Opinion: How misinformation will be gender-based in Ghana’s upcoming elections

This article was originally published by Poynter in commemoration of International Fact-Checking Day 2024, held April 2 each year to recognize the work of fact-checkers worldwide. The author, Kwaku Krobea Asante, is the team lead for Fact-Check Ghana.

When the leader of the majority caucus of Ghana’s parliament, Alexander Afenyo-Markin, took to the floor on March 11, people expected his comments to focus on the State of the Nation Address that the president had delivered on the floor just a few days before.

Instead, the majority leader dedicated parts of his presentation to attacking the woman who had just been named as the vice presidential candidate of the main opposition party.

“Even if you look at his choice of running mate, he could not get somebody that one could say they are planning for the future. The person is over 70 years; we have no succession plan. From day one, their government will be in crisis. They went to pick the very old person who could not perform at the Education Ministry,” he said.

The comments were unexpected, but not unsurprising. It wasn’t the first time she had been a target of such an attack. In the previous general elections in 2020, her age, sex, marital status, and previous marriage became fodder for disinformation. She was called “grandma,” “witch” and “spinster.”

A former education minister and academic who was once the vice chancellor for a leading public university in Ghana, Jane Naana Opoku-Agyemang in 2020 became the first woman to be selected as vice presidential candidate for a major political party. The 2024 elections will be the second time she will be running. And if she wins, she will be the first female vice president in the history of Ghana.

But her stellar private and public life has not insulated her from being the target of coordinated gendered disinformation.

Gendered disinformation is a form of abuse that uses false or misleading gendered and sex-based narratives against women intending to discourage them from public participation. Typically, gendered disinformation in Ghana draws on the intersectionality of the age, religion, ethnicity or culture and the marital status of women. Also, as its name suggests, the narratives are often false with malign intent, and sometimes coordinated.

The majority leader’s comment tagging the female presidential candidate as too old to perform — she is 72 —  repeats previous coordinated social media campaigns deployed during the 2020 general elections. In Ghana, the current president is 80 years old, and other male political appointees are septuagenarians but suffer no such ageism tropes, which makes the attacks on Opoku-Agyeman highly misleading. In a similar disinformation slander, a member of parliament alleged at a campaign rally in 2016 that the first female commissioner of Ghana’s electoral management body offered sex to obtain her position. When he was criticized and pushed to present evidence, he argued months later that he made the comments in jest.

Despite Ghana’s majority female population, there’s low political participation among women. Women are woefully underrepresented in governance in a country that practices representative democracy, with women constituting less than 15% of Ghana’s current parliament. Gendered disinformation is one of the effective tools used to deter the few who muster the courage to change the low political participation narrative.

Ahead of Ghana’s 2024 general elections, fact-checkers and journalists should actively look out for mis and disinformation targeted at women. While it may be easy to spot such campaigns against frontline female politicians like a vice presidential candidate, similar attacks against politicians in relatively smaller political parties and across the country’s 275 constituencies may go unnoticed.

Fact-checkers should also be reminded to look out for the “malign creativity” elements used in the dissemination of gendered disinformation. Some of these elements include coded language, monikers, context-based visuals and textual memes. Disinformation perpetrators adopt these tactics to avoid detection by the public, fact-checkers or platform owners.

Gendered disinformation aims to portray women as unfit for public office or not worthy to lead. It silences them and limits the diversity of voices, experiences and expertise in socio-political spaces. Gendered disinformation ultimately undermines the quality of democracy and negatively affects nation-building.

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