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Opinions of Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Opening Women's Fronts for Progress

As a heavily patriarchic society, pretty much of the cultural inhibitions slowing down Ghana’s progress impinge on its women. Colonialism did not help either. With its patriarchic development paradigms, Ghanaian women were also suppressed by colonialism and its neo-liberal appendages. This makes Ghanaian women suffer from two suppressions – from their indigenous culture and from colonial/ex-colonial development paradigms.

This situation has continued up till today because of post-freedom Ghanaian elites’ fragile grasp of Ghana’s progress, which continued with ex-colonial development paradigms, and practically no remarkable inputs from their own traditional values, making it appear as if Ghanaians have no innate traditional development values fit for progress. It is from such background that Prof. Miranda Greenstreet, chairperson of Ghana’s Gender Development Institute, an outfit that seeks to reduce incidence of gender inequality, bared to Ghana News Agency that “although rape is the most often cited sexual violence against women, female genital mutilation, “trokosi” and widowhood rites were also forms of sexual and gender based violence…These cannot be overlooked or justified on the grounds of tradition, culture or social conformity.”

The multiculturalism of the Ghanaian society – there are 56 ethnic groups forming the Ghana nation-state – makes the cultural inhibitions affecting women differ from one region to another, though there are huge commonalities of the cultural inhibitions affecting women Ghana-wide. While the northern parts have problems with witchcraft and female genital mutilation and some parts of the Volta Region may have trokosi, a practice where teenage girls are enslaved to shrines for sins committed by their parents, culturally-induced violence against women is Ghana-wide.While democratic growth, “globalization of values,“ feminist movements, the Ghanaian Constitution, Women and Children's Affairs Ministry, the women’s affairs driven Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the mass media, and the growing human rights organizations across Ghana have contributed to the growing light to free Ghanaian women from many a traditional and neo-liberal patriarchy, there is growing consciousness among Ghanaians to further appropriate these values to refine certain inhibitions within their culture for progress. The Accra-based Gender Development Institute, part of the growing organizations working to free Ghanaian women from the clutches of certain cultural inhibitions, “seeks to dismantle oppressive structures, institutions and attitudes through awareness creation, sensitization, education, skills development, capacity building, information sharing and networking.” Despite women having equal rights under Ghanaian regulations, Ghanaian women “suffer societal discrimination that is particularly serious in rural areas, where opportunities for education and wage employment are limited,” the USA-based Freedom House argues in a recent study of how free are Ghanaian women in their country’s development process. Paradoxically, this comes with the increasing knowledge that women are the bedrock of Ghana’s progress and, as the legendary Yaa Asantewaa, who fought colonial Britain to save her Asante society from disintegrating, exemplifies, Ghanaian women have been the bulwark of Ghana’s progress, rising up to save their societies when it appears it is collapsing. However, these attributes have not filter into broader development process in terms of power, decision-making, policy-making and bureaucratization.

This shortcoming aside, today Justice Georgina Theodora Wood is Ghana's first woman Chief Justice – a sign of the growing empowerment of Ghanaian women. But still, Ghanaian women are confronted by “a wide variety of abuses that included sexual threats, exploitation, humiliation, assaults, molestation, incest involuntary prostitution, torture, and insertion of objects into genital openings,” Prof. Greenstreet reveals. These barriers apart, there are some gains in the Ghanaian women’s liberation fronts, more so as the campaigns to refine certain cultural impediments gain momentum nation-wide.

How will Ghana, Africa’s “Black Star,” which pride itself as the leading light of its progress, compare itself to other African states such as Botswana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia, Kenya, and South Africa in women’s liberation from certain cultural obstructions? According to Freedom House, comparatively Ghana is doing well in women’s development fronts: women’s enrollment in universities is increasing; “trokosi” is criminalized; legislation in 1998 doubled the prison sentence for rape; female genital mutilation criminalized by the Parliament of Ghana, and those who perform the operation face a prison sentence of at least three years; and Ghana has been coordinating with regional countries and the International Labour Organization to create a comprehensive plan to tackle the growing problems of child trafficking and child labor, of which child-girls form a good number.

Pretty good liberating strides but yet still Ghanaian women face huge culturally restraining ancient values that will need a Yaw Asantwaa to mount national campaigns to free her sisters from culturally impeding values that stifle their progress. While Prof. Greenstreet is right in stressing the need for the tangible implementation of legislations formulated to control cultural practices inhibiting women’s progress, in the real world much of these refinements will come from engagement of the mass media in this regard, especially the use of indigenous languages. This would enable the culturally inhibiting values minimized much more easily and allow Ghanaian women to play “a fuller role in the development of society.”



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