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Discrimination, violence - bane of the Ghanaian Woman

Tue, 19 Oct 2010 Source: GNA

A GNA feature by Comfort Sena Fetrie

Accra, Oct. 18, GNA - Women, over the years, have fought shoulder to shoulder with men to gain recognition and freedom - freedom from all forms of discrimination and recognition for their hard work and worth.

Their struggles have been augmented by the efforts of individuals, organisations, human rights and gender groups, and government, as these entities continue to make strenuous initiatives to empower women socially, economically and politically to enable them to take control over their lives and to effectively contribute to national development.

Nevertheless, the forces or factors that militate against the development of women in general seem to be so overwhelming that it is difficult to reap the fruits of these efforts, thus making the future of the Ghanaian woman bleak.

Indeed, the bane of the development of women in Ghana is encapsulated in social, cultural, economic and political discrimination coupled with blunt violation of the rights, intimidation and violence because of their gender.

Women lack the capacity to engage in viable economic activities to generate enough money and they remain in the vicious circle of poverty, preventing them from having access to proper health, education, shelter and food, just to mention a few.

Many women are unable to afford even the cost of transportation to reach health facilities. Others face barriers because they are illiterate or do not speak English, the official language.

In some cases, some are denied access to information they need just for the reason that they are women.

It is common knowledge that reproductive health and family planning services reduce maternal mortality.

Sadly, in Ghana, many women have been excluded from decision making and access to such health delivery services is denied them despite the fact that government is required by international laws and standards to do all that it can within its resources to fulfill women's rights to health.

Among many ethnic groups, it is only males who have the right to own or inherit immovable property such as land, cash crop such as cocoa or coffee or valuable economic tees like timber, through inheritance.

Many women, particularly in the rural areas, remain subject to traditional male dominance and hold fast to social norms that deny them their statutory entitlements to inheritance and property, a legally registered marriage and the maintenance and custody of children.

Many widows, especially those childless, are thrown out of their late husbands' houses by relatives of the men because it is considered a taboo for women to own houses.

Consequently, poor single women are not able to properly ensure their children's wellbeing and development, a situation that retards the development of individuals, communities and the country at large.

Poverty, as a factor, forces families to make tough choices when they have to pay for your children's school fees.

Discrimination at the work place has become common and the situation has caused some women to engage in menial jobs like being head potters (kayayo) and house helps. They are often exposed to social, commercial and sexual exploitation.

Recent media reports of rape and sexual abuse only explain why some girls drop out of school. Even under such predicament, a girl who becomes pregnant as a result of a rape may consider herself as an outcast and disqualified from school.

Education is a right in itself and it is also a pathway to the enjoyment of other rights. Lack of education has lifetime cost reducing the opportunities for financial independence and increasing the likelihood of early marriage, with its high incidence of emotional and physical ill-health.

Regardless of laws in Ghana prohibiting early marriage, many girls are married off without their consent and lack of education also significantly increases the risks of contraction of HIV and maternal death.

In many Ghanaian homes, girls are expected to support their mothers to carry out domestic work until the girls become wives and mothers while the boys are given the freedom to learn or play at will.

Though evidence has shown that educated mothers have healthier and better educated children, education is often not seen as equally important for women. They are left with little or no education and few prospects for economic independence which is seriously limited.

Though the 1992 Constitution officially bans all cruel and inhumane aspects of cultural and traditional norms, over the past decade, several laws have been enacted to criminalize violence against women. In reality, women in Ghana frequently face abuse and violation of their constitutional rights.

Obsolete cultural and traditional practices such as widowhood rights and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) mostly practised in the Upper West, Upper East and Northern, Brong Ahafo and Volta regions and Trokosi, a religious and cultural practice in the Volta and Greater Accra regions, are major sources of violence and discrimination against women.

Trokosi, for instance, places victims under constant fear of punishment by the gods and death threat for traitors who divulge information about the practice, targets mostly virgins who go through psychological and emotional trauma, sexual and physical abuse.

Mr Patrick Aboaye, Deputy Director for Reproductive and Child Health at Ghana Health Service (GHS), said in Ghana, about 15 per cent of pregnant women developed complications as a result of direct obstetric complications that could be treated.

Despite national laws, women in some parts of Ghana continue to suffer domestic violence and the only means to escape the abuse is through divorce, which is also cumbersome because of customary laws that are heavily biased in favour of men.

Violence, discrimination and mistreatment meted out to women have taken a nosedive such that there is the need for right thinking persons in society to add their voices to the call for immediate practical remedies.

There is the need for Ghanaian communities to move away from the patrilineal system of inheritance, which finds meaning in traditional beliefs, norms and values that degrade women.

Women and girls must be given their fair share of income, resources and political empowerment and their voices must be heard to enable them to effectively contribute to national development.

The Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs, the National Development Planning Commission, Civil Society Organisations, Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit of the Ghana Police Service, should pool their resources and efforts to protect women's rights and support them to wield economic and political power.

Columnist: GNA