Annie ruth Jiagge was born on the 7 October 1918 and was a Ghanaian lawyer, judge and women’s rights activist.
She was a principal drafter of the Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and a co-founder of the organisation that became Women’s World Banking.
EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Annie Ruth Baeta was born in Lomé, French Togoland. Her parents were school teacher Henrietta Baeta and Presbyterian Pastor Robert Domingo Baeta.
She was one of eight children, though only Annie and her siblings Christian, Lily, and William lived to adulthood. Her parents wanted her to have an English education and she lived in the coastal town of Keta (then in British Togoland) with her maternal grandmother.
Baeta attended Achimota College and earned her teacher’s certificate in 1937. She was headmistress and schoolteacher at the Evangelical Presbyterian Girls School from 1940 to 1946.
After the buildings of the Evangelical Presbyterian School for Girls were washed away by the ocean in 1940, the girls were moved to the Evangelical Presbyterian School for Boys. The school was overcrowded, and Baeta knew it would be difficult to find funding for new buildings.
She approached the Evangelical Presbyterian Church Choir and transformed it into a drama group that put on the George F. Rool musical David the Shepherd Boy. The performances were successful and the group was invited to perform in major Gold Coast cities and in Togo.
Baeta was able to raise funds for a new school for the girls that was built by December 1945.
Baeta’s time with the Evangelical Presbyterian Girls School was fulfilling but left her restless. She passed the London Matriculation Examination in 1945.
Her elder brother Christian made inquiries to the University of London on her behalf and her mother secured loans for her. She was admitted to the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1946. Her male colleagues from the Gold Coast urged her to abandon her studies, thinking them too difficult for a woman.
One offered to arrange a position for her at the Paris Academy to study dress design. She told them she would return to the Gold Coast if she didn’t pass her first examination. She passed, and was no longer bothered by the men.
She received her LLB in 1949 and was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn the following year. Baeta also participated in religious and social work during her free time in London. She worked with youth camps organised by the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and was elected to the Executive Committee of the World YWCA during her final years as a student.
LEGAL CAREER AND WOMEN’S RIGHTS ACTIVISM
Baeta established a private practice upon her return to the Gold Coast in 1950. She led a public relations initiative to establish a national YWCA for the colony and a documentary film was produced as part of the drive to educate the public about the organisation.
Baeta married Fred Jiagge on 10 January 1953. She gave up the Bar and became a magistrate for the Bench in June 1953. In 1954, she began regularly attending the conferences of the World Council of Churches. From 1955 to 1960, she was president of the YWCA. She and her husband adopted a child, Rheinhold, in 1959. In 1959, she became a judge for the Circuit Court.
Injustice eats me internally. I get very restless when I come in touch with it.— Annie Jiagge
After learning of a young woman who was raped in Accra after coming there from the countryside for a job interview, Jiagge sought government assistance to provide safe accommodations for visiting women.
She secured an audience with Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah and convinced him of the project’s importance. She spearheaded a successful campaign in 1961 that raised substantial funds for a YWCA women’s hostel.
That year she became a judge of the High Court of Justice. From 1961 to 1976 she was a council member of the University of Ghana. In 1962 she was appointed to represent Ghana on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
She was asked to chair the Commission to Investigate the Assets of Senior Public Servants and Named Political Leaders in 1966. She championed women’s rights through her work at the United Nations, representing Ghana through 1972. In 1966, she was elected rapporteur of the Commission.
During a meeting in Iran in 1967, the Commission was charged with preparing a document on the elimination of discrimination against women. Worried that a draft wouldn’t be finished by the time they left Iran, Jiagge met other members of the team, including Iranian Princess Ashraf Pahlavi, and drafted the document in a single night.
It was sent to UN member-states for comment and was later adopted. The Declaration was an important precursor to the legally binding 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Jiagge was elected chair of the Commission’s 21st session in 1968.
Jiagge was awarded the Grand Medal of Ghana and the Gimbles International Award for Humanitarian Works in 1969. She was named a judge of the Court of Appeal that same year, the highest court in Ghana at the time. She was the first female judge of the Court of Appeal. She was awarded an honorary law degree from the University of Ghana in 1974. In 1975, she founded the Ghana National Council on Women and Development and was its first chair. As chair, she convened a meeting of Ghanaian women to learn their views on Equality, Development and Peace, the theme of the 1975 International Women’s Conference in Mexico.
She learned that access to credit was a priority for her country’s women and led Ghana’s delegation to the conference. She and others pledged seed money for a women’s bank and the organisation Stitching to Promote Women’s World Banking (now Women’s World Banking) was founded and headquartered in New York.
She later served on the board of Women’s World Banking in Ghana. Jiagge also served as a president of the World Council of Churches from 1975 to 1983. In 1979, she was a member of the constituent assembly which wrote the constitution of the Ghana’s Third Republic. She was the World Council of Churches’ moderator for their Program to Combat Racism from 1984 to 1991 and mobilised against South Africa’s system of apartheid.
She was a member of the World Council of Churches (WCC), which she served for over 44 years, becoming the first African woman President when she was elected by the 5th assembly at Nairobi in 1975. She was elected Moderator (Chair) of its Commission on the Programme to Combat Racism. Justice Jiagge was instrumental in shaping the WCC’s tough attitude against the injustice of apartheid in South Africa.
Jiagge was appointed President of the Court of Appeal in 1980. That year she led the Ghanaian delegation again to the International Women’s Conference in Copenhagen. She remained President of the Court of Appeal until her retirement in 1983.
She helped plan the Fourth World Conference on Women as a member of the UN Secretary-General’s advisory group that year. In 1985 she served on a United Nations panel that conducted Public Hearings on the Activities of Transnational Corporations in South Africa and Namibia. She also served on the Committee of Experts who drafted Ghana’s Constitution in 1991.
From 1993 until her death, Jiagge served on Ghana’s Council of State. She died on 12 June 1996 in Accra. The Justice Annie Jiagge Memorial Lectures were established by the Ministry of Women and Children in 2009
- The Grand Medal of Ghana (1969)
- The Gimbles International Award (1969)