Ghana has made great strides towards gender equality, with significantly increased gender parity in education, more women participating in politics, and female genital mutilation illegal since 1994. However there remains a gender gap—as is true in much of the world.
This can be glaringly obvious in the media: the newspapers are dominated by photos and voices of men, with women’s issues typically confined to the lifestyle pages.
But at the African University College of Communications in the heart of Accra, “gender balance” is a beautiful buzz phrase, uttered by students as they work on projects and run campus organizations. The administrators and lecturers at AUCC are striving for gender equity, and their efforts seem to be paying off.
This May, a female student named Joy Preston ran for president of the student chapter of Journalists for Human Rights for the first time in its history.
“The main reason is I thought it would be good to have gender balance in the position,” says Preston, a journalism student and active JHR member. “I also thought it would be a good opportunity to develop my leadership skills.”
Preston ran against two male students and admits the campaign wasn’t easy. “It was a very interesting experience both before, during and after,” she says. She said emotional intelligence was crucial in helping her discern who to trust, and to avoid being too affected by negativity.
Although she thinks women have a way to go before they’re ready to vie for top national leadership positions, Preston is optimistic. “I think things are changing,” Preston says. “It’s really different than in the past when maybe the female child was looked at as the one without a lot of opportunities.” Now, she says, people have begun to recognize that women and girls have qualities and skills that need to be developed.
Those people include the deans and lecturers of AUCC, which received a grant from UNESCO in 2011 to “mainstream” gender and minorities in journalism education. According to UNESCO, the project is meant to promote a “spirit of understanding and tolerance across the sub-region of West Africa for the promotion of gender equality among other social imperatives.” Several offices on campus still have wonderful paper signs reading “Gender mainstreaming centre” taped to their doors.
Dr. Augustina Amakye, who holds a PhD in communication from Regent University in Virginia Beach, USA, teaches a lively course called “Gender and Media” as part of these efforts.
On a recent Wednesday night, her classroom packed with students eager to share their opinions, Dr. Amakye began with a review of key concepts: the difference between sex and gender, culture as socially constructed, women’s rights and human rights.
She reminded students that women are subjected to various forms of abuse, including FGM, battery and rape, from birth to death. “What can be done about the violation of women’s rights?” she asked. She said she was looking at them—educated and informed citizens with an understanding of communications and the media—to make a difference.
Dr. Amakye said education is absolutely crucial, and that she was convinced courses like hers have the potential to change perspectives on gender. She said it concerned her that. at least on that particular day, the male students were more talkative than the female students. But even if they were quiet, the women in the class were listening carefully. How could they not? She was talking directly to them.
“Women, as some of you have said, need to mobilize themselves,” Dr. Amakye said. “We have to decide this is not what we want for ourselves and we have to change it.”