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Women in Ghana

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Women in Ghana

Women in Ghana
Gender Inequality Index
Value 0.565 (2012)
Rank 121st
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 350 (2008)
Women in parliament 8.3% (2012)
Females over 25 with secondary education 45.7% (2010)
Women in labour force 66.9% (2011)
Global Gender Gap Index[1]
Value 0.6811 (2013)
Rank 76th out of 136

The social roles of women in Ghana have varied throughout history. The overall impact of women in Ghanaian society has been significant. The social and economic well-being of women as mothers, traders, farmers, and office workers has evolved throughout centuries and is continuing to change in modern day. Life for women in Ghana varies by generation, location, and culture.

Family structure


Polygyny refers to marriages in which men are permitted to have more than one wife at the same time. In precolonial times, polygyny was encouraged, especially for wealthy men. Anthropologists have explained the practice as a traditional method for well-to-do men to procreate additional labour. In patrilineal societies, dowry received from marrying off daughters was also a traditional means for fathers to accumulate additional wealth.[2] Today, the percentage of women in polygynous marriages in rural areas (23.9%) is almost double that of women in urban areas (12.4%).[3] The age group with the most women in polygynous marriages is 45–49, interestingly followed by the 15–19 age group and the 40–44 group.[3] Rates of polygynous marriages decrease as education level and wealth level increase.[3]

In traditional society, marriage under customary law was often arranged or agreed upon by the fathers and other senior kinsmen of the prospective bride and bridegroom.This type of marriage served to link the two groups together in social relationships; hence, marriage within the ethnic group and in the immediate locality was encouraged.The age at which marriage was arranged varied among ethnic groups, but men generally married women somewhat younger than they were. Some of the marriages were even arranged by the families long before the girl attained puberty. In these matters, family considerations outweighed personal ones — a situation that further reinforced the subservient position of the wife.[2] The alienation of women from the acquisition of wealth, even in conjugal relationships, was strengthened by traditional living arrangements. Among matrilineal groups, such as the Akan, married women continued to reside at their maternal homes. Meals prepared by the wife would be carried to the husband at his maternal house. In polygynous situations, visitation schedules would be arranged. The separate living patterns reinforced the idea that each spouse is subject to the authority of a different household head, and because spouses are always members of different lineages, each is ultimately subject to the authority of the senior men of his or her lineage. The wife, as an outsider in the husband's family, would not inherit any of his property, other than that granted to her by her husband as gifts in token appreciation of years of devotion. The children from this matrilineal marriage would be expected to inherit from their mother's family.[2] The Dagomba, on the other hand, inherit from fathers. In these patrilineal societies where the domestic group includes the man, his wife or wives, their children, and perhaps several dependent relatives, the wife was brought into closer proximity to the husband and his paternal family. Her male children also assured her of more direct access to wealth accumulated in the marriage with her husband.[2]

Today, marriage dynamics generally vary between rural and urban areas. Polygyny is more common in rural areas, and a married woman is usually supported by large groups of relatives as well as co-wives.[4] Urban Ghana has generally adopted a more "Western" practice of marriage. The urban woman is held more responsible for choosing her own husband as it is not based on lineage or her family's interests. Furthermore, the urban woman is seen as more of a partner than as a minor, as she would be in many rural settings.[4] That being said, it can often be harder for the urban woman to address grievances or leave her husband because of that responsibility and lack of familial support that rural women often have.[4]

Ghana’s child protection law, the Children’s Act, prohibits child marriage; however, data from 2011 shows that 6% of girls nationwide were married before the age of 15.[3] Between 2002 and 2012, 7% of adolescent females (aged 15–19) were currently married.[5] Most of these women live in the Volta, Western, and Northern regions, and generally live in rural areas regardless of region.[3]

Familial roles

Women in premodern Ghanaian society were seen as bearers of children, retailers of fish, and farmers. Within the traditional sphere, the childbearing ability of women was explained as the means by which lineage ancestors were allowed to be reborn. Barrenness was, therefore, considered the greatest misfortune. Given the male dominance in traditional society, some economic anthropologists have explained a female's ability to reproduce as the most important means by which women ensured social and economic security for themselves, especially if they bore male children.[2]

