Abstract: Women in Ghana still face discrimination and inequality
in the Ghanaian society. This situation is still occurring decades after
the first women's international conference and the United Nations
Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against
Women, as well as the Ghanaian Constitutional provisions of women's
rights and equality, This qualitative study examines the issues of
gender equality, in terms of household work, sexual and reproductive
rights and political decision-making and participation, from the
perspectives of 68 women in Ghana.
The study captured the voice of Ghanaian women with different
educational, socio-economic and occupational backgrounds in both urban
and rural communities through focus group discussions. The study
indicates that Ghanaian women, in theory, have the constitutional right
to enjoy equal rights and opportunities with their male counterparts,
however, in practice they lag behind in almost all public spheres of
life. They lagged behind in political participation and decision-making,
and also in expressing and enjoying their sexual and reproductive
rights. Gender inequality has been attributed to institutional and
structural barriers, in addition to women's multiple roles,
cultural and customary barriers and negative attitudes and perception
about women in general.
This study discusses the implications of the findings for an
increased involvement of social work advocacy in terms of education,
empowerment and policy formulation.
Since the first international women's conference in Mexico in
1975 and other subsequent conferences related to women and gender
issues, the world has experienced profound political, economic and
social changes that had implications for women everywhere. Many
governments, including that of Ghana have endorsed various United
Nations conventions and declarations to promote gender equality and to
mainstream gender perspectives in all spheres of society. In addition,
the 1992 constitution of Ghana provides constitutional protection for
all persons before the law. Section 17 prohibits discrimination based on
gender, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed or social or
economic status. Sub-section 3 of section 27 provides that women shall
be guaranteed equal rights without any impediments from any person
(Constitution of Ghana, 1992).
Despite these international conventions and constitutional changes,
relatively little has changed in terms of Ghanaian women's life
experiences. They still continue to experience gender-based
discrimination, powerlessness and relative poverty and social and
political exclusion from active participation in the national
development of their country. Globally, women in Ghana, just like other
women in both developed and developing nations, have always been
numerically important in the human population, however, they continue to
be to occupy inferior positions in their various societies and are faced
with social, economic, violence and sexual exploitations.
This paper reports on a qualitative study, which examines the
meaning of gender equality from women's own experiences and
perceptions of the concept and how they live it daily. The structural
discrimination and oppression they face as females is rarely discussed
beyond issues of access to resources and income generating activities.
The study examined the views of a sample of Ghanaian women as they
describe their own life experiences with regards to their daily work
activities, participation in political decision-making, and their sexual
and reproductive rights as women. The purpose of this study was to find
out whether women in Ghana really enjoy gender equality as enshrined in
the national constitution of the country
This study took place in two regional capital cities and two rural
settings in Ghana. The following factors were taken into account in
selecting the study area; the size of the population, the sizes of the
migrant population, the diversity of cultural, educational, economic,
religious and ethnic patterns and the heterogeneity of the people and
the groups. The inclusion of both urban and rural communities was meant
to create fairness, divergence and variations of responses that reflect
rural and urban populations.
Ghana, the study country is a former British Colony, located in
West Africa. According to the 2000 national census, Ghana has a total
population of 18,800,000 million people 51 percent of which are females
and 49 percent of males. Sixty-seven percent of the people live in the
rural communities of the country and the remaining 33 percent live in
the urban areas, mainly in the capital city and in the remaining other
nine regional capitals of the country. The major local dialects are
Akan, Ewe, Ga, Nzema, Dagbane and Hausa. Life expectancy at birth is
estimated to be 56 years for the total population, with that of males
being 55.4 and 56.9 years for the females (General Information on Ghana,
Economically, Ghana has diverse and rich natural resources but
agriculture is the main economic activity representing 45.5 percent of
the Gross Domestic Product. The economy is open to world markets and the
primary products for export are cocoa, gold, diamonds, manganese ore,
bauxite, timber products and non-traditional processed agricultural
products. According to 2002 estimates, the per capita income for the
country was $290 (General Information on Ghana, 2005).
Situation of women in Ghana
Historically, women suffered oppression and domination by the
patriarchal society in Ghana. Women were taught to accept their position
through the socialisation process, including their initiation rites.
They were taught to be obedient wives and to respect their elders. They
were told that a man could marry more than one woman (Manu 1984; Oppong
1973; Nukunya 1969). The inferior position of women in traditional
Ghanaian society was reinforced by a number of traditional practices
such as polygamy, early marriage, and illiteracy and food taboos. Many
of these practices are still found today in some places in the country.
According to Ministry of Health (2003), since 2000 maternal
mortality has increased from 205 to 230 per 100,000 live births. Ghana
Demographic and Health Survey, (Ghana Statistical Service, 2003) has
indicated a decline in fertility rates from 5.5 in 1993 to 4.6 in 1998
and to 4.4 in 2003. In addition, the use of contraceptive for spacing
childbirth among married women has also seen some increase from 10
percent in 1993 to 13 percent in 1998 and to 19 percent in 2003.
According to Lievesley & Motivans (2000), there are still an
estimated 880 million adults that cannot read nor write in the world and
two-thirds of these adults are women. They assert literacy play an
essential role in improving the lives of individuals by enabling
economic security and good health and it also enriches societies by
building human capital, and the promotion of civic participation. The
status of literacy of women in Ghana is equally low. According to 2002
Population and Housing Census 54.3 percent of females aged 15 years and
above have never been to school (Ghana Statistical Service, 2002).
