On International Women’s Day, I find myself reflecting on my professional journey over the past 25 years dedicated to campaigning for girls’ education and women’s rights in Ghana.

I first encountered the stark realities of gender disparities in staffing structures during my first degree in Economics as there were far more men than women at higher levels of decision-making at this academic level. This experience pushed me on to pursue my second degree, Development Studies, where some of my incredible female lecturers sparked what would become a lifelong interest in girls’ education. Upon graduation, I joined the Girls’ Education Unit at the Ghana Education Service, way back in 1999.

My transition to full-time work on women’s rights and gender equality at the Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre marked a significant turning point in my journey. Working now full time on women’s rights at NGO level focussed my professional trajectory on empowering women to have equal political participation in decision-making structures, and on addressing gender-based violence and intimate partner violence. I then moved on to PLAN International advocating for girls’ rights, then to Action Aid Ghana where I was responsible for campaigning for the provision of gender-responsive public services.

One of the principal objectives of my work on empowering women in Ghana is to campaign for free public services that will reduce the care burden on women. Women on low incomes cannot afford childcare services in this country. The state should take over responsibility to provide childcare centres, engaging service providers and care givers to reduce the burden on young mothers, allowing them to pursue other economic, social, or political activities. Quality childcare facilities and play-based kindergarten education will significantly reduce the care burden on women. If the child is happy going to school every day, the mother is relieved of childcare responsibilities and is free to do other activities. I commend the government for introducing free kindergarten education for all 4- and 5-year-olds in 2008. However, we should not stop there but continue with the provision of childcare centres for under 4 year-olds as women on low income cannot afford childcare.

When mothers are overburdened with care work, daughters are often asked to help. These children are the future workers of the nation, therefore the state should take charge of childcare centres for all children, boys and girls, to lessen the responsibility of families.

Despite these challenges in promoting girls’ education, there has been some progress over the past four or five years. I was a member of the working group established by the Ghana Education Service to address the issue of teenage pregnancy and school dropouts. Now, girls who get pregnant in school can return to their studies after childbirth so they can complete their education. This is a significant milestone in the history of girls’ education in Ghana.

We still have huge challenges of women in leadership positions, especially when it comes to political appointees. About twelve years ago the Ministry of Gender was working on an Affirmative Action Bill which would guide the state in ensuring some level gender equality in appointments including political party leadership positions. After over ten years, this bill hasn’t been passed and is still in the draft stage. We’re still a long way from gender parity in high level management positions.

My advice for parents is that they should enroll their children, both boys and girls, in kindergarten at four years old. When children go to school at the right age, they leave school at the right age. Research shows that teenage pregnancy in Ghana is higher at Junior High School than Senior High School, meaning when girls get a longer and better education, the risk of pregnancy dramatically decreases.

Investing in early childhood development has been shown to significantly improve children’s learning later in the education system, at junior high school, senior high school and even through to tertiary. Until the Ghana Education Service developed and launched the new play-based in-service teacher training manual, the country was using rote-based teaching methodologies. Children found it difficult to cope with these methods as they didn’t retain their interest. Now, the national scaling of quality early years kindergarten education seeks to promote play-based teaching and learning. As children learn through play, their brain develops faster, and they gain essential cooperation skills, motor skills and a host of other 21st century learning skills.

If we want children to stay in school to lessen the burden of care on mothers, we have to support the implementation of the play-based pedagogy across the whole of Ghana. We’re calling everyone to support the Ghana Education Service’s effort to nationally scale the play-based INSET to all teachers across the whole nation.