisters (Sister Funmi and Sister Funke) who were solid examples of how systems of exclusion can be challenged with dignity and humanity. Sister Funmi is now late (God rest her soul) and Sister Funke will attain the 70 year landmark this year. I remember both as strong-willed individuals who challenged social norms in Nigeria when it was most difficult to do so. Indeed, my life has been influenced by several other strong-willed and high achieving women, from my Wife, to my mother, my step-mother, my mother-in-law, and my other Sisters. Each of these women have been so tremendous, amazingly strong and impactful in their own different ways that they deserve separate essays of their own. I celebrate them all on this occasion of International Women’s Day!!!

Each International Women’s Day is important in helping us confront the distance between where we are and where we ought to be. Few weeks ago, the world welcomed its first female Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), in the person of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, 26 years after it was founded. As an African and an obsessive advocate for gender parity, my joy was boundless even as the journey ahead remained etched in my mind. These challenges are indicative of the gender inclusion gap that exists in the world today despite the simulacrum of progress being made. According to the World Economic Forum, “gender parity” will not be attained for almost a century, which means that I and many others are unlikely to see gender equality in our lifetimes. This projection is both a call to action and an indication of the urgency needed to pull our weight towards a more equitable world.

What my sisters taught me about leadership and challenging stereotypes

I am the only child of my father and mother. But before my arrival, both parents had children from their previous connubial engagements. Thus, I grew up on the heels of these two elder siblings, on either sides of my complex familial divides, which perhaps explains the versatility that God has gifted me with. Of note is that the lives of these two sisters of mine turned out to be of great lesson and inspiration to me. Those who are old enough in my part of the world might recall the wearing of trousers being more or less a taboo for females in the late 70s, yet my eldest maternal Sister, Funmi stood up as one of the earliest norm-breakers, albeit with calm grace and extremely gentle mien, wearing jeans trousers in those days when societal judgement about this was fierce and stereotypes about young ladies who wore trousers were extremely obtuse. For the mere liberty of putting on jean pants, they were often called or regarded as harlots, wild, and grossly unfit for marriage. These were not easy stereotypes to be associated with, especially coming from a strong Christian background. Yet, Sister Funmi preferred to be considered an outlier than conform to social expectations that were punitive and injurious to her sense of liberty. By virtue of her defiance and that of her co-travelers, the previously perceived ‘abnormality’ soon became a fad in the neighborhood. As young as I was, this made a very strong impression on me. Besides, in the course of time, these pairs of jeans were really cool, so that I often found myself sneaking into her wardrobe and helping myself to one or two, every now and then. She would normally huff and puff, and feign anger, and eventually let it go, and even gift me another. Sister Funmi lived above societal judgement, and even went on to confront another societal norm by getting married to a Muslim man of her dreams, despite projections and general lack of acceptance of such possibilities. By then, there was no doubt that nobody could successfully be in the way of her decision. She would also go on to have three children; all female. It goes without saying that even though their Mum is no more, their genetic formation is such that they will not be bugged down by the predilections of the society, and they will achieve their full potentials. I am beyond proud to celebrate Sister Funmi on a day like this!

My other sister, my eldest paternally, Sister Funke (incidentally my Mum’s namesake) found herself in one of the most stigmatizing situations in any Christian household. She had an unintended pregnancy whilst barely out of her teen years. The wages of being in this situation is the perception that one’s life is over; that they will never aspire nor amount to anything great in life. In fact, there is an unspoken disdain constantly reflected in the way people look at you, a demeaning gaze which can cause loss of esteem for the person and other associated mental health challenges. She weathered this difficult period in her life by bouncing back from this storm, went back to school and eventually got on to graduate and post-graduate level.

Driven by passion and her deep sense of empathy, she learned to tutor people with disability (PWD) and continues to do so till this day. But above all, as we were growing up, I remember my sister for leading and organizing the family houses in the different locations where our father as a judicial officer was often posted to work. Under her leadership, there was love, there was discipline, there was organization and compassion in the house. The exigencies of my sister’s life made me feel very personal about not wanting to see the life of any young girl hampered by unintended pregnancy, because I have seen her rise from it.

