Friday, 29 January 2016

Sex, Power and Painkillers: Women’s Rights and Advocacy with WOSAG

So we’ve arrived in Tamale, finished training, and both UK and Ghanaian team members have begun our work as ICS volunteers with the Women’s Support and Activist Group (WOSAG). I’ve volunteered to write the first project blog. To be honest, I was not sure what to write about. Ghana is hot, the people are friendly and the food is great. The dust has turned my blue shoes red, my host family are amazing, and I can now speak a few words of Dagbani.

Goat of the day, spotted in Kalpohini Village

At WOSAG we have begun preparations for our research projects focusing on sexual health, reproductive rights, and domestic violence. Understanding these requires an understanding of how relationships work in Ghana; how they traditionally operate, and how they are changing in a fast developing country. Following an eye-opening team discussion on this topic, I realised that this is what I would like to explore.

Our in-country volunteers described to the team how it is becoming increasingly common for young people in Ghana to have casual sexual relationships, sometimes with multiple partners. Men are seemingly driven by a desire for sex and so couple with women willing to satisfy this for gifts or luxurious presents.

Some manage to balance more than one relationship at a time, with both women and men looking to maximise their outcomes by managing their various lives through secret mobile numbers. This is a notable contrast with traditional relationships which centre on marriage and procreation with the couple’s parents and families as hugely influential parties. Our Ghanaian volunteers also pointed out that this trend is “very much concentrated in urban areas, with rural communities continuing to operate under more traditional structures”.

While we felt the exploration of sexual and economic security has benefits to young people, it is also evident that sex outside of marriage causes much unplanned and teenage pregnancies. In 2014, Ghana hit an all-time record high for teen pregnancy with approximately 750,000 cases.

By becoming pregnant early in life young women can be put in impossible situations and lack the resources or information to make informed decisions. As abortion is illegal in Ghana, accounts suggest women and girls may take large quantities of painkillers and alcohol as a means to avoid conception or to cause a miscarriage afterwards.

Ghanaian volunteers recounted a number of stories of unsafe alternative measures to induce miscarriage such using a wire coat hanger and a mirror or in one case, “a broken bottle ground up with seawater and "Blue", a washing detergent, which [they] soaked in a cotton cloth and inserted into [their] womanhood”. Such measures are very unlikely to abort a pregnancy and risk severe or even fatal damage to the woman’s body.

The increasingly casual nature of the relationships also places young pregnant women and girls at a disadvantage. Proving paternity when multiple partners have been involved can be difficult, and within densely packed cities, young fathers can simply change their mobile number and disappear in an instant.

Talking about good sexual practice and rights can be difficult at the best of times, and all the healthcare and resources in the world are wasted if people don’t use them. Cultural taboos and community pressures can lead to women and young people avoiding using sexual and reproductive health services due to embarrassment and fear of shaming their family.

Siân Millward - UK Team Leader

Ghana is by no means alone in dealing with these issues; they continue to plague the UK and many countries around the world. To meet the UN Sustainable Development goals, particularly “3(Ensure health lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”) and “5(Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”) we could all be doing far more to protect women and girls by assuring access to necessary information, resources and facilities in order to make the best personal decisions.

This shines a spotlight on organisations like WOSAG, fighting for gender equality, female empowerment and the reduction of unplanned and teen pregnancies. This work is crucial to promote sustainable development in all countries. All ICS volunteers are passionate and proud to be working with WOSAG, in supporting this woman lead organisation work towards their mission of gender equity and a better quality of life for women and all vulnerable groups in northern Ghana.


Author: Andrew Hamilton

Edited by: Angelina Agoruk, Clodagh Ryan & Ysabelle Smith

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