Concerning access to education, the 2002 Population and Housing
Census in Ghana indicates that 54.3 percent of female aged 15 years and
over, have never been to school despite efforts being made to increase
girls education in the country. Gender parity between girls and boys has
almost been achieved at the pre-school or early childhood education
level. However, the gap begins to widen from the basic or primary school
level to junior high and high school levels. For example, at the junior
secondary school or junior high school level, the percentage of girls
and boys were 44.9 percent and 55.1 percent respectively in 1999 and
2000 school years. The gender gap still widens at both high school and
post-secondary levels, with female constituting only 33 percent at high
schools and post-secondary institutions (Ghana Statistical Service,
Despite the introduction of Free Compulsory and Universal Basic
Education policy (FCUBE) in 1994, girls enrolment in schools continue to
be low and especially in the rural communities of the country. School
levies and indirect costs such as book user fees, school uniforms and
school supplies have made education costly, even though enrolment is
free in the public schools. In addition, variety of cultural, economic,
and institutional reasons, also account for this state of affairs. The
traditional view that a woman's place is in the home and the
kitchen still persists, in addition to domestic and household duties and
The qualitative research methodology that informed this study is
phenomenology. A phenomenological study tries to describe the meaning
and realities of everyday lived experiences of a phenomenon from the
perspectives of the participants. In this study, the phenomenon of
interest is the perception and understanding of the Ghanaian
women's concept of gender equality. Focus group discussions and
demographic surveys were the techniques used for data collection in this
study. An interview guide with questions based on issues surrounding
women's life situations and their gender was used during the group
discussions. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and
Development (1998), gender equality requires equal enjoyment by women
and men of socially valued goods, opportunities, resources and rewards.
Gender equality does not mean that men and women become the same, but
that their opportunities and life chances are equal (OECD, 1998). Gender
equality in this study, is taken to mean that men and women should have
equal conditions and opportunities for realising their full human rights
and potentials in order to contribute to national, political, economic,
social and cultural development, and to equally benefit from the
The composition of participants was from a broad cross-section of
the Ghanaian population in terms of ethnicity, age, family situation,
economic situation, education, religion and patterns of residence that
is both rural and urban (see Table 1, Appendix). Since Ghana is
ethnically diverse, participants from most of the major ethnic groups in
the country were included in the study. Two regions were selected for
this study and the selection was based on the fact that one region has a
very diverse and heterogeneous population groups from all parts of the
country and the second region was more homogeneous and less culturally
diverse. In all, sixty-eight women participated in six focus group
A number of themes emerged from this study based on women's
own views, description and understanding of their own living situations
in terms of their work loads, sexual and reproductive rights, food and
feeding habits and political decision-making and participation in Ghana.
The findings of the study revealed admission of all participants, rural
and urban, educated and uneducated, the lack of gender equality in
almost all aspects of their lives in Ghana.
Overall, the main finding, which is the lack of gender equality for
women in Ghana, does not differ significantly in terms of education,
income and social class. The majority of the participants in this study
could be classified as being in the middle socio-economic class. Most
had at least posthigh school and some college education and they worked
as professionals and semi-professionals in their various occupations. In
addition, all the urban participants had a basic minimum education of 10
to 12 years. However, cultural practices seemed to play a major role in
influencing the participants' perceptions and attitudes more than
their educational background.
We are the mothers and the working donkeys of the family
One of the major themes that participants identified as a factor
hindering the attainment of gender equality in Ghana is the gender role
of motherhood and household duties and chores. According to Adomako
Ampofo (2004), the birth of a child is an important aspect of any
marriage in Ghana because it ensures the continuity of the family
lineage and proof of a woman's fertility and the number of children
she could bear. Even though education and modernisation are influencing
the high birth rates among women, the practice is still predominant in
the rural communities.
This study shows that the largest number of children per woman was
found in the rural areas where the traditional concept of family was
strongest. Uneducated urban women also had large families. On average,
urbanised, educated and employed women had fewer children. On the whole,
however, all those interviewed for this study, both rural and urban saw
childbirth as an essential role for women in society, either for the
benefits it bestows upon the mother or for the honour it brings to her
In terms of household duties and chores, all the participants
complained of doing the bulk of the household chores in addition to
other income generating activities and taking care of other members of
the family. Women perform all the other productive tasks in and around
their households for the benefit of family members. For example, most
participants complained about not getting any help with household duties
from their spouses. All the same, they believed it was the woman's
duty to take care of the house and the children.
A number of married urban participants described themselves as
"working donkeys and domestic servants." They refer to all the
household chores, income-generating activities they undertake, including
formal and informal employment, in addition to other family
responsibilities such as child care and cooking meals. All participants
stated they work more than necessary because they have enormous family
and personal responsibilities. They stated they do all the housework in
addition to taking care of the children and their husbands and they have
no full control over their sexual and reproductive issues. A number of
direct quotations from young to middle-aged urban participants
illustrate the low position that women occupy in Ghana:
This study reveals the reproduction and work experiences of the
participants that are mostly taken for granted and regarded as gender
roles. A consequence of the motherhood role is that the responsibility
for childcare is seen primarily as a woman's job. Combining
childcare with work outside the household places a considerable strain
on women, especially for urban dwellers who have no strong kinship
networks in the cities. However, all participants with children in this
study regarded having children as a good and a positive experience
despite the extra burden child rearing imposed on them. A middle-age
rural participant puts it as:
Women in this study stated they have to work out of dire necessity
for the survival of their families, most especially for their children.
