Former First Lady and President of the 31st December Women’s Movement, Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings, has charged women to be prepared to work hard and take risks in their quest to be resourceful and industrious.
Nana Konadu also called on Women to be “prepared to think and not to “underestimate the power of the creative mind”.
In a address to mark the launch of Women’s Week at the Koforidua Polytechnic on Monday, the former First Lady who spoke on the theme ‘Nurturing Women To Be Industrious and Resourceful’, said women have to develop a culture to believe in possibilities and by so doing identify their passions and remain committed to them.
“When you identify a purpose or goal, stay focused. Research on how to attain your goal, participate in activities to help you reach your goal, identify mentors and seek advice along the way,” Nana Konadu advised.
Below is a copy of the full text
NURTURING WOMEN TO BE INDUSTRIOUS AND RESOURCEFUL
Address by Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings, Former First Lady of the Republic of Ghana and President of the 31st December Women’s Movement, at the launch of Women’s Week, Koforidua Polytechnic, April 7 2014.
The Students Representative Council
Students of Koforidua Polytechnic,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured to be invited to speak on the theme ‘nurturing women to be industrious and resourceful’, at the launch of your women’s week celebration.
One month ago, on March 8, countries around the world including Ghana celebrated international women’s day where women of different nationalities honoured our womanhood and our achievements over the decades. We also marked the day with peaceful walks, demonstrations, discussions and forums to bring attention to the continuing struggle against Domestic violence; Intimidation, discrimination and sexual harassment in the work place; Inequality in the labour market; human trafficking; Child abuse and many other acts of injustice against women.
We broke our silence on a global scale when women assembled at the first Conference on Women in 1975 in Mexico City on the advancement of women. And in 1995, we consolidated our efforts at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing under the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action, which was the key global policy document on gender equality. The follow up to Beijing was the 10-year review and appraisal in 2005 and the 15-year review in 2010.
The UN Economic and Social Council has requested the Commission on the Status of Women “review and appraise implementation of the platform for Action” next year 2015. This signifies that even as civic societies around the world, celebrate the feats attained towards gender equality; the struggle is far from over. The socio-economic disparity between women and men is still significantly large, which is invariably a stumbling block to the resourcefulness and industrious spirit of women.
Ladies and Gentlemen, in the developing world, women are resourceful economic agents in their communities. They plough the land, they farm, and they are caregivers, which invariably contributes to the economic growth of their communities. Unfortunately, their contribution is limited by unequal access to resources and persistent discrimination, which become THE major inhibitors to women achieving their full potential.
In other words, it is not a question of our lack of resourcefulness that needs to be addressed: it is the imperative need to empower women in order to harness their resourceful and industrious capabilities.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I will approach this topic by illustrating my experience over the last three decades working to empower women in Ghana.
Early Years: The Choice to Empower
In the early 1980s, Ghana stood at the pinnacle of socio-economic transformation where the ordinary Ghanaian was awakened to the reality that he had an active role to play in national development at all levels. This awakening was not extended to the Ghanaian woman; she remained the silent observer relegated to the background, playing the role of a second-rate citizen even though we formed almost fifty per cent of the population.
There were formidable groups such as the market women who symbolised the fortitude in Ghanaian women, but our influence on a national scale was negligible. Indeed, we had dynamic women such as Annie Jiaggie, who pushed the Government of Kutu Acheampong to establish the National Council for Women and Development (NCWD). Annie Jiagge represented Ghana at the United Nations to fight for the rights of women, and also contributed in drafting and ensuring the adoption of the Convention by the U.N. which stated that every country develop the capacity of women, and establish an office to implement this agenda.
The struggle was, however, far from over: there was still a large majority, predominantly rural and urban poor women, who were falling short of their potential capabilities because of the lack of equal opportunities at the community level. In 1982, on one of my tours in the Greater Accra Region, I visited a Ga Dangbe village where women were banned from owning land and weaving cloth. In fact, in every part of Ghana at the time, women were prohibited from weaving cloth.
There were social practices and cultural norms such as unfair widowhood rites that dehumanised women. In some parts of Ghana, when a woman lost her husband, she was whipped, her head was shaved, she had to sleep with stones as pillows or on the bare floor, and had pepper put in her eyes. For those women who were not protected by an ironclad will, they were thrown out of their marital homes by the deceased husband’s family.
