Women of Ghana

IN a maize (corn) field outside the village of Wa, an 18-year-old mother works with a hand hoe to prepare the soil for planting. Her back is parallel to the ground, her body glistening. Her name is Aanaa, and her first child is strapped to her back. After hoeing, Aanaa will carry water, a precious commodity that is often portered a mile or two or three in the shimmering heat. To bear children, till the soil, carry water, prepare food -- these are the activities which Aanaa and other African women have been assigned for centuries.

But today not all Ghanaian women are accepting this definition of their role. Following a worldwide trend, many are becoming more aware of their importance to society and of their value as independent and worthwhile human beings.

And some Ghanaian women are recognizing that only by speaking in unity will their voices be heard and their actions be effective. As a step in that direction, representatives of nearly 20 women's groups have formed a nongovernmental, nonpartisan association called the All Women's Association of Ghana.

AWAG intends to serve as an umbrella under which Ghanaian women can mobilize. Although numerous women's organizations exist throughout the country, their activities have been so divided that their influence has not been felt. Women leaders have expressed disappointment that 10 years after the launching of the United Nations Decade for Women, Ghanaian women have made little progress in asserting their rights and making an impact on society. AWAG hopes to be a rallying point and a representative body spea king on behalf of all Ghanaian women.

A controversial area coming under AWAG's close scrutiny is reproduction. Conventionally, a Ghanaian male's social stature is determined to a large degree by the number of his children. A large family gives him status. A man without children is frowned upon and encouraged to take a succession of wives until he has a large brood. But Ghanaian women are beginning to rebel against this cultural practice.

In addition to being a sounding board on such women's issues as reproduction, family violence, and job discrimination, AWAG is working to establish day-care centers near working areas and to set up educational programs in child rearing, health care, hygiene, and nutrition.

AWAG's plans also include helping Ghanaian women to increase their bargaining role in the foodstuff market, to pressure for price lists, and to end such practices as the pilfering of rice and flour from women's supply bags at the time of weighing.

As more and more women enter the job market, the leaders of Ghana's government are beginning to recognize the important role women can play in the nation's reconstruction.

Periodically the National Council on Women and Development (NCWD), a governmental organization, holds seminars to define women's roles in the economic rehabilitation of Ghana.

Already active in retail trade, women are being called upon to help increase Ghana's production. They are advised to diversify their activities and enter into productive ventures that go beyond the bakery industry, in which they're already well organized, into such areas as fish marketing, farm management, and sewing.

In Ghana's Upper Region in particular, the NCWD is active and effective. Under the leadership of Veronica Nunya, regional secretary, women are forming cooperatives in agriculture, soapmaking, loom weaving, leather working, baking, and basketmaking. NCWD provides them with financial help as well as organizational and technical assistance.

A key goal of the organization is to revive old crafts such as spinning, the making of soap from local materials, and the making of shea butter from the shea nut fruit. A second goal is to establish a craft shop in Bolgatanga, in Ghana's Upper Region. There tourists could buy local crafts at reasonable prices. Eventually, Ms. Nunya hopes, Ghanaian women will be able to export their crafts around the world.

Janet Milhomme has worked as a free-lance writer and photographer in South Africa and as a correspondent in West Africa for South Magazine, an international news publication.

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