"Visit to SIERRA LEONE"
Visit to Ghana Harriet Harman MP Secretary of State for Women and Equality Leader of the House of Commons Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham House of Commons London SW1A 0AA Tel: 020 7219 4218 Fax: 020 7219 4877 firstname.lastname@example.org www.harrietharman.org April 2009 Introduction I had three important reasons to visit Ghana: - To show my respect to the Ghanaian community in my constituency of Camberwell and Peckham in Southwark by visiting their country of origin. Camberwell and Peckham has one of the largest African diaspora in the UK, with an estimated third of my constituents coming from Africa. The Ghanaian community is one of the largest and the longest standing. Strengthening links with the African community in Southwark is an important part of my work as a Member of Parliament. I have already visited Nigeria, Sierra Leonne and Tanzania. - To reaffirm the UK Government’s strong commitment to playing a leading role in promoting development and tackling poverty internationally – and in particular supporting women and girls in the developing world. About a third of the £85 million annual aid funds from the UK to Ghana goes on helping give girls a better education and a brighter future. - To share the UK Governments commitment to play our part in what we hope and expect will be a confident future for Ghana. Before my visit I held a meeting at Southwark Town Hall and was briefed by my Ghanaian constituents. I discussed with them where I was traveling to and what I should be looking out for whilst I was there. I undertook to report back to them following my visit. Harriet Harman MP at the Town Hall meeting with Ghanaian constituents on Tuesday 17 th February 2009 My visit was arranged by the Government Equalities Office (GEO) in conjunction with Plan International. Plan International is a leading non-governmental community development organisation which enables families and communities in the poorest countries to make lasting improvements to the lives of their children. For more details visit: http://www.plan- uk.org/ I was accompanied on my visit by Marie Staunton, Director of Plan UK and Polly Toynbee, a journalist at the Guardian newspaper and our High Commissioner in Ghana, Dr Nicholas Westcott. Ghana Department for International Development (DFID) in Ghana Ghana is considered an ‘island of peace and stability’ in the West Africa Sub-Region. The country has had five consecutive free and fair elections - most recently in December 2008. DFID is Ghana’s largest bilateral donor, providing directly over £85 million a year and is second only to the World Bank. The UK government has supported free healthcare for women and girls in Ghana including maternal health, children’s issues, emergency obstetrics equipment and the introduction of domestic violence law. In 2006, DFID agreed a ten-year Education support programme of £125m - the first 10 year plan for Education in Africa. One notable improvement has been an increase in primary school enrollment from 79% in 2006/07 to 83% in 2007/08 with broadly equal numbers of boys and girls. Mangoase - Central Region I travelled to the Bawujase area in Central Region, a two hour drive from Accra, with Mike Hammond the Country Director for DfID, Marie Staunton the UK Director of Plan UK and Polly Toynbee from the Guardian newspaper. Mangoase is a village with a population of 1,500. The community is rural, and farming is the main occupation. Most women’s income is earned trading at the local markets of Bawjiase and Kasoa, most of the men are farmers. In Mangoase we visited Jei- Krodua Anglican School and met with members from the “Rights of the Child” club and women from the “Credit with Savings and Education” programme. Jei-Krodua Anglican School The school is sponsored by Plan UK and has over 1,100 pupils. In Ghana education is considered extremely important and is recogonised as the way to a better life. Whilst I was in Ghana I asked women what they spent their earnings on – they all told me the same thing – that it was to send their children to school. Harriet Harman MP with pupils from Jei-Krodua Anglican School I was greeted by a group of pupils who showed me around their school. I was shown into a class room where pupils were being taught English language and reading comprehension. Nana Ntim-Gyakari, their teacher, invited me to come and watch his class and see what the pupils were learning. It was good to see such great emphasis on the importance of girls' education and equality of opportunity for women. The children told how much they liked going to school, but how they hoped that soon the school would have electricity so they could use real computers in their computing lessons. Harriet Harman MP with Ellen Osae, 12 (centre) and Patience Asilevi, 12 (left) Rights of the Child Club The children told me that in Ghana the custom is that “children should be seen and not heard”. Discipline is strict and children both fear and respect their elders. The “Rights of the Child Club” aims to teach children their rights through training, camps and drama projects. The group put on a play for us telling the story of a mother who could not afford to feed her family so she sent her daughter to a rich man to “go with him for money”. When her daughter gets pregnant she is sent by her mother to marry the man. The man will not marry her and her mother will not have her back. The daughter is then sent onto the street. The audience was asked what they learnt and one young girl answered that “children should not be made to have sex for money by their parents”. Credit Savings with Education Also while I was in Mangoase I visited a “Credit Savings with Education Group” (pictured right). With help from Plan International this programme helps women in rural communities save and borrow money. Once a week women bring their savings and banking book to the credit savings meeting. In turn their names are called out and the women bank their savings for the week, which can be anything between 1-10 cedis (50p - £5). The trained bank official fills out the women’s banking book and collects the money which