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Socio-cultural implications for women and leadershippdf print preview print preview
17/05/2007Page 1 of 1
Thursday, May 17, 2007

Socio-cultural implications for women and leadership

 THE celebrations of Ghana@50 have brought to the fore various issues among which the socio-cultural implications for women and leadership have surfaced. 

The question is simple, what is leadership and how have women fared all these years, before independence through the independence era to date? One wonders, beyond Ghana@50, how will women fare? Will the socio-cultural barriers be removed so that women countrywide can unleash their potential?

First, though, let us look at the definition of leadership. Leadership has always been defined as the ability to inspire or influence others to work towards a goal. The process of leading is one of influencing people in a particular situation, at a given point in time to work towards certain agreed objectives.

Leadership can be formal, such as a person being appointed to a position; or by virtue of a relationship, such as the parent-child relationship; or by some personal traits or the person’s characteristics.

The question then is, what type of leadership roles have women played all these years especially in the public sector where activities are perceived as highly formal, in which the individual caters for and interacts with the public?

This article discusses three aspects of women’s leadership in Ghana over the past 50 years: political, administrative/ professional and traditional governance. It examines the socio-cultural implication for women and leadership and tries to find out what has changed and whether an appreciable progress has been made.

Women’s leadership in politics is said to have started with some potential, soon after independence, base on the support that women had given the nationalist movement and political parties.

Some efforts were made to include women in the legislature. In the first republic, 10 women were given seats in Parliament under a special enactment and one woman was appointed a Minister. In the Second Republic (1969 to 1972), only two women were said to be in Parliament.

In the Fourth Republic (1992), Ghana elected 17 women to Parliament, which made them eight percent of parliamentarians. The 2000 parliamentary elections resulted in 18 women being elected in the 200-seat Parliament. Election had 25 women being elected out of 230 parliamentarians.

In the eighties, some efforts to consciously enhance the visibility of women in governance were seen. Ghana had ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), specifically in 1985. Therefore, special provision was made to reserve seats for women in the Consultative Assembly that was formed to draft the Constitution for the Fourth Republic in 1991.

Between 1992 and 1996, women constituted 13 per cent of ministers of state and 16 per cent of the Membership of the Council of State.  Between 1997 and 2004, there were two women in a Cabinet of Fisheries and of Women and Children’s Affairs.

From 1997 to 2000, out of the 10 regional ministers, two were women (for the Western regions). Now there are tow women deputy regional ministers in Greater Accra and Eastern regions.

According to the experts, the number of women presenting themselves for election to the assemblies has increased over the two decades of the assembly system. For instance, records show that there were 1,751 female candidates for the 2006 District Assembly Elections, as compared to 981 women who stood for elections in 2002 and 547 in 1998. The proportions of elected women assembly members has also increased over the period, moving from 3 per cent in 1994, 5 per cent in 1998 to 7 per cent in 2002.

The figures for the women who presented themselves were used more than those for women who actually won because they indicated their willingness to take up leadership responsibilities. This implies that gradually females are jumping the socio-cultural hurdles that formerly intimidated them and prevented them form standing for election to public office.

Between 1998 and 2000, there were 11 Women out of 110 District Chief Executives (DCEs).  Between 2001 and 2004, there were six female DCEs. As of February 2007, 13 Female Chief Executives has been appointed out of 138 districts. One is for a metropolitan assembly, one in Kumasi and another for Cape Coast municipality. The others are Jaman North, Sene, Wenchi, Assin South, Gomoa, Bole, Bunkpurungu-Yunyoo, West Gonja, South Dayi, South Tongu and Wassa Amenfi East assemblies. 

Looking at the statistics one cannot readily say that there is a positive progression. The issue, however, is that adequate awareness has been created to show that females have the capacity and capability to manage the assemblies like their male colleagues.

Participation of women in the administrative and professional set-up is another respect which this article will touch on in institutions. Records show that in the 1930s, women constituted about 8 per cent of public servants although they were mainly in clerical positions.

Women were said to be first appointed to the executive class of the civil service in 1954. This situation changed in 1963 when a woman was admitted to the administrative class. Women also appeared to progress faster in education, health and legal services that the civil service, having attained the status of senior education, medical and legal officers by the mid-fifties.

In spite of the relatively low proportions of women in leadership, women’s participation was said to have increased appreciably between 1960s and 1980s. It is estimated that by 1984, the proportion of women in senior and middle management positions was about 33per cent.

In the decade of the 1990s, the presence of women in leadership improved considerably. It was noted that even though women constituted 51 per cent of the population of Ghana, women’s presence was no more than 25 per cent of the critical offices in the country. The proportion of women in the administrative class of the civil service had fallen from 13.4 per cent in 1984 to 12 per cent in 1996.

