PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
First Woman Attorney General (Ghana)
By Emily Laflamme
Betty Mould-Iddrisu was born March 22, 1953, in Accra, the largest city in Ghana. Her mother was originally from Ejuratia - Kwabre in the Ashanti Region and her father was from James Town, Accra, Ghana. During her years of secondary education, Mould-Iddrisu attended Achimota School, Ghana International School, and Accra Academy. She went on to earn her Bachelor’s in Law from the Faculty of Law (LLB), University of Ghana, Legon between the years of 1973-1976. She obtained her Master’s degree in Law from the London School of Economics (LLM) in London, UK in 1978; she returned to the Ghana School of Law and was called to the Ghanaian Bar in 1979.
In 2009, Mould-Iddrisu was sworn in as the first female Attorney-General and Minister of Justice in Ghana. Prior to that, Betty Mould-Iddrisu, after her call to the Ghana Bar, from the early 1980s, became an active member of the Ghana branch of the International Federation of Lawyers (FIDA), a lawyers’ association exclusively for women. Mould-Iddrisu held several executive positions in FIDA-Ghana and in 1986 assisted in the establishment of Ghana’s first Legal Aid Centre, comprising a legal aid clinic and a legal literacy center. This was a response to the passage of family laws passed by the Government in 1985 designed to give women and children a share of the estate of their deceased spouse and father’s property upon death intestate. She rose through the ranks of the FIDA-Ghana Executive to chair both the FIDA-Ghana (1994-96) and the FIDA-Africa group (1996- 98). Her time as Chair was characterized by legal representation of women in court, research, legal literacy, legal advocacy, grassroots sensitization of women leaders at the local levels. FIDA-Ghana over the years became a household name in terms of women lawyers volunteering their knowledge, support & advocacy for the rights of indigent women.
In the course of her career, there has been no shortage of actions and positions held by Mould- Iddrisu. These include: State Attorney at the Ghanaian Ministry of Justice, a position she held rising to the rank of Chief State Attorney; She headed the International Law Division at the Ministry of Justice; She was appointed Copyright Administrator of Ghana in 1989; She led the Administration of Authors’ Rights at the African Regional level; She rose to be an acknowledged global expert in Intellectual Property Law ( her field of specialization) throughout her career representing Ghana and Africa as a speaker, expert, resource person, chair, consultant to the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) & other multilateral agencies.
She pioneered the institution of the teaching of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) in 1990 at the University of Ghana’s Faculty of Law as a final year elective and taught IPR’s herself for ten years until the year 2000, mentoring hundreds of lawyers in IP; She led the Ministry of Justice’s International Law division; She was appointed as the Director of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs division of the UK based Commonwealth Secretariat in 2003 (The Commonwealth Secretariat is an intergovernmental multilateral organization which aims to achieve democracy, justice, and peace for its 55 member countries).
During her time as the head of the Ministry of Justice’s International Law division in 1997, Mould- Iddrisu’s responsibilities included more than just holding a title, she was also equipped to effect real change. Mould-Iddrisu implemented Ghana’s international legal obligations by handling both national and regional responses to issues of global human rights. For example, she cooperated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ECOWAS & the African Union in enforcing the rights of women and children, establishing human trafficking protocols, and amendment of cross-border legislation to deal with the rising threat of terrorism. She also assisted with the African Union to ensure ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in Africa and helped to promote international humanitarian law in concert with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
In 1999, Mould-Iddrisu co-founded the African Women Lawyers Association (AWLA) and chaired the organization for many years to concretize her vision of networking for the passage of gender- responsive laws across Africa to engender issues of patriarchy, domestic violence & sexual abuse, engendering, and advocating for the passage of legislation of a woman’s right to own property amongst others, and affirming spousal rights to property acquired within marriage. AWLA still exists in several African countries as a civil rights organization that tackles gender advocacy issues for the timely and effective delivery of justice for women and children. AWLA-Ghana is still active and still works in sensitizing women in the law, law enforcement, and the courts to issues of domestic violence and other gender-sensitive legislation.
In 2003, Mould-Iddrisu was appointed as Director of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Legal and Constitutional Division. She served as in-house counsel and advisor on an array of legal issues to Presidents, Heads of States, Ministers of Justice, Attorneys-General, Senior Law Officials, governments, and politicians. She also developed policy and program development for the promotion of Law and Governance issues, global responses to constitutional matters & reform, implementing international law mandates in the area of gender, private international law, international law, intellectual property law, and multilateral trade issues. Her career achievements stretch far beyond the positions she had or the titles she held. They include the impact she has had on the people through her life-long support and mentoring of lawyers and organizations with which she shared her knowledge across Africa and indeed globally.
Betty Mould-Iddrisu, when she was appointed as the first female Attorney General and Minister of Justice of Ghana in 2009, used her time leading the Ministry to initiate reforms by streamlining the work at the Ministry, building the capacity of the state attorneys at a national & international level, expanding and building up capacity in the regional offices and the prosecutions division. She also championed the expansion of legal education in Ghana by assisting to establish more law schools in the country – remarkably this remains the only expansion that professional law has seen in decades in terms of capacity. In 2010, she also laid two groundbreaking Bills in Parliament seeking to operationalize constitutional provisions on the distribution of assets acquired during marriage upon dissolution of marriage and the other was a review of the Intestate Succession Law seeking to give spouses and children a greater share of property upon death intestate. These two Bills were testimony to her lifelong fight for engendering the rights of women through the law.
Throughout her career, Mould-Iddrisu pursued the advancement and empowerment of Ghanaian women through grassroots programs that placed a focus on women and children in the areas of judicial reform, justice, and dispute resolution. She fought against gender-based violence and was a leading member of Ghana’s Domestic Violence Coalition which lobbied for the passage of Ghana’s Domestic Violence Law finally passed in 2007.
Betty Mould-Iddrisu, the pioneer, used what she had to propel herself to a position in which she could enact the change she saw fit and when she got to where she wanted to, she did not stop. She used her diverse ethnic background and experiences to represent a multitude of people in government and to present many perspectives. This made her a valuable asset to national, regional, and international organizations. Mould-Iddrisu started her career at the Ministry of Justice but continued to expand and extend to fields which at one time were out of the reach of many African women and achieved in areas that had hitherto been the preserve of men. She pioneered the teaching of a new legal field in Ghana. She was the first female Attorney General and Minister of Justice of Ghana.
She facilitated international cooperation, fought for the empowerment of women and children, and advised on regional and international policies, and pursued policies and programs for the benefit of her country. Betty Mould-Iddrisu’s impact on governance in Ghana, as well as globally, has been and will always remain virtually important.