They have to toil under extreme economic and material conditions and
limitations for the survival of their families. For example, in the
focus group discussions, most participants complained about not getting
any help with household duties from their spouses. All the same, they
believed it was the woman's duty to take care of the house and the
children. It is therefore considered a privilege if a spouse offered or
volunteered to assist with house duties. A number of middle-aged rural
participants expressed their views as:
Reproductive and sexual rights
Another finding of this study revealed that women in Ghana do not
fully enjoy sexual and reproductive rights in Ghana. Majority of the
participants, in describing their experiences of the concept of the
right to make personal decisions concerning the use of birth control and
family planning services, mentioned the pressure of family and
motherhood issues in terms of having children and being a good mother
and wife as some of the obstacles preventing them to fully exercise
their reproductive rights.
The International Conference on population and development held in
Cairo in 1994 has accelerated the importance of women's sexual and
reproductive health issues and gender-based power dynamics with regards
to sexual relationships between men and women and women's right and
control over their bodies. Previous studies have indicated that within
marriages in sub-Saharan Africa, men typically have more say than women
in the decision to use contraception and in the number of children that
the couple wants to have and most couples avoid discussing family
planning issues for various reasons (Fapohunda & Rutenberg, 1999).
The 1994 Demographic and Health Survey has indicated that despite
the independent nature of some marital relationships, men in Ghana still
have the primary decision-making power in issues of family planning
(Ghana Statistical Service, 1998). In addition to husbands or men being
the primary decision-makers, the extended family members also have
vested interest in large number of children. Bawah & Akweongo
(1999), indicate that in northern Ghana, the extended family can be a
strong incentive to continue childbearing even if the couple prefers to
limit their family size.
Reproductive decision-making is not easy for us
The right to make the decision as to the number of children one
wants to have is easily understood by all participants but in practice,
it seems so difficult as expressed by this educated urban participant:
A number of both married rural and urban participants reaffirmed
the cultural argument as:
Another urban participant believed times have changed and women
should be able to exercise their rights:
A married rural participant believed since women are now playing
effective economic roles in the family they could practice birth control
Almost all the participants in both urban and rural settings
believed they have the right to make personal decisions concerning
family planning or to use of birth control and determine the number of
children they want to have. However, they are faced with male dominance
and unequal power relations and poor economic conditions. In order to
protect themselves from ill-health and economic related problems
concerning child bearing, the issue of practicing birth control or
family planning becomes a 'personal thing to be done
secretly', as expressed by a number of middle-age married rural
Nukunya (1992) confirmed that the determiners of reproductive
decisions within the Ghanaian family are members of the conjugal family,
the extended family, and certain persons outside the family circle and
the authority structure weighs heavily in favour of the men. It is
evident that gender-based power in sexual relationships is unbalanced
and women usually have less power than men. According to Riley (1997),
these power imbalances operate in the context of universal sexual double
standard that give men greater sexual freedom and rights of sexual
self-determination than women enjoy.
According to the Commonwealth Secretariat (2002), patriarchy in
addition to poverty, illiteracy and unemployment are other factors that
increase women's vulnerability to gender-based violence and other
related sexually transmitted diseases. It is pertinent that any
meaningful engagement with sexual and reproductive rights should be
addressed in reference to unequal gender relations between men and
Demanding safe sex is a thorny issue
Another major finding of this study is the right to demand safe and
protected sex. The women found it very difficult to demand safe sex in
the form of condom use from their spouses and partners even though they
admitted some of the men practiced polygamy and have multiple sexual
partners. Collumbien & Hawkes (2000) indicate that unequal power
relations in sexual relationships can have a detrimental influence on
both men's and women's sexual health. According to them,
men's concerns about appearing powerful and in control can
discourage men from discussing sexual issues with women.
The use of condoms by both men and women as a means for safe sex
and protection has become a significant public health issue due to the
HIV/AID epidemic. However, the use of condom for safe and protected sex
among married and cohabiting couples is very sensitive and controversial
for most women in this study. A number of educated urban participants
regarded the issue of demanding safe sex as 'culturally sensitive
and unacceptable to most men.'
It is evident from the discussion that most Ghanaian men practice
some form of polygamy by being married to more than one woman or
involved in extra marital relationships. Polygamy is common in many
African countries including Ghana. The 1998 demographic health survey in
Ghana indicates that 27.7 percent of women are engaged in polygamous
relationships (Ghana Statistical Service, 1998).