As of September 1995, the records show that there were no female chief directors and only 15 female directors. Out of a total number of 138 directors. The gender imbalances rose sharply with progression up from the executive grades.

Data from the office of the Head of the Civil Service in 2004 showed that there were six substantive male chief directors and only one female. There were i86 male directors of administration as against 26 females and 205 male deputy directors as against 16 females.

Presently there are six women chief directors in the civil service and are in charge of key sectors including the Interior, Tourism and Diasporan Relations, Public Sector Reform, Foreign Affairs, Chieftaincy and Culture. However, these are just about a quarter of all chief directors. No woman has as yet been appointed as regional co-ordinating director. This is considered a little strange, since the glass ceiling is believed to be diminishing gradually.

In the last decade, Ghana was said to have witnessed progress in the appointments of women to notable positions in the service sectors (Police, Customs and Immigration) and the financial sectors including insurance and revenue agencies. Women leaders are represented in subsequent section in the “Hall of Fame”. As of 1996, women constituted 19 per cent of journalists, 2.4 per cent of ministers of religion and 25 per cent of formal industrial concerns as owners/managers (Harlly, 1996).

Key roles that women played in traditional governance have been demonstrated in the strategic decisions that affected the destinies of their people. Queen mothers of Akyem Abuakwa (Nana Dokua of the 18th century), Juaben Serwaa, Adoma Akosua and Yaa Asantewaa of Ashanti who negotiated treaties, received envoys, discussed trade with Europeans and led battles are clear examples that the historians provide readily in their records.

Over the past 50 years, outwardly, the factions and place of women in traditional governance appear to have change little.

Women’s relatively under resourced circumstances as compared to male traditional leaders have limited their capacity to effect any significant change. Internally, however, there appear to have been some progress. Some ethnic groups have enstooled queen mothers as rulers with their own spheres of influence, courts and functions for the nation, such as the Akans have.

Some ethnic groups actually have women ruling as paramount chiefs. Other ethnic groups have women in influential positions as spouses of chiefs, elders and advisers and religious leaders but not as queen mothers.

One issue is clear in all these, and that is the stringent socio-cultural rules and regulations that 50 years ago suppressed and frustrated women form attaining their potential, are gradually giving way.

A clear trend that one should not ignore is that there has been an increased involvement of women traditional leaders in development and governance. These include the establishment of education, environmental and investment funds and support for women’s empowerment.

The Queen-mothers in Krobo have played key roles in awareness- raising and education in HIV/AIDS as well as care of AIDS orphans. They have mobilized women’s groups for income-generating activities, promoted opinions on various laws and policies like the Domestic Violence Bill.

It is indeed important to state that in this jubilee year, one can count women leaders in all sectors. Over the 50 years, certain women have led the way – the independence period activists: Mabel Dove Danquah and Madam Hannah Cudjoe; Mrs. Susanna Alhassan, the first Ghanaian female to be appointed minister in 1961; Mrs. Lydia A. Kugblenu and Ms. Catherine Tedam who were the two women in the Parliament of the Second Republic; the five women in the Parliament of the Third Republic and Ministers such as Adisa Munkaila; Mrs. Gloria Amon Nikoi, Mrs. Aanaa Ennin, Prof. Ama Ata Aidoo, Ms Joyce Aryee, Francesca Issaka, Dr. Mary, Grant and others who served under military regimes who ere chosen because of their own distinguished track records.

In local government, the heroines include Madam Georgina Bus-Kwofie, Akua Sena Dansua, current members of the Council of State, Mrs. Bannerman and Mrs. Affenyi-Dadzie.

Other heroines include eminent display of very senior women civil servants, including Mrs. Mary Chinery Hesse, Mrs. Irene  Wontumi, Mrs. Emily Harlley, Miss Victoria Oku, Dr. Docia Kissih, the first Ghanaian Director of Nursing Services; Mrs. Justice Annie Jiagge, the first female High Court judge; Dr. Susan De Graft Johnson, first female doctor; and Dr. (Mrs.) Esther Ocloo, industrialist and two-term President of the Association of Ghana Industries, and Rev. Ama Afo Blay, the first female Director-General of the Ghana Education Service.

In tertiary education, the luminaries in our hall of fame include: Professors Green Street, Dolphyne, Ardayfio-Schandorf and Kuenyehia. The first female Judicial Secretary, Mrs. Regina Apotsi, has had an active involvement in local governance as well. Mrs. Mill- Robertson is the first female Deputy Inspector General of Police.