is taken to the local bank a few miles away. The scheme also allows women to borrow money, a small amount at a time. The amounts were small, but they were also life changing. I asked some of the women what they used the loans to buy and what they used the profits for. They all had a different reason for taking a loan, either to buy cassava (a common tuber to sell at the local market), fish to smoke and sell by the road or breeze blocks to build a bar one brick at a time. But they all spent their profits on the same thing – sending their children to school. Harriet Harman MP, Marie Staunton and Emilia Allen of Plan Ghana speaking to Hannah Aidoo, with her daughter Lydia Mensa - a member of the Credit and Savings Education Group. Whilst I was in the village the new local Member of Parliament for Awutu Senya Constituency, Hon David Nana Larbie, was visiting and he came over to say hello to us. He told me he had recently returned to Ghana after living in the UK for many years and we had met me several times as he had been one of my constituents living in Peckham! We could not believe the coincidence. He told me about the importance of traveling to the villages regularly as his constituents did not have computers or telephones, and many could not read or write so could not contact him the same way that my constituents in the UK contact me. He told me how when he was elected as an MP he was not given a computer or an office, that he has to pay for any staff from his wages, and when he visited schools he was expected to take them exercise books and pens. Harriet Harman MP being greeted by Hon. David Larbie Obrachire Obrachire is a small town in Central Region with a population of approximately 2,500. When I arrived I was invited into the Amadu family’s home for a meal before I went to meet the village chiefs and elders to pay my respect. Harriet Harman MP with the Amadu family Harriet Harman MP signing the visitors book of the Obrachire chiefs and elders Village Savings and Loans Group A group of 50 women in Obrachire invited me to see how their savings and loans group worked. The women in the group do not earn enough money to deposit their savings in a bank. Instead they showed me a green tin box (being held in the photo below) where they have been depositing their money for the past year. The box has three keys and they introduced me to the three women who they have entrusted with a key each. One of the group members, Mary Borketuy explained that the women meet weekly and the secretary Esther Amponsah marks in the book how much money each of the women deposit. Everyone has to put something in, although they are not expected to do so every week. After a few months of the scheme starting there was enough money in the tin for the women to apply to the group for a loan. Harriet Harman MP with women from the Village Savings and Loans Group, Obrachire The first loan for each woman is 20 cedis (£10) and she has 8 weeks to pay it back at 5% interest. If she does this she is allowed 40 cedis (£20) as her next loan, and then 80 cedis (£40) - the maximum allowed. This money was used for investing in businesses such as buying corn to sell at the road side. The women must tell the group what the money is for and the group must then agree the loan. There was also a social fund which is used to help women who fall sick and cannot work. I asked if any women have left the group, with or without paying back an outstanding loan. They told me that only one woman had left the group since it started in 2008. She left because her husband was sick in another region and she had to go to nurse him. The woman paid back the money which she owed and the group decided to give her money from the hardship fund to help her travel to her husband. No woman has ever defaulted on her loan. I asked the women if they would allow men in their group and they all laughed and said “impossible”! They told me how there used to be 3 men in the group of 50 women, but because they had tried to dominate the group the women changed the constitution and threw them out. I asked to speak to one of these men and he joined us to say that once he had left he tried to start his own group, but he could only find 17 men, which was not enough, and the group had to close because the men did not use the loans to invest in businesses for profit, but instead used the money to buy beer, so instead he sent his wife to join the women’s group! All the women there found this very funny, especially the women from the UK. Obrachire Senior High School I met with a group of 17 and18 year old girls at Obrachire Senior High who have benefited from a scholarship scheme run by Plan UK. The scheme, which this year has helped 1,120 girls, including 42 girls at university by paying for their tuition fees, board and lodging. Marie Staunton asked the girls what was the best thing about being a girl in Ghana. They told us that in the past the place for a girl was in the kitchen and now they were pleased because if they worked hard they could be a teacher, a doctor or a broadcaster. One of the girls told us how she hoped to be a radio DJ and was planning to go to a specialist college when she finished school. They were all proud to be girls and their determination and hope for a better life left me feeling hopeful for their future. Harriet Harman MP talking with a group of girls from Obrachire Senior High When asked what was the worst thing about being a girl in Ghana they told us that child abuse, teenage pregnancy and child trafficking were the worst things. All of the girls knew someone who had been affected by these issues. They explained the main reason for these things was poor parental care and not enough money for food. They asked me many questions including – what the challenges are for girls in the UK and how young people in the UK treat older people? We need to ensure that, despite the world recession, Ghana can clearly look forward to an ever improving future with women more involved in government and business, as well as providing for their families. I feel confident that if these girls are Ghana’s future then it is in good hands. Visit to the Ghanaian Parliament In December 2008 Ghana had a general election. 