In effect, our ability to be resourceful women existed within a very limited scope. This scope was defined by social and gender norms in our society that dictated our opportunities regards to the types of work available. In some communities, these cultural practices restricted mobility and involvement in productive work outside their homes. This limited scope was also perpetuated by the lack of laws to protect women from discriminatory practices in our society. Therefore, in order to reach our full potential, we needed to expand this scope, and to do this required empowering women economically, politically, socially and culturally.
It was on this premise that the 31st December Women’s Movement was born, with one major focus: to transform the lives of women of Ghana economically, politically, culturally and socially. Joining forces with women of like minds, the 31st December Women’s Movement begun its work under these major agenda points:
One: to demystify governance so that Ghanaian women would no longer feel intimidated to contribute to the development of their communities
Two: to empower women for development through the establishment of their own businesses. Women needed to build their confidence so as to view themselves as partners to their male counterparts, and to do this, they needed to have an economic activity. We therefore developed small-scale business models in handicrafts, food processing, soap making and agriculture. Just to mention a few.
Three: to educate women on their civic rights, human rights and legal rights. The Movement began the non-formal education, which was so successful it invariably led to the establishment of the non-formal education sector under the ministry of education. In health, to educate women on the full range of health issues including maternal health and childcare.
Four: to create the freedom to develop their economic activities by establishing day-care centres for their children.
Ladies and Gentlemen, by 1990, the Movement was actively involved in every community in Ghana. Rural women were engaged in small scale businesses and running for political office at the community level. In effect, Ghanaian women were taking an active interest in the role they played in their communities as a result of the intensive and missionary approach in confidence-building and poverty reduction initiatives my NGO put in place.
Outside the Movement’s work, I pushed for the creation of laws such as PNDC law 111 and 112 to protect women from discriminatory practices in Ghana; and to allow women the independence to access financial loans without the permission of their fathers or husbands. I partnered with the late Mrs Vida Yeboah to aggressively advocate for the empowerment of the girl child through the ratification of the bill of rights for the girl child, which occurred in 1996.I also pressured the established universities in Ghana, at the time, to convert their all male halls of residence to co-ed halls in order to balance the boy to girl admissions ratio.
With the corporation and support of queen mothers, I began advocating for the inclusion of Queen Mothers in the National House of Chiefs amidst very intense opposition from the Chiefs. I believed and still believe that if our queen mothers are the custodians of our culture and heritage, then they have just as much right as the Chiefs in our Regional and National House of Chiefs.
In 1995, our efforts were consolidated at the fourth conference on women in Beijing where women’s NGOs, civic groups, female political leaders from all over the world were calling for equal participation on women in national development. This conference served as a momentous landmark in the struggle for women’s empowerment all over the world.
Roadblocks are the Wheels to One’s Industrious Spirit
Ladies and Gentlemen, when I began working to empower women in Ghana, my vision and agenda seemed over ambitious. The primary target audience who were rural and urban poor women, who formed (and still form) the majority of women in Ghana, were almost inaccessible by road. Roughly eighty per cent of Ghana’s transportation system today did not exist in 1983. For those that did exist, they were riddled with pot holes the size of coffins and cars. Communication with rural communities was limited to the postal service and/or the telegram.
The lack of funding was another roadblock. In one meeting with movement executives, the suggestion was made to approach my husband, the Head of State at the time, for funding. When I put this to him, these were his words: “if you women are worth your salt, go to the bank to raise the money yourselves.”
This statement, although a disappointment, was a blessing in disguise, which churned our industrious wheels. So, without haste, and with a strong sense of purpose, I organised a jumble sale at the Ridge Park to raise money by selling clothes, bed-sheets, baby bottles and cots, curtains etc. donated by myself and by other members of the Movement. We raised 22,000 old cedis which we opened our first account with Social Security Bank (SSB) at the time. We were then able to apply for a loan of 200,000 cedis to establish a bakery and kenkey production unit at Kanda. We then in turn reinvested our revenue from these initial projects to establish other economic activities.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
How one approaches roadblocks is a test of one’s resourceful nature.
It is a test to your fortitude and your will to succeed.
It tests how strongly you believe in your goal.
