Lesson 7 – Women in Ghana
“It’s not what you call me, but what I answer to.” ~African proverb
Read: “Gender Inequality and Development Paralysis in Ghana” by Eric Kwasi Bottah
Read: “In Africa, accusations of witchcraft still a reality for many women” by Jacqueline Murray and Lauren Wallace
Read: ABAN Story
Read: “On Being a Woman” (A blog from Engineers without Borders);
Read: “Shea Butter Helps Drive Community Development and Ecotourism in Ghana” by Victoria Okoye
Task: Ask three girls what they want to be when they grow up.
Reflect: How could ABAN and Project Wisdom partner in the coming year? What ideas do you have?
Discuss: Reflections, ABAN, and more!
Gender Inequality and Development Paralysis in Ghana
By Eric Kwasi Bottah (Oyokoba)
There is a Ghanaian adage out there that says: If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but when you educate a woman, you educate a whole nation. How so true but also how so tragic we have not adhered to this revelation and has often rendered our women to the bottom half of the totem pole. In every African country out there, women outnumber men in the population but they are abysmally under represented at the commanding heights of the economy and power. This essay is an attempt to look at some of the contributory factors and offer some policy solutions to rectify the anomaly.
Most Africans live on less than $2.00 a day. There is a constant struggle against prioritizing the family budget and education. Since the boys are the ones supposed to carry the family name and take care of their parents in old age, it is not unusual to see parents frowning upon and discouraging female education. It is even assumed a highly educated woman cannot find a suitable husband, since the men become intimidated by them. So what happens is the family’s money is skewed towards ensuring the boys get education whilst the girls are trained and taught how to cook, clean the house, and take care of babies. The women are given away to marriage in their teens and prime, as soon as they have acquired some modicum of education, which indicates they can read letters and follow simple instructions. A woman’s worth is measured in her fertility, how many children she has, and how good she can cook, clean, and work on the farms. Herein lies some of the reasons why Africa is caught up in stagnant growth and retrogression. Clearly it is hard to see how these countries can make headways in terms of economic development and catch up with the advanced countries when half of the population is tied down by anachronistic cultural practices and beliefs. One cannot make any meaningful economic and social development if the women are left behind. It is impossible.
Social norms and assigned roles for women
Women make more than 50% of the population in most African societies but a whopping over 80% are caught up in subsistence agriculture; they do most of the nursing, nurturing and harvesting of the farms, whilst the men consign themselves to things like hunting, clearing of bush, and the felling of trees. And yet when the produce comes in, it is the men who take over the possession of the income generated and go on to marry more women. Polygamy clearly debases and dilutes the incomes that should accrue to the average woman in a polygamous relationship. The men decide and dictate what to grow, when to clear the bush, what to sell, what to keep and what to buy even for the wives. There is very little a woman can do when your husband decides to bring in another woman. This is not limited to the so-called uneducated folks, even presidents, like Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, are doing it. Most African presidents have wives they show and present at official functions, and wives and concubines whose roles are not clearly defined, except to say, to give them bragging rights and more babies, especially sons. The probability of your husband taking another wife, if you are not giving him a son is 1, in Africa. In Ghana, the Attorney-General, Mrs Betty Mould Iddrisu, is the third wife of her husband. She has got to share the husband with two other women. Whichever way you look at it, it is very incomprehensible to the westerner but one could argue; there are very few successful men around, and in a society where women clearly outnumber men, certain social vices endemic in western societies, such as widespread prostitution and the proliferation of single-moms and women head of households are greatly reduced if women are allowed to enter into polygamous relationships. The presence of the father figure goes a long way to contain otherwise many children who would become wayward as a result of the absence of men in the homes. How does this phenomenon retards progress in Africa, is in the quality. Too many children by too many women spreads the wealth and quality time of the men engaged in polygamy, thin, and it is very likely the husbands are not able to concentrate on in-depth grooming and raising of their kids.
Access to credit and financing in the informal sector
The informal sector, such as market trading, farming, beauty parlours and tailoring shops etc., employ huge numbers of women. In Ghanaian markets, it is as if 70% of the traders are women, yet it is ironic that women access to banking and financing is very minimal, given that most loans and lines of credit are situate on collaterals which our women folk lack. For this reason, most market women resort to some sort of self-micro financing called “susu”, whereby they put away a little bit of their earnings, everyday, to a person who comes around to collect a small layaway savings until a point in time when the money would gross up to make a meaningful impact in their trading activities, and they would redeem it. This kind of self-micro financing pays no interest and is subject to abuses; at times the “susu” collector would bolt away with the monies thus collected from the market women.
What is government policy towards the informal sector as compared to the formal sector? In Ghana and many African countries it can be argued that the informal sector employs far more people than the formal sector, over 85% of the population are employed in the informal sector but then there are no social safety nets for the people in this category, especially women. Whereas people in the formal sector can look forward to pensions in their retirements, in Ghana the cocoa farmer and other cash crop producers who are the main engines that drive the economy have nothing of that sort. No pension, no safety nets in their old age, yet 65% of their earnings are expropriated every year by the government to drive the formal sector. Shouldn’t the government see itself that it owes a duty to protect and serve the people caught up in the informal sector, especially women who are often the victim of archaic inheritance practices?
The foregoing makes it abundantly clear that unless the government and traditional authorities sit up and come up with far reaching policies and solutions, bothering on social engineering, that would empower especially women and give adequate and equal attention to gender equality issues, our dream of catching up with the advanced countries would remain just that – dreams and mirages.