Rates of female-headed households are on the rise in Ghana. The number of female-headed households who are either widowed, divorced, has also risen over time.[6] Contrary to worldwide findings that female poverty is correlated with higher rates of female-headed households, findings from the Ghana Living Standards Survey indicate that female-headed households may not actually experience higher poverty than male-headed households.[6] This is because reasons that households are headed by females differ across the country. Marital status is a significant factor in understanding differences in poverty rates. For example, widows are the group of female-headed households that exhibit the highest rates of poverty.[6] Especially in polygynous cases, not all women live in the same household as their husband.[7] Therefore, female-headed households headed by married women are best-off in terms of poverty, followed by divorced females, and widowed females.

Overall, women in female-headed households bare more household and market work than do men in male-headed households, mostly because usually the female head of household is the only adult who is of working age or ability. Men are usually able to distribute work with a female spouse in male-headed households, as most men in male-headed households are married.[7] Additionally, the amount of domestic work performed by women when living with or without a spouse does not vary, leading to the conclusion that males generally make little to no significant contribution to domestic work.[7] Further, women who are the heads of household generally own about 12 fewer hectares of land than male heads of household. The disparity in land ownership increases as wealth increases.[6]

Family size

In their Seven Roles of Women: Impact of Education, Migration, and Employment on Ghanaian Mother (International Labour Office, 1987), Christine Oppong and Katherine Abu recorded field interviews in Ghana that confirmed a traditional view of procreation. Citing figures from the Ghana fertility survey of 1983, the authors concluded that about 60 percent of women in the country preferred to have large families of five or more children. A statistical table accompanying the research showed 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 the average, urbanized, educated, and employed women had fewer children. On the whole, however, all the interviewed groups 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 family. The security that procreation provided was greater in the case of rural and uneducated women. By contrast, the number of children per mother declined for women with post-elementary education and outside employment; with guaranteed incomes and little time at their disposal in their combined roles as mothers and employees, the desire to procreate declined.[2]

Domestic violence

Domestic violence in Ghana is likely to happen to 1 in 3 women in Ghana.[8] There is a deep cultural belief in Ghana that it is socially acceptable to hit a woman to discipline a spouse.[9][10] According to a 2011 survey by MICS, 60 percent of Ghanaian women hold the view that, husbands are justified in beating their wives, for a variety of reasons.[11][12] Reasons mentioned in the MICS report include: “if she goes out without telling him; if she neglects the children; if she argues with him; if she refuses sex with him; if she burns the food; if she insults him; if she refuses to give him food; if she has another partner; if she steals; or if she gossips.” The rate of women who justify domestic violence is overwhelmingly largest in women with the least education and lowest socioeconomic status.[3]

The Ghanaian government in 2007 has taken legal proceedings to prosecute men who abuse their women.[13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22]


The transition into the modern world has been slow for women. On the one hand, the high rate of female fertility in Ghana in the 1980s showed that women's primary role continued to be that of child-bearing. On the other hand, current research supported the view that, notwithstanding the Education Act of 1960, which expanded and required elementary education, some parents were reluctant to send their daughters to school because their labour was needed in the home and on farms. Resistance to female education also stemmed from the conviction that women would be supported by their husbands. In some circles, there was even the fear that a girl's marriage prospects dimmed when she became educated.[2]

Where girls went to school, most of them did not continue after receiving the basic education certification. Others did not even complete the elementary level of education. At numerous workshops organized by the National Council on Women and Development (NCWD) between 1989 and 1990, the alarming drop-out rate among girls at the elementary school level caused great concern. The National Council on Women and Development was co founded by nation's educational system in 1989 showed no improvement over those recorded in 1984.[2]

Girls' access to education has shown improvement since then. During 2008–12, the national literacy rate for young women aged 15–24 was 83.2%, only slightly lower than that for males of the same age group (88.3%).[5] However, literacy rates fluctuate across the country and socioeconomic statuses. By region, literacy rates for girls range from 44% to 81%.[3] Women living at the highest socioeconomic status exhibit the highest literacy rates at 85%, while only 31% of women living in the poorest homes are literate.[3]

