The Ghanaian government’s COVID-19 response has had an adverse impact on the poor, especially women and vulnerable groups. NETRIGHT, a national women’s rights network and its members are working to ensure women’s voices and interests are taken into account.
Problems and Purpose
Since the COVID-19 pandemic poses threats to all citizens of Ghana, it is critical that the measures taken guarantee the human rights of all people within the country. A majority of the population experience poverty, reside in deprived urban and rural communities, and/or are living with disabilities, and thus are already facing challenges in accessing effective and efficient healthcare. While ensuring that other critical healthcare needs are given attention, it is also important that access to healthcare be expanded for the marginalized and most vulnerable to the virus.
Currently, there is an outbreak of Cerebrospinal Meningitis (CSM) in the northern part of Ghana with a death toll higher than COVID-19 recorded deaths; however, not much attention has been given to this outbreak.
Background History and Context
In the wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic, governments across the world are putting in place measures to end the pandemic by instituting or intensifying social protection programs and directives to address the crisis. However, most of the measures are ‘business as usual’ thus devoid of active citizen engagement to ensure that strategies developed are specific to addressing the fallouts of COVID-19. It is worthy to acknowledge Ghana’s efforts in addressing the pandemic through the institution of measures such as a ban on public gatherings and events as well as a partial lockdown, social distancing, and hygiene practices, including enacting the Imposition of Restrictions Act 2020 (Act 1012) and the Establishment of Emergency Communications System Instrument, 2020 (EI 63).
One key concern is the lack of clarity on constitutional decisions justifying the passage of these Acts, due to its potential to breed unnecessary constitutional challenges, and its potential arbitrary implementation. The Law grants unnecessary powers to the president, given legal opinions that existing legal provisions are adequate to deal with the matters to be purportedly addressed by this new Law. Legal experts have challenged certain aspects of the Law, which gives the president powers to issue several executive instruments outlining measures to contain COVID-19 . There are concerns the new Law may be abused, including potential infringements on the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people of Ghana .
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Community engagement on the COVID-19 response in Ghana has been undertaken by the Network for Women's Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT) as well as other community based organizations in the country. This is in addition to measures taken by the government.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
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Methods and Tools Used
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Government has engaged groups such as traditional and religious leaders as well as labor groups, but this engagement has not been sufficiently broad or inclusive to ensure the voice and concerns of a majority of people – such as women, vulnerable groups and communities – are reflected in the measures being taken. As a result, measures such as social distancing and self-quarantining have not taken into account the largely informal nature of the Ghanaian economy, the predominance of self-employment, communal living conditions, public transportation, and the nature of our markets.
Network for Women's Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT)
NETRIGHT is a network of civil society organizations in Ghana representing women's interests and advocating for women's representation in policy.
To adhere to government directives, NETRIGHT and its member organisations have put on hold public engagements. However, they have explored other approaches to reach out to communities they work with, most of which are virtual engagements. The key challenge is ensuring inclusion and broader engagement in policy spaces, since a majority of the people are unable to engage virtually given their location and/or situation.
So far, as a national women’s rights network, NETRIGHT has issued two statements calling on the government to ensure COVID-19 interventions are responsive to the needs of the poor, including homeless women and the vulnerable in society . Also, NETRIGHT mobilized funds among women's groups which has been donated to the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection to support its efforts in reaching out to vulnerable and homeless women and children .
NETRIGHT members are also involved in community engagement on COVID-19. For instance, the Savannah Women Integrated Development Agency (SWIDA-GH) is carrying out community sensitization and distributing relief items to deprived communities in the Northern Region of Ghana as part of efforts to reach out to communities during this period . SWIDA-GH is a beneficiary of NETRIGHT’s African Women’s Development Fund - Leading from the South (AWDF LFS) funded project on strengthening the voice of women farmers for improved livelihoods which seeks to build the capacity of women’s rights’ organizations, community-based organizations working with women farmers and women farmers’ groups.
The Rights and Responsibilities Initiative (RRIG) meanwhile is creating public awareness and encouraging women and girls to report cases of sexual and gender-based violence during this period when people are spending more time at home .
Supporting businesses and workers
The Ghanaian government has announced a stimulus packages for small and medium enterprises (SMEs); however, there is no clarity on modalities for the package. Thus, difficult to ascertain how for example female-owned SMEs, including market women and female farmers, will be able to access the package.
Government is yet to define which groups of workers constitute frontline workers to enable them benefit from a stimulus package for this category. Women constitute the majority of primary caregivers for family members, as well as in professional capacities as health and social workers. At the same time, they face increased burden to provide for their family, particularly if family members fall ill or lose jobs due to the economic hardship linked to the pandemic. It is therefore the responsibility of the government to take steps to stabilize prices and counter inflation in the face of price hiking. With the lifting of the partial lockdown and schools still closed as of May 8, working mothers are disproportionately burdened with childcare responsibilities. There is a need for working mothers to be assisted with childcare, while ensuring that both women and men receive some protection from the economic impacts of the pandemic on an equal basis.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
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Analysis and Lessons Learned
In the midst of the pandemic and its fallout, civil society organizations that have historically championed citizen engagement through their work and facilitated entry points for community voice have been on the fringes, as their activities have been curtailed as a result of government directives to curb the virus. Notwithstanding, civil society organizations are creating their own spaces in the COVID-19 response by building synergies on joint civil society actions to combat COVID-19, and by working together to demand for equity, accountability and transparency in the management of the National Fund set up for COVID-19 as well as other government actions during this period.
 Atuguba, R. (2020). What COVID-19 reveals about Ghana’s justice system and what needs to change. The Conversation, April 16. Available at: https://theconversation.com/what-covid-19-reveals-about-ghanas-justice-system-and-what-needs-to-change-134809
 Appiagyei-Atua, K. (2020). Emergency without a State of Emergency: Effect of Imposition of Restrictions Act, 2020 on rights of Ghanaians. My Joy Online, April 2. Available at: https://www.myjoyonline.com/opinion/emergency-without-a-state-of-emergency-effect-of-imposition-of-restrictions-act-2020-on-rights-of-ghanaians/
 Ghana Web (2020). Women's Right Organisations in Ghana call for a gender responsive response to COVID-19. Ghana Web, March 26. Available at: https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Women-s-Right-Organisations-in-Ghana-call-for-a-gender-responsive-response-to-COVID-19-905362?channel=D2
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 Ghana News Agency (2020). Be bold to report any abuse during the lockdown – Aba Oppong. Ghana News Agency, April 17. Available at: https://newsghana.com.gh/be-bold-to-report-any-abuse-during-the-lockdown-aba-oppong/).