Ghana women's situation

Situation des femmes Ghana

Mise à jour : Janvier  2013

[Source of information from Women’s Manifesto by Abantu for Development, Ghana]

Women in Ghana are recognized under law as having equal rights with men in all spheres of life. The 1992 Constitution recognizes equality of all persons before the law and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, religion, etc.

EDUCATION

In the area of education levels, there are big differences between men and women. According to the Ghana Living Standards Survey in 2000 (GLSS 4), 44.1% of women as opposed to 21.1% of men have no formal education. Given that formal sector employment now requires secondary or higher levels of education, it follows that only 5.7% of women compared to 15.8% of men can work in this sector. Current enrolment figures do not give room for optimism. Average enrolment rates for males are 66.2% and 58.4% for females. More girls than boys drop out of school at all levels of education. Factors such as poverty, early marriage and teenage pregnancy prevent females from continuing their education to the tertiary level.

Because the majority of women do not have higher education or marketable skills, they are unable to obtain good jobs in the formal sector. Therefore we find the situation where the majority of women in employment are in the informal sector, or even when employed in the formal sector, they are in the lowly paid jobs. They do not earn enough in these jobs to allow them to be economically independent and therefore find themselves most of the time in a situation of economic dependency on the man. This dependency reinforces their low status in the society and therefore makes them susceptible to control by the men, violence and other forms of maltreatment and discrimination.

Women’s low status is often supported by societal structures such as religion, marriage and cultural norms. In most of our cultures and traditions, women are often considered as inferior to men and because of that women are prevented or prohibited from undertaking some activities. In some places, women are not allowed to speak at public functions where there are men. If they do not speak, their needs and concerns are not heard. Consequently, they do not participate in decisions that affect them. Some of the specific issues that need to be addressed are discussed in following sections.

HEALTH

Declining fertility rates have not changed the fact that women in Ghana are at high risk of dying from pregnancy related causes. Maternal mortality rates (MMR) in Ghana are estimated at 214 per 100,000 live births compared with 10 per 100,000 live births in developed countries. The picture is even grimmer for certain parts of Ghana. In areas of the Northern Region for example, MMR range between 500 and 800 per 100,000 live births. The social and economic costs to the children left behind, the larger family and to Ghana as a whole are enormous, as women who die from childbirth are often in their most active periods of economic activity. While there is international consensus that maternal mortality is preventable with certain low cost interventions, policies in Ghana have not yet succeeded in reducing maternal mortality.

The prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS in Ghana throw gender inequalities into sharper relief. In Ghana, more than 90% of all AIDS cases are found in people between the ages of 15-49 and two-thirds of the cases are females. Apart from the fact that HIV is spread more often from male to female than from female to male for physiological reasons, socio-economic factors including gender inequalities are central to women’s generally greater vulnerability to the virus than men. Gender differences in educational levels and women’s poorer access to economic opportunities, resources and knowledge and familiarity with sexual and reproductive health information disadvantage them. A manifestation of gender inequalities is women’s poor ability to protect themselves from infections, negotiate safe sex and say no to unprotected sex, particularly when they are economically or socially dependent on their partners. This problem is compounded by the fact that sex is routinely demanded from women as payment for various opportunities.

Women without skills and resources often resort to prostitution in its different forms and this makes them even more vulnerable to STDs including HIV/AIDs. On the other hand, male behaviours arising from their social superiority such as their ability to have multiple sexual partners across a wide range of age groups without serious consequences and their ability to demand unprotected sex from their spouses make them vectors in the spread of HIV/AIDS. One result is the high mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDs, which accounts for about 15% of all modes of transmission.

WOMEN IN DECISION-MAKING

At all historical junctures, women in Ghana have contributed immensely towards Ghana’s political life. In spite of the pivotal role Ghanaian women play within family, communities and society at large, they do not occupy key decision-making positions in all sectors of economic, political and social life. They are relegated to the background as far as public decision-making is concerned. This is because no concrete policy measures are in place to ensure that the structural inequalities between women and men are taken into account in promoting participation in policy decisions. The ratio of female/male membership of both Parliament and District Assemblies, public/private sectors and in corporate organisations does not reflect a population composed of over 51 per cent women. Women account for less than 10 per cent of people in public office. There are only 19 women in the 200-member Parliament, making up only 9 per cent. Women make up 16 per cent in the Council of State, a body that advises the President on the critical challenges facing the nation.

