Nobel Laureate Prof Wangari Maathai has demonstrated that women can make it to the top. Photo courtesy
Most Africans live on less than $2.00 a day. There is a constant struggle against prioritizing the family budget and education. Since the boys are the ones supposed to carry the family name and take care of their parents in old age, it is not unusual to see parents frowning upon and discouraging female education. It is even assumed that a highly educated woman cannot find a suitable husband, since the men become intimidated by them. The family’s money is thus skewed towards ensuring the boys get better education whilst the girls are trained and taught how to cook, clean the house, and take care of babies.
As mentioned earlier, women are given away to marriage in their teens and prime, as soon as they have acquired some modicum of education, which indicates they can read letters and follow simple instructions. A woman’s worth is measured in her fertility, number of children, and how well she can cook, clean, and work on the farms. Herein lies some of the reasons why Africa is caught up in stagnant growth and retrogression.
It is hard for Africa to make headway in terms of economic development and catch up with the advanced countries when half of its population is tied down by anachronistic cultural practices and beliefs. No meaningful economic and social development can be made if women are left behind.
Social norms and assigned roles for women
Women make more than 50% of the population in most African societies but over 80% of them are caught up in subsistence agriculture. They do most of the nursing, nurturing and harvesting of the farms, whilst the men consign themselves to chores like hunting, bush clearing, and the felling of trees. When the produce comes in, it is the men who take over the possession of the income generated and go on to marry more women. Polygamy clearly debases and dilutes the incomes that should accrue to the average woman in a polygamous relationship.
The men dictate what to grow, when to clear the bush, what to sell, what to keep and what to buy even for the wives. There is very little a woman can do when her husband decides to bring in another woman. This is not limited to the so-called uneducated folks, even presidents, like Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, are doing it. Most African presidents have wives they show and present at official functions, and wives and concubines whose roles are not clearly defined.
The probability of one’s husband taking another wife, if his current wife is not giving him a son is high in Africa. In Ghana, the Attorney-General, Mrs Betty Mould Iddrisu, is the third wife of her husband. Whichever way you look at it, it is very incomprehensible to the westerner but one could argue; there are very few successful men around, and in a society where women clearly outnumber men, certain social vices endemic in western societies, such as widespread prostitution and the proliferation of single-moms and women head of households are greatly reduced if women are allowed to enter into polygamous relationships.
Too many children by too many women spreads the wealth and quality time of the men engaged in polygamy, thin, and it is very likely the husbands are not able to concentrate on in-depth grooming and raising of their kids.
Religious practices, witchcraft, and the neglect of the aged
The African is incurably religious. Superstition and the role of Supreme Being that permeate every thought and action on the African continent have often blinded us from being inquisitive, challenging and adopting scientific approaches to things.
In many societies, nobody is presumed to have died a natural death; it has got to be some witch who is behind most deaths. And who do we tend to blame? Women! Almost every misfortune is blamed on women witches, who are often old and childless. Women trapped in these accusations are often ostracised from the society and barred to do many things that the rest of the society takes for granted. The end result is neglect, crippling poverty, and ill-health. Failure to strike a balance between superstition and unrealistic assumptions about the Supreme Being and reality is holding us back in terms of scientific discoveries and research.
The African society is very paternalistic. Our religious beliefs dictate that women cannot rise to become the head of most churches. Inside the church and mosque, they are assigned lesser roles as compared to men, and in most charismatic churches, the highest level they can reach is deaconess. This assumption about women extrapolates into the larger society where they are not allowed to head most organisations and government posts.
While campaigning, president Mills promised to apportion women 40% of the political appointments but has so far appointed less than 10%. For a country where women constitute about 52% of the population, there was not even a single woman appointed to his Economic Advisory Council, a think-tank that advises him on economic matters. How in the world can you have an in-depth analysis of issues that impinges on women and gender inequalities when you don’t have a woman at the table? The story repeats itself across the African continent.
We cannot close the discussion on this subsection without talking about the religious bondage some girls are subjected to in Ghana, called Trokosi. Under this traditional religion practice, girls are assigned to certain shrines and fetishes for the sins of their parents. Girls under this bondage are to all purposes and intention, indentured slaves, who for the rest of their lives are never allowed to go to school, and are often abused sexually, by the fetish priests. They are never paid for their labour and services. Governments must enact laws to criminalise such exploitative traditional practices.
Access to credit and financing in the informal sector
The informal sector, such as market trading, farming, beauty parlours and tailoring shops etc., employ huge numbers of women. In Ghanaian markets, it is as if 70% of the traders are women, yet it is ironic that women access to banking and financing is very minimal, given that most loans and lines of credit are situated on collaterals which women folk lack. For this reason, most market women resort to some sort of self-micro financing called “susu”, whereby they put away a little bit of their earnings, everyday, to a person who comes around to collect a small layaway savings until a point in time when the money would gross up to make a meaningful impact in their trading activities, and they would redeem it. This kind of self-micro financing pays no interest and is subject to abuse; as often times the “susu” collector would bolt away with the monies thus collected from the market women.
What is government policy towards the informal sector as compared to the formal sector? In Ghana and many African countries it can be argued that the informal sector employs far more people than the formal sector, over 85% of the population are employed in the informal sector but then there are no social safety nets for the people in this category, especially women. Whereas people in the formal sector can look forward to pensions in their retirements, in Ghana the cocoa farmer and other cash crop producers who are the main engines that drive the economy have nothing of that sort. No pension, no safety nets in their old age, yet 65% of their earnings are expropriated every year by the government to drive the formal sector. Shouldn’t the government see itself that it owes a duty to protect and serve the people caught up in the informal sector, especially women who are often the victims of archaic inheritance practices?
To be continued.
To be continued.
By Eric Kwasi Bottah (Oyokoba)
Eric Kwasi Bottah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org