By Kofi Ampeah-Woode
The sixty years celebration of females’ participation in Ghana’s military has received a shot in the arm as the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) of the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF) – Lieutenant General (Lt Gen) Obed Boamah Akwa referred to the successes chalked over the period by female counterparts as internationally admirable, deserving commendation and accolades.
The CDS Lt Gen Akwa, passed those comments in a speech read on his behalf, as the Guest of Honour, by the Chief of Staff at the General Headquarters (GHQ) – Major General (Maj Gen) Thomas Oppong-Peprah, at a Photo Exhibition, Documentary Screening and a Discussion of Past Experiences by retired female service personnel, which was held on Wednesday August 7th 2019, at the Burma Hall.
“I view the occasion of this anniversary as a well-chosen moment for our ladies to express and showcase their immeasurable contributions and talents towards world peace and security and this occasion is a landmark birthday and the perfect timing for our dear women in uniform to take stock and reflect on their lives as personnel of our noble Armed Forces”, General Akwa remarked.
“It is noteworthy that our Armed Forces today has adopted the concept of deploying women in various roles other than the traditional female roles our women were relegated to. The contributions of our females both home and abroad, particularly their contribution to United Nations Peace Support Operations, have attracted global attention.
This is a clear manifestation of the military high command’s support and efforts towards ensuring that gender equality is embraced and practiced in the Ghana Armed Forces in line with the 1992 constitution of the Republic of Ghana. This will empower our women to take up challenging roles that will make them more recognized in the service.
The role of female soldiers in the Ghana Armed Forces towards socio economic development is remarkable and worth acknowledging in this modern era. Gradually, the earlier roles such as nursing, cooking, clerical and administrative duties of female soldiers are being expanded to include operational roles. This signifies complete versatility between both male and female soldiers.
Today female soldiers are employed in all three services to take up roles such as engineering and construction, communications, intelligence and policing. This development will not only better equip our women to take up command appointments, but will also prepare the entire armed forces to be ever ready, willing and able to suppress any acts of aggression”, General Akwa stated.
The Ghana Armed Forces (GAF) metamorphosed at independence in 1957. In 1959, the Navy was formed and the Air Force later the same year. The Ghana Border Guards was added as the fourth arm of Service much later but was disbanded in 1984 and integrated into the Army.
Dr Kwame Nkrumah included females in his “Ghanaianization programme” to increase Ghanaian officers in the military.
In 1958, Major Mercy (Nyalegbe) Addo (rtd) was commissioned as the first female in uniform. By the end of that year, six officers had been commissioned. The early female officers were mainly enlisted for the Medical Corps.
In 1963, the first batch of twelve Other Ranks were recruited for the Signal Regiment. In 1963, two female officers were enlisted into the Air Force and became the first female fixed wing pilots The late Squadron Leader (Sqn Ldr) Melody Danquah and Sqn Ldr Ayeley Commey Essel-Ampah.
Sqn Ldr Danquah became the first female African pilot in 1994.
In between, officers and Other Rank females were enlisted. To administratively take care of the females, the Women Auxiliary Corps (WAC) was formed in 1964, with Lt Col Christine Debrah, who was also the Matron at the 37 Military Hospital as its Director. In 1965, eight female officers were commissioned and became the pioneers of WAC.
They were posted to different units which made them the first females in their fields: Lt Col Mary Akuamoah Education; Maj Leticia Reindoff Directorate of Public Relations (DPR); Maj J HoyleSignals Regiment, Capt Vinolia Kudolo Forces Pay Regiment; Lt R Asase -Military Assistant to Generals Ankrah and Acheampong who were Head of State; Lt R Atiegar Base Ordnance Depot; Lt Comfort Ntriwah and Lt C Kyei. WAC unfortunately was short-lived. It was disbanded soon after the overthrow of President Dr Kwame Nkrumah.
In 1978, the GAP began enlisting female regular officers with Capt Stella Bawa (rtd) wing the First female regular cadet in 1975 with Regular Intake 18. When parachute jumping (para-jumping) was added to the curriculum, in 2000, two female officers in the persons of Lt Cols Ernestina Assan and Vera Quaye para-jumped with colleague cadets and had their para wings. What pride!
Ghana Navy was the last service to have females. In 1995, twelve female Ratings were recruited. The following year, Capt (GN) Faustina Anokye, commissioned and became the First female naval officer.
In 2008, the first two females in the persons of Maj Josephine Amoah and Capt Memuna went outside the shores of Ghana, specifically to Sandhurst in the UK to train as officer cadets. In 2018, about 10 officers were commissioned into infantry and combat support units.
In 1986, Col FC Yebuah was promoted Colonel to become the first female Colonel and in 2016, Brig Gen Constance Emefa Edjeani-Afenu became the first female Brig Gen. In 1999, Lt Col CE Edjeani-Afenu was appointed Commanding Officer of the Forces Pay Regiment to become the first female Commanding Officer of a unit. In 2019, two female officers were appointed Second in Command of Signal Regiment and Defence Mechanical Transport Battalion Maj Bernice Khemchand and Maj Dennison respectively.
Although Ghana’s participation in peacekeeping dates back from 1960, it was not until 1985 that females started participating in peacekeeping. Lt Col Georgina Mensah (rtd) became the trailblazer as the first female peacekeeper and military observer in 1984 and 1986 respectively. In the same year however, females ceased participating in UN peacekeeping operations until 1994, when it resumed. Since then females have been in many dangerous terrains with their male colleagues to keep peace. Wing Commander Selase Agbenyefia became the first female pilot in the UN theatre in 2006, as she flew the helicopter for many years in the UN Mission in Cote d’Ivoire.
Currently, the GAF is the second highest in military female contribution to UN peacekeeping out of 122 troop contributing countries. In most of our current peacekeeping missions, we have hit the UN benchmark of 15% female. This has endeared Ghana to be part of Canada’s Elsie Initiative to increase women participation in peace operations. Ghana Armed Forces was the only military chosen for a bilateral training and technical assistance.
Roles performed by female personnel both officers and women have also expanded. Females can be found as pilots, engineers on the ship, drill instructors, masons, painters, welders, dispatch riders, big truck drivers, and many more. All these notwithstanding, we still however remain predominantly in the Support Services.
The GAF has steadily increased its recruitment and enlistment of females into the Force, both as officers and soldiers; as Short Service and Regular Officers. The women in uniform’s strength is currently in the thousands and counting, and about fifteen per cent of the military force.