8,200,000 people went to the polls to elect a President and 230 Parliamentarians. The elections were the most contested in the country’s history. Because of the post-election violence in Kenya and Zimbabwe there was speculation about the possibility of violence erupting in Ghana. Although it took three rounds of voting for a conclusion to be reached there was a peaceful transfer of power to what had previously been the opposition party. Ghana showed herself to be a shining example of peaceful change through democracy. The Majority Leader I met with the Majority Leader, Hon Alban Bagbin whilst I was visiting the Ghanaian Parliament. We discussed the importance of parliament as an institution and how best Members of Parliament can reach out to people and ensure they understand its roles and functions. He explained how Parliament in Ghana has become the weakest arm of Government because of poor structures. He believes the structures of Parliament should be strengthened to ensure an equal arm with the executive. He also outlined some challenges facing the Ghanaian Parliament, such as the lack of research staff and internet facilities and also called on the media to be objective and circumspect in their reporting. Harriet Harman MP speaking with Hon Alban Bagbin I met with the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament Prof. Mike Oquaye as part of my visit to discuss issues surrounding the role of MPs in Parliament. The Minister for Women and Children I met with Hon. Akua Dansua, the New Ghanaian Minister for Women and Children, to discuss common areas of work, as well as other leading female Ghanaian politicians to talk about women in leadership roles. Equal representation of women in public life is a key priority for the UK Government. A problem she raised with me was the difficulty of accessing data disaggregated by gender. Harriet Harman MP speaking with Hon. Akua Dansua Justice Sophia Akuffo I met with Justice Sophia Akuffo and officials from the Ghanaian judiciary to discuss issues concerning gender equality and violence against women - and how the Ghanaian courts handled such cases. Ms Sophia Akuffo, a Supreme Court Judge explained how even though Ghana had achieved some success in the area of gender and domestic violence, the country had not completely met all the challenges yet, and although gender rights concerning women were enshrined in the country’s 1992 constitution there remained a lot of work to be done. I was pleased to hear that here were 64 female judges in the Judiciary, about 22 percent of the 290 judges in the country. Harriet Harman MP meeting with Justice Sophia Akuffo and officials The British Council – “Women in Decision Making” I was invited by the British Council to give a speech with Hon. Akua Dansua about Women in Decision making. To read a copy of my speech please see the speeches and reports section of my website at www.harrietharman.org. The audience was very interested by the idea of women only short lists for parliamentary selection, something which they considered very radical and quite shocking. I was pleased to see over 200 people come along – many of whom had listened to me on the “Joy FM” radio station that morning and were interested to come and hear how the women in the UK do things! Harriet Harman MP making a speech about Women in Decision making. The Domestic Violence Victims Support Unit The Ghanaian Domestic Violence Victims Support Unit was set up in 1998 as the Woman and Juvenile Unit. The Unit aims to protect the rights of the vulnerable against all forms of abuse. We discussed the success of the Unit over the years and the shift away from the old attitude that domestic violence is an issue for the family to be dealt with behind closed doors. And instead seeing cases of abuse or neglect being a matter for the police. The Unit told me the main problem they encounter is that victims can not afford to pay to go to the hospital to have an examination, so often cases do not get to trial as there is no medical evidence of abuse. Harriet Harman MP and members of the Domestic Violence Victim Support Unit Programme Mangoase – Visit to Jei-Krodua Anglican School, “Rights of the Children” and “Credit & Saving with Education” projects Obrachire – Lunch with the Amadu Family, meeting with the Village Elders and Chefs, visit to the Savings & Loans group, and meeting with high school girls in Plan Ghana Scholarship scheme Ghanaian Parliament – meeting with Majority Leader, Hon Alban Bagbin and Deputy Speaker of the Parliament Prof. Mike Oquaye Tour of High Commission visa section Meeting with Domestic Violence Victims Support Unit Meeting with Akua Dansua, Minister of Women and Children British Council - Women in Decision Making Speech Meeting with Betty Mould-Idrissu, Attorney General Acknowledgements I would especially like to thank: - Marie Staunton, Chief Executive of Plan for her help in arranging the visit and for accompanying me - Dr Nicholas Westcott, British High Commissioner and his wife Miriam for their help with arranging the visit and their hospitality - Peter Ruskin from the High Commission for arranging the programme - Mike Hammond, Country Director for DIFID - Samual Paulos, Country Director of Plan Ghana - All the staff at Plan UK and Plan Ghana - Staff from the Government Equalities Office - My Special Advisor, Ayesha Hazarika - My Constituency Assistant, Charlotte Montague Feedback Form Name_________________________________________________________ Address_______________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________ _______________________________ Post Code______________________ This report is: Useful and informative? Too long / Too short? A good use / A waste of public money? Any other Comments: ______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________ How well do you think that I am doing as your local Member of Parliament? (1 excellent – 5 unsatisfactory) 1 2 3 4 5 Please post this form back to Harriet Harman MP, FREEPOST RSBZ-TGBZ-ABRH, House of Commons, London SW1A 1AA You do NOT need to use a stamp