Friday, 13 May 2016

To be a girl in Ghana

Hierarchy and structure of society

Ghana’s society follows a hierarchal structure, in terms of family dynamics. In the Dagomba tribe (the most prevalent tribe in Tamale), at the top of the hierarchy or the head of the household is always a man. Subordinate to them you have teenage males, then women, finally followed by girls and young boys. The power divide is very clear; women are generally always with other women and/or their children, whilst men are usually together. If men are having a discussion, women are not allowed to have an input and often cannot be present. Girls are taught to respect men from a young age and therefore must accept instructions from and cater to the needs of the males in their family. For example, if you are a woman who is substantially older than your brother, he will be able to overrule your choices, simply because he is male.  Additionally, gender is not the only factor that determines your position within the hierarchy.

A young girl carries a tray of mangoes she is selling in Kanvili
   Expectations and roles for children

The treatment and expectations of children are vastly different in comparison to Western culture. This affects girl in particular, who are considered to be care takers of the home and therefore are expected to do most of the chores especially in the kitchen. They are expected to help with the housework, washing, farm work and selling in the market whereas boys are allowed to relax and engage in their own past-times.

This inequality in treatment of girls and boys affects the ratio of girls to boys in school. Unlike the UK, where education is compulsory for everyone up until the age of 18, classes in Tamale are dominated by boys. Often poor families do not see education to be as important for girls, who will later marry and join a new family. Ultimately, poor families prioritise their expenditure in terms of long-term investment and as sons will remain part of the family and will therefore continue to contribute, they are seen as a more worthwhile investment than daughters. 

A young girl from Kanvili
 Inheritance and Property Rights

     In Ghana, girls and women do not inherit property (land/houses). Preventing women from inheriting property ensures that wealth remains within a family, as when women marry and move to their husband’s house, any property that belonged to a woman would be transferred to the husband and so lost by the woman’s family. 
A group of young boys from Kanvili
Although these ideals differ greatly from those of western culture, society in Ghana is undeniably more difficult and the work/time taken to acquire property is much greater. It may seem strange to understand, from the perspective of a western individual who has never visited Ghana before but once you have seen and experienced the way of life here, it becomes easier to understand. People are keen to create stability in a community that epitomises ‘survival of the fittest’. Unfortunately, women/girls face the brunt of this ideology and therefore become disadvantaged as a result.

One of the best ways to address the disadvantages faced by girls is to teach the importance of education. Regardless of gender, every child deserves an education to give them the best chances in life and allow them to live a fulfilled life, in which they are able to understand and question things. Lack of education creates an opportunity for people to take advantage of vulnerable individuals, as they will rely on others for assistance with basic tasks and some may abuse this trusted position. In Tamale, International Service project partner CreateChange , focuses on getting girls into education, which is key in terms of Global Development.

WOSAG’s Involvement:

WOSAG seeks to empower women who are affected by some of the issues above. They do this in a number of ways, including a microfinance programme, which operates by providing small loans to woman from rural communities allowing them to purchase land to grow crops or invest in business opportunities. This allows the women to create an income of their own and ultimately become more independent and less reliant on the males of their community. 

Some of the women from Kanvili women's group
As ICS volunteers, we are currently establishing girls’ groups for the girls in both Kanvili and Banvim communities. These groups will provide an arena where the girls are able to voice their opinions and openly share ideas or discuss issues that they may be facing, without being dominated by men. In particular, volunteers will be providing training to peer educators who will be able to deliver education to the groups on Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR). We hope that this empowers the girls and allows them to break the mould so that they can become more independent and share their experiences with other local girls who may not attend the group.   

Writers: Charlotte Dublin & Eunice Akanvaba
Editor: Verity Quaite

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