June 23, 2022
The Institute for African Women in Law, in collaboration with the Ghana Bar Association and the Ghana Bar Association Women’s Forum, held a roundtable discussion to explore the role of men as allies in the quest for gender equality.
The goal of this event was to provide collective and actionable solutions to addressing gender inequity within the profession and to take a #GenderSolidarity pledge toward achieving UN Sustainable Developments Goals #5 (gender equality) and #16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions) as well as African Union Agenda 2063 goal #17 (gender equality). IAWL has adopted gender solidarity as an approach to include men in the quest for gender equality through the M.A.L.E Allies Network – the acronym M.A.L.E stands for Men Advocates in Law for Equality.
"Ms. Isabel Boaten, Managing Partner at AB & David Ghana and IAWL Board member, kicked off the event with some opening remarks:
"The support of my male allies emboldened me to face the world and the different species of men I would encounter in and out of the profession. The real gift that male allies give, which I dare say is coterminous with true masculinity, is to amplify our voices, is to recognize the specific needs of womanhood, is to appreciate the undeniable rewards of working hand in hand with women to reach their fullest potential."
Mr. Saviour Q. Kudze, Public Relations Officer of the Ghana Bar Association, delivered additional remarks to set the tone for the discussion. He expressed that the time has come for us all to unite with the common aim of resolving gender disparity. Mr. Kudze spoke on the importance of men and boys relinquishing their position as bystanders and joining women in taking action to resolve gender disparity. He affirmed that men and boys must discard the notion that empowering women will rid them of their roles in society.
IAWL Founder and Executive Director, Prof. J. Jarpa Dawuni also shared that while Ghana has done well on gender equity at the Bar in terms of the numbers, the descriptive equality is not where we must end – we also require substantive equality by creating an inclusive workplace practices where all women lawyers feel safe, respected and valued for what they bring to the table.
Moderated by Esine Okudzeto, Deputy Managing Partner at Sam Okudzeto & Associates, the event brought together Justice Jones V.M. Dotse, Justice Gertrude Torkornoo, Mrs. Sheila Minkah-Premo, Mr. David Ofosu-Dorte, and Ms. Maame Yaa Mensa-Bonsu to explore a series of questions examining the social, cultural, and institutional norms and practices that create gender inequality within the legal profession.
Justice Jones V.M. Dotse, Justice of the Supreme Court of Ghana, spoke on the persistent challenges in achieving a gender-equitable and gender-inclusive legal profession in Ghana, and how these inequities in the profession translate to the lack of access to justice for women. He shared that the Constitution of Ghana has provisions championing gender equity; however, stakeholders must play their part in effectuating the intent of the Constitution beyond the provisions. He added that while Ghana's judiciary has recorded successive number of women as Chief Justices and Attorneys General, this has not translated into reforming laws which discriminate against women.
Mrs. Sheila Minkah-Premo, Senior Managing Partner at Apex Lawconsult, spoke on trends in gender equity in the legal profession in Ghana. She noted the equal representation of women and men at the Bar; however, this does not show the full story. Mrs. Minkah-Premo shared that despite the increased representation of women, not all issues faced by women in the legal profession were resolved. Sexual harassment claims were still recorded across various sections of the legal profession in addition to many women in private practice migrating to other fields to better manage the balancing act between family and work. She also added that women have not reached the peak of leadership at the Bar just yet, noting that we are still yet to have a woman president of the Ghana Bar.
Mr. David Ofosu-Dorte, Senior Partner at AB & David Africa, spoke on his drive to support gender solidarity at his firm, and the challenges encountered in the process of being an ally for women in the legal profession. He recounted that his driving force is attributed to losing his mother at an early age and subsequently being cared for by women. He shared two challenges for women in the legal profession that he has observed. The first is maternity leave and other extended breaks as women must pick up from where they left off. The second is working from home as some women find it difficult to juggle their other responsibilities without losing out on their careers.
Mr. Ofosu-Dorte noted that gender solidarity at a law firm must be bolstered by recruitment policies that encourage men and women to work as allies. Further, law firms should support women returning from maternity leave as they pick back up their regular working schedule and encourage their growth. His firm, AB & David, has adopted initiatives like "Flexi-Time" to ease the burden on lactating mothers, and paternity leave, to encourage men to be caregivers.
Justice Gertrude Torkornoo, Justice of the Supreme Court of Ghana, pointed out that there needs to be a focus on creating safe spaces for women at the workplace and in their homes in order to further push for a society that values women as equals to men. She also shared that gender issues should be constantly discussed within the right context to sensitize all on the importance of gender equality.
Ms. Maame Yaa Mensa-Bonsu, Lecturer at the University of Ghana, spoke on opportunities to develop gender-sensitive and gender-inclusive legal training. She shared that every module in law school should include a component on gender because every area of law deals with gender. Additionally, she noted that this will help students to better appreciate gender issues in law when it is infused early in their learning.
Ms. Adelaide Benneh Prempeh, Founder and Managing Partner at B&P Associates, delivered the closing remarks for the discussion. She celebrated the speakers for their commitment and contributions to the important discussion on gender equality, thus affirming that it is not solely a women's issue.
Change will happen, one male ally at a time, one act of empathy at a time but it needs to be done purposefully with an open mind, sometimes requiring the need to assess oneself critically. I encourage all of us to start this journey by joining one of the IAWL professional networks. There is one for every woman at different stages of their career: the IAWL Women Experts Network, the IAWL Law Students Network, the IAWL Early Career Network, and, very importantly, the MALE Allies Network. Together, we will build the change we all so deserve and thrive in a world as it should be.
The event was a powerful starting point for us to ignite individual and organizational transformation towards gender equality in the legal profession.