The reality of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa convinced the
participants to regard the issue of safe sex as 'a very thorny
issue and a difficult problem for women'. They believed the demand
for safe sex as very crucial in the fight for preventing HIV/AIDS and
other sexually transmitted diseases, especially among young women in the
country. Two married rural participants stated that:
Even though most participants affirmed their right to demand safe
sex, the main dilemma they faced is the belief that it is wrong to deny
one's spouse or partner sex even if they are aware of the risks
involved. In effect, women are torn between giving in to unsafe sex or
risk their marriage in the end. Some of their dilemmas have been
expressed by a number of educated, married urban participants as:
The contradiction and dilemma of the participants in this study
with regards to demanding safe and protected sex through the use of
condom is not peculiar to Ghana alone. Research in diverse settings has
shown that condoms are often regarded as more appropriate for
non-marital relationships than marital ones (Adetunji, 2000, Meekers,
2000). A United Nations assessment of contraceptive use has indicated
that in countries with generalised HIV epidemics, only 8 percent of
married contraceptive users report the use of condom, and this rate has
shown no increase over the last 20 years (United Nations, 2002). In
addition, a number of studies have also found the widespread resistance
to the use of condoms in stable, long-term relationships because of
their association with lack of trust and illicit sex (Blecher et al,
Women's sexual and reproductive role has largely determined
their social status and economic opportunities. It has shaped their view
of themselves and their sense of personal empowerment, yet they have
received little support or care in fulfilling this role. For most women
in most societies, the reproductive role has been simultaneously
over-valued and under-supported (UNFPA, 1997). A young married urban
participant puts it as:
The lack of power among women to talk about sex and even negotiate
safe sex with their partners is supported by cultural norms that dictate
that good women should not know about sex or the functioning of their
sexual and reproductive organs. In many societies, a 'good
woman' is defined as one who is naive about sexual matters and
chase until marriage, while a 'loose' woman is one who knows
about topics pertaining to sex and is assertive sexually (Carovano,
1992; Cash & Anasuchatkul, 1992). A married and educated urban
participant sums it up as:
This study reveals that Ghanaian women, when it comes to exercising
their sexual and reproductive rights, are in a subordinate and helpless
position as other women in other parts of the world. They are confronted
with maintaining their families and marriage relations and facing the
dilemma of making choices in terms of having unprotected sex. Among
currently married Ghanaian women, contraceptive prevalence is about 22
percent with only 13 percent prevalence of modern methods (Ghana
Ministry of Health, 2002).
Lack of equal political participation and decision-making
The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination against women (CEDAW), have been instrumental in putting
women's socio-economic and political participation and human rights
issues on the public domain. Since then, a number of African countries
have experienced some high rates of increase in women's
representation and participation in political decision-making and
holding of political offices on the continent. For example, Rwanda has
become the one African country with the highest of 49 percent of women
parliamentarians during that country's 2003 parliamentary
In addition, women in South Africa, Mozambique and Seychelles hold
one-third of parliamentary seats in their respective countries. Other
African countries with some substantial increase in women's
representation are Swaziland, with one-third of seats in the upper house
of parliament, and Namibia and Uganda where women hold 42 percent and
one-third of local government seats respectively. Since 1960 to 2004,
the average number of women legislators in Africa has increased from one
percent to 14.6 percent, with the biggest increase occurring between
1990 and 2004 (Tripp, 2005).
In Ghana, women have not been very successful in altering their
political and economic locations and have not kept pace with their men
in gaining much access to political decision-making and participation.
In 1995, out of a total of 200 seats, women occupied only 16 seats or
formed eight percent of the parliamentary seats. This number has been
increased to 10.9 percent or 25 seats out of a total of 230 seats in the
national election in 2004 (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2005).
Politically, women in Ghana are underrepresented in the sense that
few of them hold political offices or participate in formal political
organisations. Their invisibility can be documented at all levels of
government. Two interrelated factors explain the political under
representation of women in Ghana. First, politics is viewed by most men
and women as the quintessential male sphere of action, one in which
women are both unwelcome and ineffective. Secondly, most politically
active women are members of the elite group. Better educated and
wealthier, these women often pursue a political agenda that reflects
their class rather than their gender interests (House-Midamba, 1990,
According to de Haan (1998), social exclusion is the process
through which individuals or groups are wholly or partially excluded
from full participation in the society within which they live. Links
have been made between strong political representation of women and a
high incidence of female poverty, suggesting that increasing
women's political representation may be instrumental to reducing
women's poverty. It is argued that effective participation of women
in terms of their ability to articulate gender issues and interests will
impact and enhance actual resource allocation processes and
We are relegated to the background
A number of educated urban participants referred to their position
as women as "being relegated to the background." These
participants were of the view that as women, the Ghanaian society does
not give them equal chance as compared to their male counterparts and so
they play second fiddle to the men. These opinions have been expressed
in direct quotations as:
A joint study undertaken in 1998 by the National Council on Women
and Development (NCWD), Ghana Institute of Management and Public
Administration (GIMPA) and Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic
Research (ISSER) and the Development and Project Planning Centre of the
University of Bradford, discovered that there are numerous indications
that the sexbased inequalities in the world of work are deeply rooted in
cultural attitudes in the Ghanaian society. The study noted that no
amount of legislation alone would help women until the traditional
attitudes leading to prejudice and exclusion in the public arena are
overcome (Oware-Gyekye, Bortei-Doku, Aryeetey & Tsikata 1998).
We face cultural, educational and financial barriers
According to Goetz (1995), men's physical and historical
dominance of the public sphere has contributed to the embeddedness of
their needs and interests in public institutions. This public and
private split has institutionalised women's exclusion from the
public sphere and has reinforced gendered power relations in the public
sphere. UNDP (1997) indicates that the weakness of state interventions
in promoting gender equality is attributed to the persistence of customs
and traditions, which often undermine rules and regulations. There is
the need to accompany state and international efforts to change
traditional and cultural barriers through education, training as well as
affirmative action to promote women's representation in politics.
In a study conducted among women politicians in 65 countries, it
was found out that cultural attitudes and attitudes hostile to
women's participation in politics was mentioned as the second most
important barrier to running for parliament (Inter-Parliamentary Union,
2000). According to Reynolds (1999), chauvinism, patriarchy,
socioeconomic disadvantages of women due to poverty, burdens of health
care, childcare and underemployment and unemployment are some of the
barriers that prevent women's active political participation.
