Feature Article of Tuesday, 2 April 2013
Columnist: Ziem, Joseph
By Joseph Ziem
A demographic finding from the United Nations 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 Northern 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 labour 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 as they continue to suffer from male dominance and abject poverty.
The marriage institution, the traditional system of inheritance and the traditional leadership system are the main socio-cultural vehicles over which men in the area 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 North. This is because most men out of envy and fear of losing their respect and power as house-heads will go to the extent of seeking supernatural powers popularly known in Ghanaian parlance as juju and use it to derail the business of their wives
In view of the aforementioned, non-governmental organisation ActionAid-Ghana, with support from the Dutch government on their Funding Leadership Opportunities for Women (FLOW) under a project dubbed: “Women Rights to Sustainable Livelihood Project”, is currently training 115 community facilitators from four districts in the Northern and Upper East Regions in unpaid care work and time diaries. Unpaid care work is imbued in the African and for that matter the Ghanaian society, since the creation of man but usually seen as women’s work. It is defined as work such as caring for mother, father and siblings; working for the community; cooking and fetching water for the family; cleaning and sweeping the home; feeding and bathing children among others.
According to statistics from ActionAid, an average Northern woman spends about 70 percent of her time on house chores or unpaid care work daily, and as a result, majority of them are denied the opportunity to engage in other income generating activities or businesses in order to support their families as well as empower themselves economically.
The NGO believes the desire for paid work by many women have led to working a ‘double day’, squeezing leisure time and leading to stress, exhaustion or ‘burnout’ continuously leading to serious implications on their health and their general wellbeing. Care obligations, it says, also create obstacles to women’s full and meaningful participation in the public sphere, making it difficult for them to enter debates at the community level and stand as representatives for local government.
Unfortunately, these issues as highlighted above have gained little recognition from governments and other groups in Ghana. By ignoring unpaid care work in economic analyses, government and the market assume that unpaid care work is more a matter of concern for the household and in particular for women in a household, which is not good for community and family cohesion. Accordingly, the training programme of the NGO is expected to have a trickledown effect on 3000 women smallholder farmers from Talensi, Nabdam, Nanumba North and Nanumba South districts of the Northern and Upper East Regions of Ghana where the project is being implemented. The project aims to empower women to demand more public services from local and national authorities to fulfill their basic human rights and support their households to provide better quality care, while saving them time and energy to engage in other activities. Through this process, the programme seeks to support women’s individual and collective empowerment. Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of one of a series of training workshops in Tamale, the Project Manager Ms. Azumi Mesuna, said the training programme also aims at equipping community facilitators and partner staff with knowledge on unpaid care work and time diaries so that they can engage in effective advocacy at the community level.
She explained that, it intends to start changing women’s and men’s beliefs that unpaid care work is primarily the responsibility of women and girls and that it is not as valuable as men’s contribution through paid work. “In other words, the time has come for men to support women in their house chores so that society can do away with the problem of differentiating roles and responsibilities for men and women as well as girls and boys”, she emphasised.
Meanwhile, it is the expectation of ActionAid-Ghana that by the end of the training programme, community members would have accepted that unpaid care work negatively impacts on the political and socio-economic development and contributions of women smallholder farmers and have therefore, resolved to share unpaid care work with women and children.
The writer is a freelance journalist but regularly writes for The Daily Dispatch Newspaper. Views or comments may be sent to him via [email protected]/ +233 207344104.