In 1984, I received an urgent telegram from one of the Movement’s organisers in the Northern Region – Agatha Iddrissu was her name. She died sadly in 2009 of heart failure. She remains to this day one of the most dynamic women I have been so blessed to have worked with. In her telegram, Agatha wrote frantically that the Imam had given orders to the men of the community to burn down the women’s co-operative farms and sheanut extraction units on the grounds that women were not allowed to form groups to pursue economic activities independently of their husbands or their fathers.
By this time, the 31st December Women’s Movement was one year old, and we had managed to establish a presence in the Northern Region where women had just began to develop their economic activities in cotton and shea nut extraction.
I radioed Agatha who frantically repeated the problem. I calmed her down and immediately scheduled a trip to the North, while I began to think critically of a solution.
When you face opposition on religious grounds, your approach to overcoming this has to take into consideration the sensitivities, practices and norms of the religion in question regardless of your own personal religious persuasion. I, therefore, decided to educate myself on the Holy Quran and its position on women.
When I arrived in the North, I requested for audience with the Imam and on the next day I prepared for the meeting with my Koran in hand and my relevant pages marked. I walked into the meeting with five ladies, Cynthia the then General Secretary and of course Agatha. The Imam, who was in the presence of about fifteen (15) other men of the community, immediately said I was to have the meeting alone with them without any of the other ladies present.
To which I quickly responded: “well in that case, I would like a meeting with you alone without the other men in the room.” There were initial grumbles of opposition from the men, with some approaching to whisper to the Afaajira (Imam), who seemed to weigh the options before him, and eventually agreed to my request. I in turn asked the ladies to leave the room.
In discussion with the Afaajira, I pressed upon him the importance of encouraging women in his community to develop their capabilities particularly because the Holy Quran advocates this. The Movement, I reiterated, is not working against the cultural and religious practices of his community. It is here to contribute to the development of the communities of the Northern Region through the development of its women, and through the education of their children.
Our discourse – the Afaajira and I – created an opening for mutual understanding and a resolution to the impending crisis. He subsequently expressed his support for the Movement’s work and authorised the men to support their wives in the overall development of their communities. He pledged to be an advocate of the 31st December Women’s Movement by encouraging women of the Northern Region to join.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is but one illustration of what I deem as a test to how deeply I believed in my goal to empower Ghanaian women.
I was not prepared to give up.
Nurturing a Resourceful Spirit
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Resourcefulness is one’s ability to make do with what you have, and the ability to see the possibilities where no one else does.
When I took up the mantle to empower women, I was very much aware of the scope of work ahead of me and the expectation of uncertain outcomes. Failure was however not a notion that was entertained because I saw the possibilities ahead of me.
With a population under 18 million where almost 50 per cent constituted women, the opportunities I envisaged were vast, and the lack of funding at the initial stage was not going to be a stumbling block. I was prepared to start somewhere.
The Movement’s first meeting was held in my home with just under eight women. We did not have an office building, or seed money to begin a project. We definitely did not have access to government funding contrary to popular belief.
What we had was the passion to see the possibilities.
What we had was the commitment to contribute to the socio-economic development of our country.
What we had was the ability to envisage the multiplier effect of an empowered Ghanaian woman on our society.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
How does one nurture an industrious and resourceful spirit?
Develop a culture to believe in possibilities then find what you are passionate about. You may have one passion or several passions as life evolves. Remain committed to your passion or passions because that gives birth to your purpose. When you identify a purpose or goal, stay focused. Research on how to attain your goal. Participate in activities to help you reach your goal. Identify mentors and seek advice along the way.
Be flexible because unexpected events will come along where you may have to recalibrate your approach to attaining your goal. You may have to take a few steps backwards in order to take a leap forwards, but do not lose sight of the purpose you have set for yourself.
Be prepared to think. Do not underestimate the power of the creative mind because therein lies your ability to be resourceful and industrious.
Be prepared to work hard, and challenge yourself by taking risks.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Accomplishments in gender equality have paved the way for you. The glass ceiling has been pushed further up but not yet broken so women such as yourselves continue to face opposition to your resourceful ideas, and are still subject to discrimination and intimidation.
So my challenge to you is this: how far are you prepared to go as a Ghanaian woman to remove the glass ceiling entirely? How resourceful are you prepared to put your mind in order to create transformative change that will shatter the glass ceiling?