In this study, both rural and urban participants identified some of
the barriers preventing women from effectively participating in politics
and even daring to stand as a parliamentary or a presidential candidate
in Ghana. Culturally, two married rural participants also expressed the
barriers of marital obligations to husbands, children and to family even
when it comes to of voting for a political candidate:
In terms of financial barriers, a number of educated urban
participants stated that:
UNDP (1995) declares poverty as wearing women's faces and
there are about 1.3 billion people living in poverty, and 70 percent of
these people are women. Evidence indicates that the feminisation of
poverty has a close relationship between the small number of women
parliamentarians and the large number of women in poverty (UNDP, 1997).
In terms of education, the dominant Ghanaian social culture
socialises young women from birth into roles that are removed from the
world of public decision-making. According to Graham (1971), since the
inception of Western education in Ghana, education of Ghanaian women was
determined by their position in the society, which was to prepare them
for domestic roles and to make them into good wives and mothers. In the
case of boys, receiving education was to train them to earn a livelihood
for themselves and their families. However, A number of educated
middle-aged urban participants believed that if women are given the
educational opportunities and proper training they could become
politically active and even stand for election as a president one day:
A number of urban university participants also believed that women
as a group are not very supportive of each other in that they will not
even vote for a woman. For example, they expressed their views as:
In examining the possibility of a woman becoming a presidential
candidate in Ghana, an argument emerged from a group of urban university
participants, both married and unmarried, with regards to the type of
woman who could dare put herself up for a presidential candidate in
Ghana. Some participants believed a single woman or a single mother with
no marital affiliations with a man would be an effective political
leader. This assertion is based on the belief that as a single woman,
she will not be burdened with marital obligations and conflict of
interest or harassment from the husband
A number of single urban participants expressed their views as:
One married educated urban participant believes:
We occupy the lower positions in political parties
Even though some countries in Africa, including Ghana have had
powerful female rulers and war leaders in the past century, and few
other countries such as Kenya, Liberia Uganda and South Africa have had
female presidential and vice presidential candidates in recent times, it
is still evident that membership of women in national political parties
is faced with power imbalance with respect to occupying elected
leadership positions in their various political parties. In Ghana, men
have held national leadership positions in all political parties since
independence in 1957 to date.
A number of educated urban participants summed the low position of
women in political parties as:
Despite the low political participation of women in Ghana is a
reflection of the bigger picture on the African continent in terms of
women's equal representation and participation in the political
decision making processes.
Ferguson & Katundu (1994) discussed a number of negative
reports about women who dared to enter into politics in Zambia. For
example, they found out that some Zambia women were threatened with
divorce and forbidden by their husbands to enter into politics. Even in
national parliaments, women have difficulty being accepted for who they
are and are not taken seriously and or even listened to.
Tamale (1999) in her study of women in parliamentary politics in
Uganda found that women parliamentarians are frequently subjected to
humiliating sexual stereotypes and derogatory remarks and sexual
harassment. Legislation for various forms of equality has been passed
and continues to be in effect. However, the pace of actual change that
will be beneficial to women is very slow. Even though women are becoming
active in politics, they are still too often subordinates in the system.
It is evident that educated women and gender activists who have shown
interest in politics have been assaulted physically to teach them to
stay out of politics (Nzomo, 1997). Politicians and political leaders
view contemporary African women politicians as ambitious and as
embodying interests that are antithetical to the interests of the state.
Ongom (1999) states that the beliefs that women are good as cooks,
sex providers and juniors are still persistent. For example, women are
given ministries that are considered useless to the economy and
therefore not so demanding. This is simply to prove the point that women
cannot take on hectic jobs. For instance, out of the 26 cabinet
ministers in Uganda, only six of them are women, and they occupy very
silent ministry posts that are considered not of utmost importance, and
out of the total of 35 state ministers, only eleven of them are women.
This means, out of 66 ministers in Uganda, only 17 of them are women
signifying less than 1/3 of the total percentage (Ongom, 1999).
Although clear legal systems are in place to address women's
participation in policy making, the implementation of this policy is
derailed by gender discrimination in all sectors. The dilemma women face
today is how to change the attitudes and perceptions that they cannot
perform, or engage in full decision making that affect society. However,
six African countries are leading in terms of women's
representation in national assemblies due to affirmative action and
quotas. These countries are Rwanda leading with 48.8 percent, Mozambique
with 34.8 percent, and South Africa with 32.8 percent of women
representation in parliament. Burundi has 30.5 percent of women in
parliament and Seychelles has 29.4 percent of women in parliament. In
addition, Namibia has 26.9 percent of women representation in parliament
and Ghana has only 10.9 percent of women in parliament
(Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2005).
The attainment of full political participation of women in Ghana is
more beyond mere tokenism and political party nominations. It is
important to explore the issues surrounding the ideology of gender
relations and power relations. According to Reynolds, (1999), the
sociocultural barriers to the representation of women can be overcome
but the process evolves time and it also entails both male and female
coming to accept the legitimacy of women in positions of power. That is
until every voter sees the election of women into political position as
normal and not something unusual or just based on tokenism.
Implications for social work education and practice
The attainment of full gender equality in Ghana and other in other
countries in Africa is a challenge for social work educators,
researchers and practitioners. It is important to explore the issues
surrounding the ideology of gender relations and power relations. These
power relations are being reproduced by the various institutions and
structures, such as the family, the educational system, the religious
institutions, as well as the social and economic, legal and political
structures in the society.
