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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.