Ghana’s decentralisation programme has sought to create administrative and developmental decision-making structures in the Districts. This is to democratise the system of government to achieve a more equitable allocation of power and wealth in the development process. Yet, women have not been able to take advantage of their potential to shape decisions because of low representation. Thus in the 1998 district assembly elections out of an overall total of 4820 elected candidates, only 196 were women while 4624 were men. There has been no significant increase in women’s participation in district assemblies in the 2002 elections, as we find that out of a total of 4,583 candidates elected only 341 are women, while 4,241 are men. Though there has been some percentage increase in the number of women elected to District Assemblies from 3 per cent in 1994 to 5 per cent in 1998 and to 7 per cent in 2002, their participation continues to be extremely low. Since there is no affirmative action policy or any other system to promote women’s political participation, individual women, largely working through their political parties are left on their own to compete to obtain entry into the District Assemblies and Parliament.

Women and the Law

The 1992 Constitution has clear provisions guaranteeing the fundamental human rights of all citizens. Article 12 of the Constitution guarantees every person in Ghana’s fundamental rights and freedoms and article 17 provides protection against discrimination and enjoins the state to take steps to end all forms of discrimination on grounds of gender, race, colour, ethnicity, religion and creed, social and economic status. Article 35 (5 and 6) enjoins the state to end all forms of discrimination through law reform and affirmative action. In addition to the Constitution, there are national laws which address the issues affecting particular segments of the population. For example, the Labour Act 2003 (Act 651) and the Children’s Act 1998 (Act 560) protect the rights of workers and children respectively.

In relation to women, laws have been passed over the years to improve their situation. These include the Marriage Laws, Intestate Succession Law PNDC Law 111 (1985), Customary Marriage and Divorce Registration Law PNDC Law 112 (1985) and the Labour Act 651 (2003). Amendments of the criminal law, now contained in the consolidated Criminal Code have provisions to protect women from harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation and to broaden protection against sexual violence. The Children’s Act protects children from early marriage and the Matrimonial Causes Act supports women seeking divorce under both customary and ordinance marriages.

Ghana also has obligations under international human rights instruments such as the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on Social and Economic Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Ghana also has obligations under regional instruments such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the Declaration on the Disabled. The State is required to incorporate the provisions of these instruments into national laws. In addition, there are commitments arising from various UN conferences on women. The 1985 Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies (NFLS), the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action (PfA) and the 2000 review of Beijing commitments, known as Beijing +5. As well, UN conferences such as the Vienna Human Rights Conference, the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) (1994), the Social Summit (1994), and more recently, the 2000 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have clear provisions for improving the status of women and promoting gender equality.

In spite of these laws, and instruments, women continue to suffer bias and discrimination in Ghana. International human rights instruments are not fully integrated and enforced within national laws. In addition, national laws do not go far enough and fail to address the requirement of a comprehensive review of all national laws to ensure the repeal of discriminatory laws. As well, discriminatory practices against women continue in spite of laws prohibiting such practices such as the Intestate Succession Law and the constitutional provisions against harmful cultural practices. Certain laws such as the Bill on Property Rights are yet to become law although twelve years have passed since the 1992 Constitution called for their passage.

As a result, women continue to contend with discriminatory laws and practices in employment, marriage, divorce, and in access to resources such as land, labour, capital and technology. For example, only a minority of women in formal sector employment enjoy protection from labour laws. Women continue to live with discrimination in relation to the rights and obligations in marriage and the grounds for divorce. While women can be divorced at customary law on grounds of witchcraft, stealing and adultery, these are not grounds for divorcing a man. Practice such as polygamy, though lawful under customary law, increase women’s insecurity and vulnerability in married life. Several men who are involved in acts of bigamy are not made to account for their actions even though the criminal code makes such acts unlawful. Court decisions show that the laws governing the distribution of marital property at divorce do not sufficiently take into account women’s non-monetary contributions to the acquisition of such property.