Social workers believe in the inherent dignity and worth of the
person. This is based on the belief that people have a right to develop
fully and freely their inherent human potentials and to live productive
and satisfying lives free from domination and exploitation by others. It
is therefore essential for social work professionals in Ghana to examine
what type of society best promotes the values, ideals, principles and
beliefs espoused by the social work profession.
The profession of social work is founded on humanitarian and
egalitarian ideals (CASW, Code of Ethics, 1994). Humanitarianism means
the practice of the doctrine of humanism. Saiflin & Dixon (1984)
describe humanism as a system of views based on the respect for the
dignity and rights of all people, his/her value as a personality,
concern for his/her welfare, his/her all-round development, and the
creation of favourable conditions for social life.
Mullaly (1997) asserts that the central value premise of social
equality is that every person is of equal intrinsic worth and should
therefore be entitled to equal civil, political, social and economic
rights, responsibility and treatment. According to him, a society based
on social inequality is based on the value premise that people differ in
intrinsic worth and therefore are entitled to different rights and to as
much power, control and material goods as they can gain in competition
with others. There is a need to adopt a structural approach to social
work education and practice in Ghana. Structural social work is
motivated by an interest in the emancipation of those who are oppressed,
and it is informed by a critique of domination, and driven by a goal
toward liberation (Kellner, 1989).
The ultimate goal of structural social work is to contribute to the
transformation of society. The approach to structural practice emanates
from the radical humanist school of thought (Carniol, 1984; Howe, 1987;
Mullaly & Keating, 1991). They based this approach on the belief
that changing people by personal consciousness-raising on a massive
scale is a prerequisite for changing society. The consciousness-raising
focuses on raising people's awareness of how capitalist and
patriarchal society shapes, limits, and dominates their experiences,
thus alienating them from social structures, from each other and from
their true selves.
Social workers working with women
Feminist social work has always promoted the awareness of the
connection between the personal and the political. However, the emphasis
has been on personal change, adjustment and coping of the individual,
family and the group levels, leaving the larger socio-political and
cultural issues to the numerical minority of community organisation and
social policy social workers (Mullaly & Keating, 1991). The personal
is political is a method of analysis developed and refined by feminists
for gleaning political insights from an analysis of personal experience,
in particular, female experience (Collins, 1986).
The role of the structural social worker is not to personalise
gender problems as women's personal problems, but to promote the
political end of changing the structural and societal domination and
oppression of women, with the ultimate goal of social transformation.
The structural social worker has the responsibility of helping clients,
mostly women, to relate their disempowerment and experience of
oppression at the personal level to a broader political understanding.
This practice approach will move clients' problems beyond
'coping and adjustment' social work practice to a social work
practice that will attack the alienating and oppressive institutional
and thought structures. This social work practice could be an important
model for the Ghanaian society.
Training of social workers
Feminist theory has a lot to offer social work and human service
professions in Ghana and Africa as a whole. In order for social workers
in Ghana and Africa to continue working toward social changes for the
elimination of oppression experienced by women, there is a need for
curriculum development that incorporates feminist theory into social
work training programs. This will enable social work students to become
aware of what women have accomplished and could accomplish given equal
opportunities and resources. Once students become conscious of the
feminist and gender issues, they may work to make a difference in their
social work practice and approach toward clients.
Personal and collective empowerment
The majority of Ghanaian women are oppressed mentally, socially and
psychologically. The findings from this study indicate lack of equal
power and control over their life situations and their destiny.
Oppression violates, contradicts, and nullifies several important social
work values and beliefs such as self-determination, personal growth and
development, inherent dignity and social equality. Pinderhughes (1983)
has identified empowerment as the major goal of social work
intervention. Simon (1990) refers to empowerment as a series of attacks
on subordination of every description such as psychic, physical,
cultural, sexual, legal, political, economic and technological.
Simon (1990) thinks empowerment is a compelling topic for social
work for three main reasons. Firstly, she asserts that the people that
social workers work with tend to be in marginal and disadvantaged
positions and are among the most oppressed, alienated and powerless
Secondly, social work is a profession disproportionately staffed by
women, who themselves comprise a group that historically has been
oppressed and powerless. Lastly, she states, social workers of both
genders have been discounted, dislodged, underpaid and overlooked by
legislators, public administrators, executive directors, colleagues in
other professions, academics, clients and the public. Social workers
know the meaning of occupational subordination firsthand, therefore
social workers should devise theory and strategies for working with
oppressed and disempowered groups, including the profession itself
Consistent with radical humanism, the empowerment process involves
the psychological, educational, cultural and spiritual dimensions
involved when individuals are helped to understand their oppression and
to take steps to overcome it. At the personal level, the social worker
must be responsible for assisting the individual not only to take
control of her life, to set goals, to access resources, and to
articulate needs and ambitions, but also to create or join associations
or organisation of members of similar social groupings.
The social worker also has the responsibility of helping women
clients to understand the connection between individual powerless and
its structural and political sources through a reflection on her own
experience as a member of an oppressed group. The structural social
worker must also work alongside oppressed groups of women to help them
find and have their own voices heard. This involves helping them to
define their own needs and develop the skills and vocabulary required to
articulate these needs. It also involves gaining access to public forums
to address the structures of power and domination, and to help
legitimise their authentic voices by supporting them in every way
The major responsibility of the social worker is to encourage and
support the formation of women's groups based on common social
interests and goals that are aimed towards social transformation and
structural change in the society.
