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Hilary Gbedemah

Hilary Gbedemah

Former Chair, UN Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women;

Rector, The Law Institute, Labone, Accra;

Senior Legal Advisor, SNV/WiLDAF Legal Awareness Programme, Volta Region, Ghana.

My Story, Your Inspiration

Whatever success I claim today comes from leveraging gender and genealogy. Women have been my most steadfast door openers, encouragers, counselors, confidantes, guardian angels, and cheerleaders. The legacies of four generations of amazing women stand tall. My grandmother, who in 1941 undauntedly permitted my mother to leave the cloistered environment of convent schooling to Ghana’s first co-educational school 115 miles away; my mother, who unsurprisingly became a consummate educationist exacting excellence; my sisters, fellow wayfarers in education – and our children. Fearless men, unthreatened by women’s successes, stood sentry. I have held this blueprint for women’s empowerment.

Education was grueling but exciting, given the early influence of my parents. At nine years, I held my father to a wager over my ability to spell “pedagogism”. I won the bet and became the proud owner of a Chambers 20th Century Dictionary. My love for words, language, and discourse – as well as challenging boundaries – has never faltered since. My stint at SNV/WiLDAF’s Legal Awareness Programme involved challenging the status quo. Here, the boundaries to women’s rights were patriarchy, culture and religion. I exchanged my courtroom adversarial skills for diplomacy with resistant constituencies to avoid losing a good cause to a bad course.

Grassroots involvement was necessary to demystify and destigmatize women’s rights. We trained female community (potential) leaders as paralegals who provided real-time access to justice. Additionally, the social capital these “lawyers without robes” generated increased their communities’ respect for them and challenged age-held skepticism about women as leaders and repositories of professional male-domain knowledge.

Involve the subsequent generations: Our advocacy involved children who produced moving artwork covering all forms of violence against women. Children are not future leaders. They can be empowered to lead now.

Recognize interlinkages within women’s rights: Working with CEDAW, I observed similarities in women’s human rights issues across national, regional and international levels - although specific manifestations differed. Closer networking and experience-sharing among feminists is crucial to these “verti-sectionalities”, and to push back the regression of women’s rights.

Begin from where you are; use the master’s key to enter the locked house where your possessions (rights) lie.

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