Based on household populations, about 50% of men and only 29% of women have secondary schooling or higher.[5] This number will soon become more balanced, however, as more girls are in school now and will continue into secondary school. Over the timespan of 2008-2012, 4% more girls were enrolled in preschool than boys.[5] Net enrollment and attendance ratios for primary school were both about the same for boys and girls, net enrollment standing at about 84% and net attendance at about 73%.[5] Enrollment in secondary school for girls was slightly lower than for boys (44.4% vs. 48.1%), but girls’ attendance was higher by about the same difference (39.7% vs. 43.6%).[5]


During pre-modern Ghanaian society, in rural areas of Ghana where non-commercial agricultural production was the main economic activity, women worked the land. Coastal women also sold fish caught by men. Many of the financial benefits that accrued to these women went into upkeep of the household, while those of the man were reinvested in an enterprise that was often perceived as belonging to his extended family. This traditional division of wealth placed women in positions subordinate to men. The persistence of such values in traditional Ghanaian society may explain some of the resistance to female education in the past.[2]

For women of little or no education who lived in urban centres, commerce was the most common form of economic activity in the 1980s. At urban market centres throughout the country, women from the rural areas brought their goods to trade. Other women specialized in buying agricultural produce at discounted prices at the rural farms and selling it to retailers in the city. These economic activities were crucial in sustaining the general urban population. From the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, however, urban market women, especially those who specialized in trading manufactured goods, gained reputations for manipulating market conditions and were accused of exacerbating the country's already difficult economic situation. With the introduction of the Economic Recovery Program in 1983 and the consequent successes reported throughout that decade, these accusations began to subside.[2]

Today, women make up 43.1% of economically active population in Ghana, the majority working in the informal sector and in food crop farming.[6] About 91% of women in the informal sector experience gender segregation and typically work for low wages.[6] Within the informal sector, women usually work in personal services. There are distinct differences in artisan apprenticeships offered to women and men, as well. Men are offered a much wider range of apprenticeships such as carpenters, masons, blacksmiths, mechanics, painters, repairers of electrical and electronic appliances, upholsters, metal workers, car sprayers, etc. In contrast, most female artisans are only involved in either hairdressing or dressmaking.[6] Women generally experience a disparity in earnings, receiving a daily average of 6,280 cedis compared to 8,560 cedis received by men according to the Ghana Living Standards Survey.[6]

Women are flourishing in teaching professions. Early 1990s' data showed that about 19 percent of the instructional staff at the nation's three universities in 1990 was female. Of the teaching staff in specialized and diploma-granting institutions, 20 percent was female; elsewhere, corresponding figures were 21 percent at the secondary-school level; 23 percent at the middle-school level, and as high as 42 percent at the primary-school level. Women also dominated the secretarial and nursing professions in Ghana. When women were employed in the same line of work as men, they were paid equal wages, and they were granted maternity leave with pay.[2] However, women in research professions report experiencing more difficulties than men in the same field, which can be linked to restricted professional networks for women because of lingering traditional familial roles.[23]


According to UNICEF, the mortality rate for girls under five years old in 2012 was 66 per 1,000 girls. This number was lower than that for boys, which was 77 per 1,000.[5]


Out of an estimated 240,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Ghana, about half are women.[5] During the span of 2008-2012, 36.8% of young women aged 15–24 and 34.5% of adolescent girls exhibited comprehensive knowledge about the prevention of HIV/AIDS, which is defined by UNICEF as being able to "correctly identify the two major ways of preventing the sexual transmission of HIV (using condoms and limiting sex to one faithful, uninfected partner), who reject the two most common local misconceptions about HIV transmission, and who know that a healthy-looking person can have HIV."[5]

Maternal health

The birthrate for adolescents (aged 15–19) in Ghana is 60 per 1000 women.[3] The rates between rural and urban areas of the country, however, vary greatly (89 and 33 per 1000 women, respectively).[3] For urban women, 2.3% of women had a child before age 15 and 16.7% of women had a child before age 18. For rural women, 4% had a child before age 15 and 25% had a child before age 18.[3]

