A demographic finding from the United Nation Decade for Women (2000) describes the situation of women in statements such as; “Women constitute half of the world’s population, perform two-thirds of the world’s work, but receive only one-third of its income and own less than one–hundredth of its property”.
The situation described above is generally true for all women globally, but its proportions, dimensions and effects, in the socio-cultural setting of the women of Northern Ghana, is very worrisome and thus calls for action in finding ways of removing these limitations, which are inhibiting the growth of the Northern Ghana women in their lives functions.
Women in the area believe they have the potential to own their own business enterprises and also have the strong will to grow them to prove their worth in various endeavours, as they are the major source of labor of their societies.
It is the insistent contention of women that, giving equal opportunities to women through practical interventions and policies must be at the heart of initiatives aimed at addressing not only poverty rates but also reducing the numerous causative gender disparities in the distribution of wealth.
Unfortunately, certain negative traditional and cultural practices continue to limit women and tend to sway them in their attempt to grow in business in the Northern Region as they continue to suffer from male dominance and abject poverty.
The women believe that the institution of marriage in the Northern Region poses one of the stiffest limitations to the growth of their business. Some women believe that some men use supernatural powers (juju, in African parlance) or other ways to truncate their wives flourishing businesses to ensure their (husbands) hold.
While women single parenting and women headed homes are fast becoming the norm rather than the exception in the Northern Region, (either they are widowed, divorced or married to poor or irresponsible husbands) they are at the same time denied the right to land, inheritance, credit means, enter the professions or rise in business.
The marriage institution, the traditional system of inheritance and the traditional leadership system were the main socio-cultural vehicles over which men in the Northern Region do not only have absolute dominance but also are used as denial, exclusion and limitation tools to inhibit the growth of women in many life’s functions.
A married woman, who is also a successful business entrepreneur, owning landed property is a rare phenomenon in the Northern Region.
Sex stereotypes, defining male/female traditional roles which the women themselves, unaware of their rights, accept readily without question is largely responsible for their own inferior portrayal, even though it is clear that female headed homes are no longer an exception but a norm. About 40% of households in the Northern Region are headed by women and invariably single parenting as well.
The issue of “Child brides” continues to deny girls the right to education and it feeds into the low Gender Parity Index (GPI) at basic school level in the Northern Region. Thus the women are stripped of many skills and capacities in life’s functions. The end result is poverty.
The way forward is for women to come together as one global force to fight this global phenomenon with a sustained and determined fight. This war can never be won in small fragmented groups. The situation calls for more ‘Beijing Conferences’ on regional and sub-regional basis.
Women should know that, freedom has never been voluntarily given by any slave master. It is always won the hard way. After all, there is a lost ancient precedence to be recaptured.
Civil society organizations and Religious organizations should lend themselves to the fight and help build linkages and the necessary networking in facilitating the removal of gender disparities.
The challenge is now thrown to our revered Traditional Rulers who are the custodians of the culture, traditions and usages, which is established, to be posing various forms of barriers to women entrepreneurship and economic empowerment.
The financial institutions must design soft credit facilities for women entrepreneurs while the women themselves must be encouraged to go into Susu (micro finance) savings with the financial institutions as a way of recovery.
The Traditional Authorities in the Northern Region should appreciate the part they play in this situation and be prepared to make the necessary concessions that will effect structural changes in customary land holdings, marriage contractual vows (to make the parties equals) and the Traditional Skinship setup to bring on board the women as pertains in other traditions in other parts of Ghana.
By this singular concession, the face of women’s enterprise and fortunes in the Northern Region will change.
Education holds the ray of hope in eradicating the gender biases from the mindset of both men and women in the region. Therefore, the government, civil society organizations, traditional authorities and all stakeholders should spare no effort in ensuring that education reaches all corners of the region to quicken the dynamics of culture.
It is only when women, who form more than half the population and are also responsible for domestic management and other vital socio-economic roles are empowered, that will impact holistically on the economic development of the Northern Region.
This article was carved out from an earlier one jointly written by Edmond Gyebi, Northern Regional Correspondent of The Chronicle & Mohammed Kwaku Doku, Exe. Dir., Centre for the Empowerment of the Vulnerable (CEV) published in 2007 in The Chronicle under the title “Removing Socio-cultural barriers to women entrepreneurship is key to reducing poverty in the Northern Region.”