With that said, I sometimes wonder if the trajectories of my sisters’ lives might have been even more rewarding if the society in which we grew up was less judgmental and more supportive of the female gender. This is why my role of steering UNFPA’s programme in Ghana is more than a just a professional task. It is a culmination of a familiar experience of the human will to overcome adverse conditions and why these efforts must be supported. Because what we fail to challenge, we cannot change. The organizational dexterity and leadership exemplified by my sisters made me aware, from a young age, that women are more than qualified to handle positions of robust responsibilities as much as men, if not better. I have carried these lessons with me, and tried to instill it wherever I go.

#ChooseToChallenge: Rallying together for gender equality

First celebrated in 1911, the International Women’s Day presents us with an opportunity to celebrate women who’ve made history and to champion change and do more to cushion the gender parity gap. This year’s theme, #ChooseToChallenge indicates the urgency and boldness required in calling out gender bias and inequality in order to help create an inclusive world. As the UN Secretary-General – Antonio Gutteres rightly mentioned in his IWD address ‘A Crisis with a Woman’s Face’, the world needs a new push to advance women’s leadership and equal participation, as the current levels of women exclusion from these platforms is an “emergency.” While this is an agenda that can be strongly-driven at the institutional and global level, the changes that can emanate from individual efforts cannot be underestimated. Just as my sisters created a passion for inclusion that has continued to inspire and propel me to this day, individual examples in our communities can continue to diffuse faster and build a momentum to create a positive awakening and contribute in creating a better and equitable world.

Investing in population to promote development

Investing in population to promote development

Access and use of data plays a key role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and also advances the achievements of UNFPA’s mandates.

I was honoured by the visit of Hon. Dr. Abdul Rashid Hassan Pelpuo, Chair of the Ghana Parliamentary Caucus on Population and Development (GPCPD) and Hon. Elvis Donkor, Member of the GPCPD.

One of the major issues discussed was the 2021 Population and Housing Census and the importance of the caucus on population and development in the entire process. Parliamentarians can help in publicizing the upcoming population census to create more awareness.

On further collaborations, UNFPA could provide technical support and build the advocacy and knowledge skills of parliamentarians. This is effective in enhancing social protection and inclusion and improving well being by focusing parliamentarians to advocate for rights-based policies on their roles in parliament.

I used the opportunity to also mention the newly established Orange Support Centre , that provides support to survivors/victims of sexual and gender-based violence. This was made possible in partnership with the Domestic Violence Secretariat of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection.

Promoting gender equality through gender-responsive programming

Promoting gender equality through gender-responsive programming

Women’s empowerment is a critical aspect of achieving gender equality and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls and providing equal opportunities accelerates development in various areas.

Realising the vital role of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP) in Ghana, I paid a courtesy call to the Minister, Hon. Sarah Adwoa Sarfo to strengthen the partnership between MoGCSP and UNFPA in Ghana.

Discussions with the Minister on promoting gender equality in Ghana

During the visit, I reiterated our continuous support for MoGCSP to enhance its coordinating role by updating policies, frameworks, and developing effective gender-responsive programming at all levels to improve accountability for gender equality.

Achieving the three zeros; zero unmet need for family planning, zero preventable maternal death, and zero gender-based violence and harmful practices, means working with government, civil society organisations and private partners.

Launch of the 100 days to the 2021 PHC

Launch of the 100 days to the 2021 PHC

With the UN Resident Coordinator (1st from right), Government Statistician, Dr. Samuel Kobina Anim (2nd from left) at the event

The role data plays in helping to deliver development is always crucial. Organized ways of eliciting critical data for development purposes like national censuses are even more welcome in an age where experts say, ‘data is the new oil’. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the intended census for Ghana was moved from 2020 to this year, so that the all-important exercise can be carried out with high levels of accuracy and also maximum protection from the global pandemic.

On Friday, I joined colleagues in the United Nations (UN), Development sector, CSOs and Government, for the launch of the census process in Ghana, dubbed “100 days to 2021 Population and Housing Census”. The keynote speaker at the event, the Vice President of the Republic of Ghana, His Excellency, Alhaji Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia highlighted the relevance of data for informing sound Government Policy.

The new date for the Census as confirmed by the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) is Sunday, 27 June, 2021, and for the first time, the census process will be digital–making use of emerging technology to deliver faster and more accurate results.

Launch of Orange Support Centre and  Boame App; Remedy to SGBV Cases in Ghana

Launch of Orange Support Centre and Boame App; Remedy to SGBV Cases in Ghana

The Orange Support Centre (OSC) is born out of a collaboration between UNFPA Ghana and the Domestic Violence Secretariat (DVS) of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP). It is an effort to establish a more comprehensive and coordinated approach to address the needs of survivors of SGBV.