Among women 15–49 years old, 34.3% are using contraception.[5] Contraception use is positively correlated with education level.[3] Sometimes, women want to either postpone the next birth or stop having children completely, but don’t have access to contraception. According to MICS, this is called unmet need.[3] Prevalence of unmet need is highest for women aged 15–19 (61.6%).[3] Highest rates of met need for contraception are found in the richest women, women with secondary education or higher, and women ages 20–39.[3]

In 2011, the Government of Ghana announced that it had eliminated maternal and neonatal tetanus.[24] This was an achievement on the route to meeting one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), which is to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters.[3]

Pregnant women are more vulnerable to malaria due to depression of the immune system.[3] Malaria may lead to malaria-induced anemia and also may cause low weight births.[3] Pregnant women in Ghana are encouraged to sleep under a mosquito net to avoid such infections from mosquito bites. Nationally, 33% of pregnant women slept under mosquito nets in 2011, which fell short of the goal of 65% by 2011.[3] More than twice as many pregnant women sleep under mosquito nets in rural areas than in urban areas, and the same is true of uneducated women in comparison to women who had completed secondary education or higher.[3] The correlation between these two rates may be due to more educated women living in urban areas, and more uneducated women living in rural areas. In accordance, the poorest women in Ghana show the highest rates of sleeping under mosquito nets, while the richest show the lowest rates.[3]

Female genital mutilation is not as prevalent in Ghana as it is in other countries in West Africa; 3.8% of women aged 15–49 have undergone mutilation/cutting, and 0.5% of mothers aged 15–49 have at least one daughter who has been mutilated/cut.[5]

Health insurance

Among women in the poorest households, only 57.4% have ever registered with the National Health Insurance Scheme, as compared with 74.2% of women in the richest households in Ghana.[3] Women in urban areas also had higher registration rates than women in rural areas (70.9% and 66.3%, respectively).[3] In order to become a member of NHIS, one must either pay a premium, register for free maternal care, is exempt as an indigent. Of the women who achieved NHIS membership, 28.6% paid for the premium themselves.[3] The majority of women (59.5%) had their premium paid for by a friend or relative, and only 1.0% had it paid for by their employer.[3] Most women (39.2%) who did not register for NHIS did not do so because the premium was too expensive.[3]

Feminist efforts

Feminist organizing has increased in Ghana as women seek to obtain a stronger role in their democratic government. In 2004, a coalition of women created the Women's Manifesto for Ghana, a document that demands economic and political equality as well as reproductive health care and other rights.[25]

The practice of gender mainstreaming has been debated in Ghana. There is ongoing discourse over whether gender issues should be handled at the national level or by sector ministries and where the economic resources for the women's movement in Ghana should come from.[26] Further, critics of gender mainstreaming argue that the system increases bureaucracy and that it has moved funds and energy away from work for women's rights.[26] The women's movement in Ghana has adopted an attitude towards gender mainstreaming that is much aligned with that of the international women's movement, which is best summarized in a 2004 AWID newsletter: "Mainstreaming [should be] highlighted along with the empowerment of women" and "it appears worthwhile to pick up the empowerment of women again and bring it back to the forefront."[26]

The NCWD's is fervent in its stance that the social and economic well-being of women, who compose slightly more than half of the nation's population, cannot be taken for granted.[2] The Council sponsored a number of studies on women's work, education, and training, and on family issues that are relevant in the design and execution of policies for the improvement of the condition of women. Among these considerations the NCWD stressed family planning, child care, and female education as paramount.[2]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m David Owusu-Ansah, David. "The Position of Women", in A Country Study: Ghana (La Verle Berry, editor). Library of Congress Federal Research Division (November 1994). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
  4. ^ a b c
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h
  7. ^ a b c
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  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
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  25. ^ Interview with Manifesto organizers Dzodzi Tsikata, Rose Mensah-Kutin, and Hamida Harrison, conducted by Amina Mama: "In Conversation: The Ghanaian Women's Manifesto Movement", in Feminist Africa 4, 2005.
  26. ^ a b c
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