There are also critical issues of poor implementation of the laws due to bias against poor women and men, lack of resources, low capacity, undue delays in court processes, entrenched patriarchal attitudes, low accountability and systemic gender inequality. Furthermore, there is limited or no access to legal processes as a result of problems of cost and availability of services. The few women who are able to access the legal system find themselves dealing in an unduly formal and alienating environment. Very few women and men are fully aware of women’s rights under the law partly because of the poor performance of institutions tasked with legal education.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Violence against women is one of the results of male supremacy and the low status of women within the family. Male supremacy is supported by social institutions such as marriage, religion and culture whilst these same institutions reinforce women’s low status.

Under customary marriage, the man gives certain specified items to the woman’s family for the marriage to take effect. This procedure has been interpreted over time to mean that the man has literally “bought” the woman. With this in mind, the man feels he has a right to treat the woman as an object which he can kick around. Among some ethnic groups the man is given a small cane during the marriage ceremony as an indication that he can discipline his wife when she steps out of line. All major decisions are taken by the husband with the wife not taking part in decision making, even of issues that affect her directly. Wives in this situation are put in the same situation as children over whom the man exercises power and control. The marriage becomes one not of partnership between the couple but one of a master servant relationship, with the man being the master and the woman the servant.

Very often when the issue of violence against women is raised, most people, both men and women would want to dispute it, saying it does not exist in Ghanaian society. This is very typical of how violence is viewed all across the world. Even though it is known that violence is a disease that is festering in society, we pretend that it does not exist. When a woman has been beaten with severe injuries, she would say she fell down or hit her head or eye against a door or give some other excuse. The perpetrator, on the other hand, when accosted would say he only tapped her gently or sometimes would pass the blame on to the victim, saying if she had not behaved a certain way, he would not have beaten her.

Violence against women is influenced by social attitudes and values which see men as naturally superior to women and make it a man’s right and responsibility to control women’s behaviour. What is considered acceptable behaviour is determined by the man and society and failure by the woman to comply with the socially acceptable behaviour leads to violence.

Social structures such as the legal system, the community, including family and friends, educational system, mass media, religion and culture have contributed in many ways to the violent behaviour of men against women. For example, the legal system has often considered violence by men against women as a private domestic matter and therefore is reluctant to press charges, despite the fact that if this same behaviour occurred between strangers on the street, it would be treated as a criminal act.

Family members and friends contribute to violence in a number of ways. They make excuses for the man’s behaviour. They may refuse to believe the woman, they may pressure the woman to stay to preserve the family unit. Sometimes they blame the woman for the violence committed against her.

The education system also reflects, teaches and therefore perpetuates social attitudes and values about women. Traditionally, women have been steered towards jobs and careers that are inferior in status and remuneration. Family life education has often supported a traditional, rigid patriarchal family structure that sees the father as the head of the household and every one subservient to him.

Religion also plays a role in supporting violence against women. Over the years some religious texts have been interpreted in a way that reinforces man’s superiority and that the woman must be totally submissive and obedient to man.

The mass media also perpetuates stereotypes by representing males as superior, unemotional, powerful, controlled and aloof and representing females as seductive, passive and weak. The stereotypes are harmful as they affect attitudes and expectations of others.

Violence against women takes many forms. These are physical, sexual, psychological, economic and harmful traditional practices. All of these various forms of violence have different consequences on the victim and sometimes on the children as well. Sometimes in an abusive relationship, more than one of the different forms of violence will be present. For instance, where there is physical violence, there is most likely sexual and or psychological violence as well.

To deal with the problem of domestic violence in Ghana, the Police Service has responded by setting up special units called Women and Juvenile Units (WAJU) which has offices in all 10 regions of Ghana. Police officers working in this department are trained on how to handle victims of violence. They are also supported by clinical psychologists, social welfare officers, lawyers and counsellors in their work.

Recently, there has been sustained advocacy to get a law on domestic violence passed by the legislature. Research reports from government and non-governmental agencies provide startling statistics of the incidence of violence in Ghanaian society. In response to these initiatives, a domestic violence bill has been drafted which has received cabinet approval. Wide scale consultations and educations have been carried on by both non-governmental organisations and the sector ministry for women’s affairs. It is anticipated that the bill will be debated in Parliament and then passed into law before the end of 2004.