IN tertiary education, other women leaders are emerging. These include: Prof. Mansa Prah, Prof. Aba Andam, Prof. Takyiwaa Manuh, Prof. Henrietta Mensah-Bonsu, Prof. Akosua Adomako Ampofo and Dr. Esther Ofei Aboagye, the first female Director of the Institute of Local Government Studies (an inspiration to females in the local governance system) and Mr. Irene Adanusa who is the first female General- Secretary of the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT).

The question is, Is the situation all this rosy when it comes to the issue of women in Ghana? What has accounted for majority of women lagging behind?

What are the reasons for the gross poverty, squalor, ignorance and prevalence of disease among women? It is important to state that these issues (poverty and ignorance) magnify a feeling of helplessness and reinforce skepticism. These consequently make women believe that there is no way out for them, hence they maintain the status quo.

In effect, one of the first factors which account for the backward situations of women especially in the rural areas is illiteracy. Illiteracy deepens the socio-cultural beliefs of the people, especially women.

This is because education/literacy holds the key to development, building self-confidence and helping the individual to be assertive. It provides a source of income and promotes economic independence and empowerment, also providing opportunity for white collar jobs and enhances one’s chances to better the quality of life and of health.

The lack of education(formal/informal) for girls(until recently when the capitation grant and free feeling as well as free bus rides for schoolchildren were introduced0, and the preference for boy’s education in many communities in Ghana account for the “background role” women played in Ghana before and after independence, and who knows what will happen beyond Ghana@50?

Another factor that has hindered the socio-economic development of most women is inadequate rural development and infrastructure.

It is a well-known fact that rural life is a women’s life, so the overall neglect in rural development by the male dominated government is a gradual denial of women’s rights, privileges and participation in leadership and decision-making. The question is, how do these affect women detrimentally?

The answer is simple. Lack of access to potable water makes women and girls walk long distances in search of water and in the worst circumstances, the use of contaminated water leads to guinea worm infestation.

And there are the challenges of poor road network and, for that reason, poor access to market all resulting in farm products being left to rot in the hinterland.

Inadequate access to health facilities and to health personnel leads to high maternal mortality as well as infant mortality, the spread of communicable diseases, among others. And lack of electricity in some villages affects the buoyancy of economic activity.

Another issue worth stating is that taboos, cultural practices and beliefs have succeeded in suppressing women. It is even alleged that most taboos and negative cultural practices in Ghana before and after independence targeted women and through that limited or prevented women’s access and participation in leadership and other higher decision-making positions.

Other challenges are socio-cultural perceptions and traditional values about the place of women in Ghanaian society and the importance of education and the fact that culturally it is unacceptable for a women to engage in a debate, discuss or express her opinion over issues (though the women may be a key stakeholder).

 Even today, it remains a taboo for a women to go to certain places, cross certain rivers at certain times and days. All this limits their participation and thereby abuse their human rights.

Closely related to all these are factors such as poverty, early marriages and teenage pregnancies which must all be addressed. Harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, food taboos, widowhood rites, poor health seeking behaviours and the use of harmful herbal preparations should be surmounted to enhance the welfare of women who subsequently will play the needed leadership roles.

According to the experts it must be recognized that vulnerability to HIV/AIDS has critical gender dimensions and these arise mainly from such socio-cultural practices as polygyny, early marriages and rituals associated with puberty.

Another barrier to women’s performance and articulation, especially in the assembly sessions, according to the experts, is the behaviour of some district chief executives and presiding members. It is said that they do not recognize women’s multiple roles, numerous responsibilities, literacy limitations for which they need somebody’s assistance to understand documents and the subsequent requirements.

Such pressures frustrate the women, they get intimidated and then they recoil into their shell without playing the roles expected of them. These are all challenges that should be surmounted.

A review of the issues will suggest that a key barrier to women’s leadership has been the lack of adequate education. According to the Ghana Living Standards Survey (GLSS 4) for 2000, 44.1 per cent of men had no formal education. This effectively precluded them from formal sector employment and leadership positions.

As Ghana pushes to become a middle-income nation, it is critical that we invest in and harness the capacities of women. We need to build a leadership culture and orientation among young women, building the perception that “they can” and have something to contribute to national development.

May I be permitted to quote my senior colleague and mentor, Dr. Esther Ofei Aboagye: “In spite of 50 years of development, increasing levels of national awareness, education and sophistication, the challenges to women’s leadership still persist. This, therefore, calls for women and our society at large to reject mediocrity and inculcate ‘the desire to excel’ in them as women”.

In addition to all this, permit me to add that if we as Ghanaian women are to make progress in the next 50years (that is, Ghana@100), then we should battle adequately to overcome the socio-cultural barriers that limit and suppress women from attaining their desired potential.


Daily Graphic  -           Thursday, May 17, 2007                      Pages: 47 and 23

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