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“It is important for the advancement of feminist politics to make the word `feminist´ visible in all our undertakings.”

Blog Joint Futures 24, 15.11.2023

Gender-responsive trade policies are crucial for inclusive development across Africa. As trade union consultant and activist Bashiratu Kamal points out in an interview with Megatrends Afrika, there is more than one issue that the Africa Policy Guidelines need to address.


Megatrends Afrika (MTA): It is often said that the future of the African continent lies with its youth. Indeed, two-thirds of the Ghanaian population are aged 25 years or younger. How does the young generation contribute towards an agenda for change? What challenges and limits to their political activism do they face?

In Ghana, it is difficult to say that 25 is a “mature age”, since the economy has changed the demographics and how people are viewed. Many young people below this age are unemployed or in school. Politically, there are several challenges when it comes to the inclusion of the youth, and especially women, which has become a fallacy. Even though we, as a country, are supposed to practise democracy, which is supposed to promote inclusion, our political processes are not fully inclusive. While the 1992 Constitution of Ghana gives everyone the right to vote at the age of 18, the age to qualify in order to stand as President is set at 40, which excludes an active section of the population. Beyond voting, the youth are mostly used for activities such as electoral violence, campaigning in the trenches, gender-based violence and harassment of other political party opponents – especially women – before, during and after elections. Meanwhile, the same young people are not offered many opportunities once elections are over. Similarly, there are no decent jobs for young people in Ghana, except for precarious jobs with many drawbacks. There are several challenges that hinder the active political participation of young people, including a lack of inclusion in political decision-making, a lack of resources and status, and an undefined role in political parties.

MTA: You are a consultant to a large trade union federation on gender issues. What is the current role and relevance of trade unions in sustainable development in Ghana and across the African continent?

Trade unions remain a key stakeholder in Ghanaian civil society. As trade unions, our work goes beyond negotiation and the bargaining of wages to the conditions of service, coupled with our interest in standards of living, which are key in the lives of citizens.

Trade unions have contributed meaningfully by working with government at the tripartite level to ensure the smooth running of the labour market, despite government resistance and backlash from workers themselves. Trade union activism in Ghana has led to the existence of several social protection schemes and protection against discrimination for certain categories of workers, such as pregnant women, persons with disabilities, etc. The existence of maternity protection provisions in the Labour Act and in several collective agreements could not have been possible without trade unions.

Similarly, in line with Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals, “Achieve Gender Equality and Empower All Women and Girls”, Ghana has ratified several International Labour Organisation [ILO] Conventions, including on non-discrimination, equal pay for work of equal value, forced labour, etc. In Ghana, the Trades Union Congress [TUC] - Ghana in the past has been a key pillar in the design, development and implementation of a three-tier scheme of the Social Security and National Insurance Trust for the informal economy. The TUC has similarly worked with other stakeholders and the informal sector to establish the Union of Informal Workers Associations [UNIWA] in Ghana, which has played a key role in working with other stakeholders to extend the protection of legislations to its members, the majority of whom are women. Unions have also been crucial in the struggle for several pieces of legislation aimed at strengthening the protection of women, such as the Domestic Violence Act 732, the National Gender Policy and the yet to be passed Affirmative Action Bill. Today, trade unions are leading the advocacy for the ratification of ILO Convention No. 190 on Eliminating Violence and Harassment in the World of Work across Africa.

MTA: A recurring topos of Germany’s Africa policy has been the “promotion of sustainable growth, private-sector engagement and decent jobs”. The informal sector continues to be of significant importance across the continent. What role does the informal sector play in Africa’s economic development and addressing persistent inequalities?

The informal sector accounts for more than 70 per cent of Africa’s total economy. It employs a large majority of citizens to do a variety of work as self-employed workers, service jobs and sales attendants, entrepreneurs, hawkers, among many other positions. Beyond employment, the informal sector makes a huge contribution towards Ghana’s GDP, and especially to the internally generated funds of Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies [MMDAs].