The national laws, especially the Constitution which is the supreme law of the land, are consistent with the demands of international conventions. It ensures the inviolability of the fundamental human rights of all men. Some of the provisions are :

  1. Article 16(1) : "No person shall be held in slavery or servitude"
  2. Article 16(2) : "No person shall be required to perform forced labour"
  3. Article 15(1) : "The dignity of all persons shall be inviolable"
  4. Article 15(2) : "No persons whether or not he is arrested, restricted or detained be subject to (a) torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (b) any other condition that detracts or is likely to detract from his dignity and self worth as a human being."
  5. Article 25(1) : "All persons shall have the right to equal educational opportunities and facilities"
  6. Article 28(4) : "No child shall be deprived by any other person of medical treatment, education or any other social or economic benefit by reason only of religious or other beliefs"

Discriminatory Practices justified in the name of Culture

Ghana has a rich and vibrant culture with many positive elements such as diversity, respect and consideration for others irrespective of age and status, and a preference for consensus instead of conflict. It is these elements which have enabled the country to survive in the face of adversity. However, like all cultures, Ghanaian culture is dynamic and an important element of this dynamism is the ability to change. Cultures which are not able to respond to new challenges and leave behind practices which are no longer appropriate become backward and negative instead of being a source of positive values. Cultural practices which discriminate against women and prevent them from fulfilling themselves as full citizens of Ghana are an example of those practices which must change. Unfortunately, there are certain people who use culture to justify discriminatory practices against women and other social groups.

This is an abuse of culture which is unconstitutional and does not promote social development. Article 26 (2) of the 1992 Constitution prohibits customary practices which dehumanise or are injurious to the physical and mental well being of all persons. The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and its Women’s Protocol have provisions outlawing cultural practices which discriminate against any persons, including women. Ghana’s commitments under international human rights instruments include the encouragement of cultural practices which promote the rights and development of women and the abolition of those which discriminate against them.

However, at all levels of Ghanaian societies, many forms of discrimination against women are practised in the name of culture. Although culture belongs to the whole society, women are often held to a higher standard of cultural compliance than men. There are situations when women become the enforcers of negative customs against fellow women in their capacity as custodians of particular practices. While this makes them open to criticism, their activities are for the benefit of men.

Marriage, family and community life

Ghanaian proverbs which are passed off as conventional wisdom express gender biases and reinforce the discrimination of women. Ghanaian societies expect all men and women to marry and have children by a certain age. Women feel the weight of these expectations more heavily as they are expected to marry much earlier than men and are often blamed for the breakdown of marriage and the absence of children within marriage. In situations where men do not contribute to the upbringing of children, women are left to carry the burden unaided and stigmatized, and are often vulnerable to exploitation. Customary law rules, beliefs, ideologies and practices of marriage discriminate against women. In Ghana, 23% of currently married women are in a polygynous union, a decline from 28% in 1993. Differences in the status, rights and responsibilities of a husband and wife, and inheritance rules that favour the extended family over the marriage based family result in power imbalances and weaken women’s voices within their households. Women are expected to submit to their husbands irrespective of the issues at stake and their submission is reinforced by religious doctrines. Various forms of discrimination such as the imbalance in unpaid labour and housework leave women with less time to pursue their paid work, social activities and social development programmes. The time constraints women experience within their households also affects girls who are socialised to do more housework than boys.

In terms of decision-making within marriage, women are disadvantaged by the norms which designate men as head of household and therefore the principal decision-maker in matters concerning household resource control and use, and the number of children to be born and their maintenance. These hierarchies in decision-making within the household have an adverse impact on children, especially girls. There is limited spousal communication on reproductive health issues. Women are expected to seek the consent of their partners before using contraception although this is against Ghana’s population policy which stresses individual voluntarism in family planning. The situation is compounded by the prejudice against women’s use of contraception. The result is that some men refuse to allow their partners to use contraception for fear that it would encourage them to be promiscuous. The picture however, is not uniform. Apart from rural-urban differences, it has been observed that women in matrilineal areas have more autonomy in reproductive health decision making than those in patrilineal areas. Not surprisingly, reported contraception use among married women in Ghana is low. While awareness of contraception is over 90% in Ghana, only 22% of married women use contraception as compared with 32% of men. The figure is even lower among the poor. This leaves many women without protection from unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. In spite of this, fertility rates for women in Ghana are falling and there is no agreement among population experts as to the explanation for this, although it is seen as a desirable trend. There is concern that this may be as a result of abortions, many of which take place under unsafe circumstances.

