Ghana women still battling discrimination

Accra- Ghana (PANA) -- Thirty-year-old Amina (not her real name) has a deep scar on her mind which she would have to live with for the rest of her life.
At a very tender age, she and several other peers were circumcised, a cultural practice in northern Ghana that is physically painful and psychologically traumatic.
"It was horribly painful," Amina, who is now a biochemist, recalls, insisting "this is a practice that must be stopped".
She is not alone in the condemnation of female genital mutilation (FGM) as the sensitisation against the practice continues.
In this practice, parts of the female genitals, usually the clitoris, are circumcised.
Perpetrators say it prevents the woman from having sexual desires and also makes her clean.
They also claim that a man could only be sure of the chastity of his wife when she had no sexual desire.
In some of the worst cases of female genital mutilation, the entire genitalia is removed and part of the vagina is stitched to make sexual intercourse more enjoyable for the man.
Apart from psychological trauma, this practice has serious health problems that sometimes lead to death soon after the circumcised woman gives birth.
Unfortunately, the obsolete practice is such that any woman from northern Ghana who does not go through it becomes the object of insult in society.
Girls are therefore forced by their parents to do it so as to secure their cultural identity among their people.
"It is usually a public event, so there is no way one can hide from it," said Lena Alai-Gariba, Information Officer of the national Council on Women and Development (NCWD).
But female circumcision is not the only practice that discriminates against women in Ghana.
Although the country's laws clearly spell out the equality of sexes, there are invincible and visible actions and practices that discriminate against women.
"You can feel it (discrimination)," said Macovie Jean- Francois, a Haitian-American journalist who is on practical attachment in Ghana.
She told PANA that she ignored the discrimination during the first few days after her arrival, but can no longer stand it.
She said she feels ignored when it comes to being served and there is also a man around.
Like in most third world countries, gender discrimination in Ghana is manifested in various forms - cultural, political, social and economic.
"In all cases, women are at the receiving end of unfavourable practices, norms, beliefs and arrangements," Alai- Gariba told PANA.
And these forms of discrimination exist despite Ghana ratifying the UN Convention on Women's Rights in 1979.
Alai-Gariba noted that cultural discrimination against women stemmed from an age-old gender norm, which assigns specific roles and positions exclusively to men and others exclusively to women.
"This is purely a gender issue which stems out of the belief that men are supposed to be strong and women feeble," she points out.
Alai-Gariba notes that widowhood is one area where discrimination against women is glaringly manifest.
She observes that while widowers are left to live normal lives after the death of their spouses "widows are subjected to abominable rites.
" These include seclusion and being obliged to eat only certain types of foods (usually non-nutritious) as a sign of mourning.
In some cases, a widow is sent to the shore or to the riverbanks at dawn and bathed with the cold sea or river water.
Under certain cultures, to ensure that the woman wept as a sign of mourning, pepper is put into her eyes to induce tears.
The bottom line is that women must weep but men are not supposed to.
An abominable slavery of women, called "Trokosi" and practised mainly in south-eastern Ghana, is another form of cultural discrimination against women.
The practice subjects females from a tender age, preferably virgins, to servitude in fetish shrines to pacify the gods for the wrongs their male family members are said to have committed.
This servitude is to prevent misfortune in the family of girl.
"Trokosi girls and women become sex machines for the fetish priest of the shrines they are sent to serve and they are cut off from society," Alai-Garaiba notes.
She also points at the system of inheritance in some societies where control of family inheritance is believed to be the exclusive right of men.
Politically, women are hardly at the top of the chart, be it in the executive, legislature or judiciary.
The percentage of women in high public positions is also very small.
The majority of women occupy only support positions such as secretaries, stenographers and receptionists among others.
Alai-Gariba said women also suffer discrimination on the economic front where "about 70 per cent of women work in the informal sector such as farming yet about 90 per cent of agricultural land is owned by men".
This is made worse by banks demanding land as collateral from loan applicants working in the informal sector.
"Considering the fact that most of the informal sector workers are women and most of the lands are owned by men, it means women are simply being denied the opportunity of getting bank loans," Alai-Gariba remarks.
As the chorus against discrimination against women grows louder, successive governments have encouraged NGOs to implement the contents of the UN convention at the community level.
The Criminal Code amendment of 1998 outlaws practices such as trokosi and FGM, and a law enacted nearly two decades ago protects women from being cheated when their husbands die.
Various NGOs and government institutions have been championing the bid to eradicate obnoxious cultural practices that degrade women, but these persist in parts of the country.

18 august 2001 15:04:00




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