Given the various challenges that women in particular face in the formal sector, many women end up staying in the informal sector, where there is flexibility in managing their triple roles and care responsibilities due to flexible work arrangements. The sector has also provided an opportunity for some women to combine formal work with managing a side-business informally. This has contributed to women’s economic empowerment and access to work.

For most women, people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, the informal sector has been an escape from some of the many discriminations they face in their bid to access and continue employment in the formal economy. Unfortunately, forms of harassment from authorities, extortion and exposure to health hazards due to poor sanitation are persistent realities across the country and MMDAs. The various government tax policies also remain a huge barrier, putting women’s businesses at risk of collapse. Furthermore, the informal sector includes a range of domestic work and small-scale agribusinesses that overlap with women’s traditional domestic and care responsibilities. Their availability has led to an increase in women’s participation in the formal sector.  Overall, the informal sector can be made more decent – if the government takes measures and prioritises its formalisation.

MTA: In light of recent initiatives to move a feminist foreign policy forward, where are some blind spots that you would perceive as fields of action for Germany’s policy towards Africa?

It is important for the advancement of feminist politics to make the word “feminist” visible in all our undertakings with our governments and other stakeholders. This is because outspoken African feminists continue to endure abuse and vilification from policy-makers, simply for identifying as feminists. Each and every engagement should apply feminist principles, including the promotion of diversity and inclusion, participation and consultation of all categories of people, transparency and accountability, and respect for the voice and agency of all.

The policy implementation process should give priority to:

  1. Ensuring locally appropriate co-creation of the implementation agendas, guided by democratic values; adaptation to context-specific inclusive processes is necessary.
  2. Expanding the current project-based approach to implementation beyond the more traditional “quick wins” to longer-term engagement to ensure greater consistency, coherence and flexibility, thereby helping to underpin change in the long term.
  3. Connecting the promotion of/ support of democracy in relations with state and non-state actors to the strengthening of economic justice and welfare economies.
  4. Ensuring that funding provided by the German government does not harm democratic movements, particularly in more authoritarian spaces, by not shying away from credibly withdrawing funding from governments where necessary.
  5. Enhancing financial flexibility in project management rules, particularly for German institutions, so that they can work on supporting the development of political and policy agendas, specifically with young and emerging youth movements as well as local consensus-building institutions.
  6. Educating the German taxpayer as well as regional and multilateral institutions – for which Germany plays a major role – about its Africa policy and the underlying interests, thereby providing leadership towards a more coherent and collaborative approach.
  7. Establishing a firm budgetary limit, through a ceiling or a percentage of budget, on the number of resources spent on international consultancy support in favour of locally available expertise.

MTA: With respect to Germany’s ongoing revision of the Africa Policy Guidelines, the Federal Foreign Office seeks to challenge old beliefs guiding relations with African partners. Are there any specific ideas that are close to your heart or which you would like to point out in conclusion?

Existing policies may be good, but they are not necessarily gender-responsive. It is therefore important that the Africa Policy Guidelines are inclusive, respect diversity and focus on the need to protect everyone.

With regard to African-German commercial relations, they must ensure a gender-responsive and gender-sensitive approach to reinforce corporate sustainability and due diligence legislation. Explicitly, human rights violations exacerbate gender inequalities through multiple intersecting vulnerabilities. It is important for the Africa Policy Guidelines to underscore that due diligence in commercial operations covers the entire value and supply chain, in both the formal and informal sectors. Like the provisions of the UN Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights, currently being negotiated at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, due diligence legislation should be binding on all types of businesses and operations, regardless of their size or location. Finally, even an overarching strategy should take into account the realities of the people it may directly or indirectly affect. Support for the participation of workers and action against discrimination and gender-based violence is needed in order to improve their everyday lives. The Africa Policy Guidelines should include a commitment to the recognition of complex intersectionalities.

The Editorial Team at Megatrends Afrika conducted this interview with Bashiratu Kamal, a consultant on gender, labour and safeguarding with the General Agricultural Workers’ Union (GAWU) at the Trade Union Congress Ghana in October 2023.