Some norms in society establish double standards about male and female sexual behaviour. While men are allowed and encouraged in certain cases to have multiple sexual partners, women are severely sanctioned even if they are only suspected of such behaviour. Women are discouraged from expressing their sexuality in a manner not prescribed by their societies and encouraged to be sexually submissive to men. This has contributed to their inability to negotiate safe sex and thereby protect themselves from sexual violence and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDs.

Women and Media

In Ghana, the media have made an important contribution to the country’s socio-political development. However, in spite of women’s immense contributions to the development of democratic space, the media continue to marginalise women’s concerns and issues. The role of the media and other communication and information providers in society, and the link between women’s rights and democracy, raises several questions that must be addressed by government. These include making institutional arrangements that enable the media promote democracy and women’s empowerment, being a positive influence power relations of gender, class and ethnicity in society, and providing access, space and voice to citizens, especially women. Of key concern are the media’s sexist and stereotypical representations of women, the neglect of issues concerning women and the nature of reporting of stories about women especially those relating to sex crimes against them that fail to make the link between violence and power relationships.

Developments in the media brought on by technological advances also pose new challenges. Many of the policies formulated around technological innovations fail to consider women’s concerns. Just as the Internet is perceived as the foremost information source for the future, so also must we see it as the foremost source for the potential perpetuation of inherited hegemonic tendencies that must be addressed at the local level. The Beijing Platform for Action notes the advances in information technology as a site for action, research and monitoring. This is because the vast technology driven information superhighway has the potential for good as well as evil. The Internet, for example, allows women’s groups to set up their own web pages and networks more effectively. But it can also be a source of women’s denigration and exploitation, as demonstrated by the exploitation of Ghanaian women on pornographic web sites.

It has been suggested that because women, particularly gender-sensitized women, have been excluded from decision-making positions within the media, negative representations of women abound and the media fail to reflect the issues and perspectives that are important to women. In Ghana, women make up less than 20% of the workforce and less than 10% of top management in media. Thus the media like other institutions in Ghana are male dominated. This has not been helped by decades of authoritarian control of the media and the victimisation of journalists. The expanding media environment resulting from Ghana’s return to constitutional democracy in 1992 has only slightly improved the status quo for women. There has also been little improvement in the number of women on the boards of state-owned media organisations, and little improvement in the numbers of women employed in the Government’s information apparatus.

Women, Conflict and Peace

The causes and nature of conflict have changed in more ways than one. The advent of globalisation has widened the economic gap between the rich and the poor creating mass unemployment and despondency. World Bank and the International Monetary Fund conditionalities which have resulted in the withdrawal of subsidies in service delivery have added to the already harsh economic condition of citizens especially of women and children. In politics, despite multi-party constitutional rule and good governance conditionalities, corruption, lack of accountability and denial of access to decision-making continue to exclude the majority of the people, thus creating fertile grounds for discontent and conflict. The nature of conflict has also changed. No longer are wars limited to the battlefields, but they have now been extended to cities, towns and villages where unarmed civilians, especially women and children, have become easy targets of violence and revenge attacks. The conflict situation across the West Africa sub-region has security implications for people in the various countries. The proliferationof small arms in the region is fuelling even more conflicts and violence. The use of child soldiers, for instance, is a phenomenon whose impact on social development is yet to be measured. In addition to the various forms of conflicts in the sub-region, there is a rise in cross border crimes armed robbery. The instability created by conflicts has diverted massive resources from long-term development objectives sending the region many years back. There is a lack of total commitment and political will to implement various UN protocols, the ECOWAS Moratorium on importing, exporting and banning the manufacture of small arms and light weapons by countries of the sub-region.

Women and men have different experiences of conflict whether as combatants or civilians because of pre-existing gender inequalities. Articles 12 and 13 of the 1992 Constitution contain measures for protecting citizens in times of conflict. In spite of this, women are the most vulnerable and the most threatened in the event of conflict, and have to contend with social dislocation, abductions, sexual violation, intimidation, sexual slavery, sexual infections and added responsibilities in the face of the resultant economic instability. Yet, those who dominate policy-making and decide on wars are the same people who want to dictate terms of peace exclusive of the input of women.

The UN has called for women’s equal participation and full involvement in all efforts to maintain and promote peace and security and prevention and resolve conflicts. Involving women this way and addressing the underlying political and socio-economic causes of conflicts will go a long way to creating a just and peaceful society.

Useful documents

Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy II

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