Mullaly (1997) asserts that empowerment is a goal and a process. As
a goal, it will not be reached overnight and as a process, it is
ongoing. As a goal and a process for overcoming oppression, it enables
people to transform their life's situations and social environment.
It also enables them to have choices and reasonable opportunities for a
better and improved life.
The empowerment of women is not just an issue of women, but it is
also a gender issue, which necessitates a re-examination of gender
relations, which ultimately, will require changes made by men as well as
by women. It is also a development issue, in that women who become
empowered also become active not only in economic activities, but also
active in exerting pressure and influence on political, social, and
legal issues concerning women.
This study reveals the problems Ghanaian women face daily in their
lives and how these problems shaped their views and impressions about
themselves. The comments, views and opinions provided and expressed by
the women in this study have shown the extent of societal discrimination
and domination that the women experienced as part of their everyday
This study also examined and discussed three main themes emerging
from the data and their implications. These themes included multiple
roles of women, in terms of motherhood and productive activities,
reproductive and sexual rights and political participation and
decision-making. A number of contradictions and dilemmas have emerged
from this study that have theoretical importance and implication. For
example, the family, reproduction and motherhood have been firmly tied
together. This structure shapes stereotypical identities in children,
encourages passivity in women and dominance in men. It also ties women
to the home and childcare and this interferes with women's
achievement of selfhood and independence.
Another ambivalence or dilemma expressed by most participants is
their sexual and reproductive rights. Sexuality is one area in which
almost all the participants found themselves highly controlled even
though they expressed the opinion that they knew their sexual rights.
The issues surrounding sexuality and reproduction have remained a
private and a thorny matter in most of the participants' marriages
because they are scared to be labeled as promiscuous or accused of
infidelity by their spouses if they are open about sexuality. The main
dilemma revolves around power relations between spouses concerning the
threats of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS epidemic. The
women have heard just enough about these diseases to be worried about
the dangers of unprotected sex in view of infidelity, but they still
continue to put their lives at risk.
In order to overcome the institutionalised power relations and
bring about total transformation in the system, actual processes of
empowerment have to occur at several levels. The empowerment process
must challenge and change the set of ideas, attitudes, beliefs and
practices in gender relations, in institutions and structures such as in
the family, the household, the villages, the market places, the churches
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Marie-Antoinette Sossou, Assistant Professor, College of Social
Work, University of Kentucky. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
We are discriminated against because we are not highly educated
enough, economically, we are not so much endowed with wealth and
traditionally, women are brought up to believe that a woman is a
secondary person when it comes to certain issues.
Even though the constitution states that there should be equal
rights for both sexes, it is not so in practice because our culture,
our traditional prejudices still weigh heavily against us.
Women are caring and since we are committed to the care of our
husbands and children, we are compelled to work hard to take care
of them. Secondly, because we try to avoid disgrace, a woman does a
lot of work. We leave home very early in the morning and come back
late in the evening to do the household chores, no matter how late
and in addition, the needs of our husbands come first before our
These days the men are irresponsible and due to this
irresponsibility of men, women these days embark on all kinds of
income generating activities that involved long trekking to villages
to buy foodstuffs in order to look after the home.
Women work a lot, we have to look after the children, take care of
the family and perform other domestic chores. Most of us are in
formal employment and after work we have the household chores
waiting for us, whilst the men relax reading the day's newspapers.
Women are burdened with housework and family responsibilities
therefore we do not have enough time to pursue their career goals.
If women had enough time, we would have outnumbered the men in the
top executive positions.
The fact is the duties of women are not restricted to the nuclear
family alone but they extend to the extended family as well. For
example, if a member of the family is sick, be it nuclear or
extended family member, the woman is called upon to attend to the
needs of the sick person.
The children are our only treasures and our social security in our
old age. Who will take care of you when you grow old and weak if
you don't have children in this world?
Women are regarded as those responsible for the total upkeep of
the children since they deliver them.
Generally, both the man and the woman come together to have a
child. It is the man's responsibility to provide for the needs of
his family that is for his wife and children, including the
educational needs of his children.
Unfortunately, in most cases the men shirk their responsibilities
and leave the woman with all the problems and the woman has no
choice than to take them up.
Culture plays an important role in the choice of family size; the
Ghanaian woman cannot kick against her cultural background. For
example, she can decide to have a specific number of children but
the extended family and the community can put pressure on her or
the husband for more children.
A woman entertains the fear that if she is not able to give birth
to at least another child of the opposite sex, especially a boy,
the man will go in for another woman. However, men are now being
more understanding with having same sex children such as all girls.
When a woman refuses to have many children, there is the possibility
of her husband having an affair outside the marriage or marrying a
In the past when women were basically housewives and the men
provided all the needs of the home, the man decided on how many
children they should have but now things have changed.
Women are also contributing their quota of housekeeping money or
even more, therefore we must make decisions on reproduction of
children as well and practise family planning on our own, but we
have to do it secretly.
As women, we carry the pregnancy to full term and at times we are
saddled with all the troubles of child rearing and care-giving and
hence we have the right to decide the number of children we want to
have or we will practice family planning or use birth control
For instance, pregnancy, childbirth and child upbringing are tasking
and financially difficult for the housewife and the career woman,
therefore in the face of all these challenges, the woman has to
decide how many children she can comfortably have.