As UNFPA is committed to bringing to zero all forms of sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices especially against women and girls, the initiative will create a safe avenue for survivors of SGBV, to receive timely, coordinated, and reliable support, be it psychosocial, access to legal services, referral to emergency shelters and/or SGBV and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)

The UN Resident Coordinator in Ghana, Mr Charles Abani in his remarks congratulated UNFPA Ghana for its efforts in the fight against SGBV through interventions such as the formation of the Coalition of Persons Against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and Harmful Practices (CoPASH), reactivation of the SGBV Helpline and supporting DoVVSU in various ways to provide effective response to domestic violence cases.

“Fighting SGBV is a worthwhile endeavour as it saves many women and girls from the abuse they usually suffer. I congratulate the DV Secretariat under the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, and also acknowledge the support provided by UNFPA in the specific areas of promoting gender equality.”

Head of UN Systems at the Ministry of Finance, Ms. Gladys Osabutey, who performed the official launch of the centre, commended UNFPA Ghana and partners for the continuous efforts in the fight against SGBV.

“This facility will help clients to access fast and effective legal assistance, referrals to SGBV shelters and all other services without struggle, and this is very critical if Ghana wants to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”- she added.

Interacting with Dignitaries after the commissioning of the Centre

The Orange Support Centre services will be accessible to clients through a multifunction range of communication;

Toll-Free Number: The helpline ((0800-111-222) is available for persons who need to report cases of abuse, get information about sexual and gender-based violence, domestic violence and or seek support for themselves or others who are facing any form of abuse.

Walk-Ins: Individuals can also walk into the Centre and ask for support and access services. When the OSC is accessed in this way, a case file is opened for the individual, the necessary details are taken and then the needed services provided.

BoaMe App: This is a mobile application and it is currently available on Google play store. The App provides information on sexual and gender based violence, allows individuals to report cases and access support services.

The event was attended by Heads of UN Agencies in Ghana, Canadian High Commissioner- H.E Cathy Csaba, The Australian High Commissioner- Gregory Andrews, President of the International Federation of women Lawyers Ghana, Madam Afua Adottey, among other dignitaries.

Taking My COVID-19 Vaccination

Taking My COVID-19 Vaccination

With the frontline health worker in preparation to take my jab.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the whole world hard and has had ripple effects in almost every area of human activity, especially in everyday social interaction as we have come to know it. Despite the distress and discomfort it brought, we might also want to look at the positives it offered, for instance, in leading us to adopt cross-sectoral alternative working arrangements using electronic means.

Displaying my Vaccination card after the injection.

The pandemic has equally taught us the need to put forward once again the basics of personal hygiene including: regular hand-washing, use of hand sanitizers and observing cough/sneeze etiquette. Thankfully, COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Ghana last week under the COVAX initiative and I was privileged to take my jab today. It was painless and the process, quite smooth.

Get vaccinated and keep protecting yourself and others. Until we get out of the woods, let’s continue to have each other’s back by wearing our masks, practicing social distancing and keeping fit through physical exercise.

Courtesy call to H.E Gregory Andrews, Australian High Commissioner in Ghana

Courtesy call to H.E Gregory Andrews, Australian High Commissioner in Ghana

The Government of Australia is a huge supporter of the work of UNFPA across the world, including in Ghana. Australia is a core contributor of funds to the organization. Over the years, the High Commission in Ghana has offered support for ending Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) and promoting women’s rights as a result.

On Tuesday, 16 February 2021, I paid a courtesy call on the Australian High Commissioner, H.E Gregory Andrews to bring him up to speed on the work we have been doing and to mutually renew commitments to each other in our quest to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

The Deputy Representative of UNFPA Ghana, Ms. Agnes Kayitankore and myself, in an interaction with the High Commissioner, H.E Gregory Andrews

Women and girls’ rights are named as one of the six investment priorities of Australia’s foreign investment policy, with specific areas of collaboration including population data, family planning, and safe motherhood, HIV/AIDS prevention, ending gender-based violence and promoting disability- inclusive development.

Our discussions centered on possible collaborations with the High Commission in Ghana to achieve these transformative goals and promote gender equality.