This is a thorny issue because if your husband does not want to
practice safe sex and yet he demands sex, then you the wife is torn
between giving in to him or allowing him to go outside the marriage
for it. And if he goes outside, what guarantee do you the woman have
that he will not infect you with the virus?
Culture downplays the rights of women as far as women's reproductive
life is concerned. Culture denies the woman the right to negotiate
on when to have safe sex. The man calls the shots in all these
instances. For instance if a woman decides she is not in the mood
for sex or insists on the use of condom before sex, the man
interprets it as an act of infidelity or even something more
In this age and time, a woman needs to demand safe sex from her
husband because most of the husbands are not faithful. We have
to stay healthy and therefore we must demand safe sex.
I have a friend whose husband through promiscuity developed the
AIDS disease and infected his wife and the newborn baby so we
women should wake up and demand safe sex to protect ourselves.
Before marriage, girls are taught about the joys of marriage and
motherhood and how to keep their husbands happy and to accept
without question the responsibilities handed down by the culture.
These lessons are silent about our rights as women, mothers or
The bible says the man is the head of the family and this makes it
difficult for some women to disobey the will of their husbands.
Women have the right to safe sex yet the men will not allow their
wives to insist that they wear condoms. Men prefer sex without
condom, they want it "flesh to flesh". Should the woman continue
to insist on a condom, the man will take offence and sexually abuse
the wife or even rape her.
There is nothing known as marital rape in this country. It is a
woman's responsibility to have sex with her husband and if she
refuses and he forces her, it is not a crime or marital rape.
As women we do not even have the right to decide when we are in the
mood to have sex or not to have sex, left alone, to demand safe sex.
Women have been indoctrinated from adolescence to believe that the
man is the head of the household and the one in charge and so he
deserves respect and obedience no matter what.
Tradition has a tremendous impact on the situation of the Ghanaian
woman. A woman is always in the background and when a woman is
outspoken, she is given all kinds of names.
Our situation is difficult because of our entrenched traditional
beliefs and norms. The traditional notion is that men are the heads
and this notion is working through every sphere of life and
including the political sphere.
Men do not encourage us and they look down on us, and would not
even vote for a woman as a candidate. They discount whatever we
say as "women's talk."
Even in parliament women are not allowed to exercise their rights.
We do not often hear our female parliamentarians speak because the
men take the floor all the time.
Our husbands will not even encourage us and they will even tell us
the political party we should vote for.
One could get into serious problem with the husband should one vote
for another political party and since women are so concerned about
the stability of their homes, they tend to obey their husbands in
matters like this.
For example, women do not have the necessary resources and capital
to do active politics because politic is very expensive and most
women are handicapped financially.
The men for too long have dominated us both financially and I think
women in this country are getting fed up with the situation.
I believe that with time and the required education, Ghana could
have a female president. However, for now, we women still believe
that men are better endowed than women are.
It is only possible for women if our cultural norms are relaxed to
allow women to further their education.
Before an individual can be totally liberated, the one must be
educated because knowledge is power and if one does not know how to
deliver herself when in difficulty, one cannot make progress in
Therefore society has an obligation to help women and women must
organise to fight for their rights.
Even women will not vote for a female president even if she has the
courage to stand for the position.
All depends on the women, if only we stop being each other's enemy.
We are in the majority yet we are the same people who will
assassinate the character of the female presidential candidate.
Women are their worst enemies because most women are jealous and do
not do much to improve their lots and if a fellow woman decides to
excel, we defame the person and do nothing to encourage one another.
I do not think any Ghanaian woman would dare to stand for presidency
because women in general look down upon themselves and do not support
It is possible to have a female president but it will not be easy to
achieve because our traditions pose a stumbling block. Such a woman
would be ridiculed and snubbed by the men and even by her own family
Only a single mother or woman who has experienced the rough edges of
life would want to venture into the presidency. This is so because
she will have a tough personality that will enable her to organise
women very well.
I support the notion that a female president of this country must be
a single mother because my sister who was a Member of Parliament in
1992 incurred the displeasure of her husband because of her
political ambition. The husband threatened to divorce her but she
however ignored the threat.
I do not agree that only a single woman could become a president.
A married woman could become a president too if women are able to
get over petty squabbles, attitudinal problems and their
inferiority complex and societal prejudices.
When one takes a look at the roles women play in the political
parties, one would realise that women have not yet taken up the
challenge to rise up to the top.
The highest position a woman is given in a political party is
that of a women's organiser and not as a presidential candidate.
Men do not encourage us to participate they rather look down upon
us and would not even vote for a woman as a candidate. The society
believes that men are the heads and women the tails.
In this country, women are knowledgeable but are not given political
appointments, because the men see us as threats and they have this
notion that we are into competition with them and yet they are not
doing their best.
Table 1: Participants by age, marital status, education,
residence, occupation, ethnicity and religion.
18-35 years 24 35%
36-45 years 21 31%
46-60 years 21 31%
61-70 years 2 3%
Married 48 70%
Divorced 2 3%
Widowed 6 9%
Single 12 18%
Primary/Middle 15 22%
Secondary/Post Secondary 32 47%
University 14 21%
No Education 7 10%
Urban 44 65%
Rural 24 35%
Civil/Public Servants 15 22%
Teaching 27 40%
Self-employed 12 18%
University Students 8 12%
Farmers 6 8%
Akan 17 25%
Ewe 29 43%
Ga-Adangbe 16 23%
Dagomba/Kasenas/Buli 6 9%
Christianity 61 90%
Islam 7 10%