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The socio-cultural implications for women and leadershippdf print preview print preview
25/04/2007Page 1 of 1
Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ghana@50 and beyond: The socio-cultural implications for women and leadership


“INSPITE of 50 years of development, increasing levels of national awareness, education and sophistication, the challenges to women’s leadership still persist”. Dr. Ester Ofei Aboagye, Director, Institute of Local Government Studies, made this remark in a lecture at the Women in Management Programme (Senior Level) at GIMPA on February 14, 2007.

The celebrations of Ghana at 50 have brought to the fore various issues among which the socio-cultural implication for women and leadership has surfaced.

The question is simple, what is leadership and how have women fared all these years – pre-independence, through independence till today? And, beyond Ghana @ 50 how will women fare? Will the socio-cultural barriers be removed so that women country wide could unleash their potentials?

Before I get back to these questions, let’s look at the definition of leadership. It 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 or ends.

Leadership can be formal – such as a person appointed to a position or by virtue of a relationship – such as a parent or by some personal traits or characteristics that the person has. So, 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 progression has been made.

Women’s leadership in politics is said to have started with some potential soon after independence, based on the support that women had given the nationalist movement and political parties. Some efforts were made to include them in the legislature. In the First Republic, ten 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 in parliament. In the Fourth Republic (1992), Ghana elected 17 women to parliament. The 2000 parliamentary elections resulted in 18 women being elected in the 200 – seat parliament. The 2004 elections had 25 women out of 230 parliamentarians.

In the eighties, some efforts to consciously enhance the visibility of women in governance was seen. Ghana had ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1985. Therefore, special provision was made to serve 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 the membership of the Council of State. Between 1997 and 2004, there were two women in a cabinet of 19 members. Presently, there are two female Cabinet Ministers; Fisheries and Women and Children’s Affairs.

From 1997 to 200, out of the 10 Regional Ministers, two were women (Western and Eastern Regions). Now, there are two women Deputy Regional Ministers in Greater Accra and Eastern Region.

Reports have it that the number of women presenting themselves for election to the assemblies has increased over the two decades of the assembly system. For instance, there were 1,751 female candidates for the 2006 assembly elections, as compared to 981 women who stood for 2002 and 547 in 1998.

The proportion of elected women assembly members has also increased over the period, moving from 3 per cent in 1994, 5 per cent in 1998 and 7 per cent in 2002. The figures of the women who presented themselves were used more than those who actually won because it is said to show the willingness to take up leadership responsibilities. This implies that gradually, females are jumping the socio-cultural hurdles that intimidated them and prevented them form standing to be elected into 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 at February 2007, 13 female Chief Executives had been appointed out of 138 districts. One is for Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly, and other for Cape Coast Municipality. Looking at the statistics one cannot readily say that there is a positive progression. But adequate awareness has been created to show that females have the capacity and capability to manage the assemblies like their male colleagues.

Records show that in the 1930s, women constituted about 8 per cent of public servants though they were mainly in clerical positions. In 1963 a woman was admitted into the administrative class. Women also appeared to progress faster in education, health and legal services than the civil service, having attained the status of senior education, medical and legal officers by the mid-fifties.

In spite of the relatively low proportion increased appreciably between 1960s and 1980s. It is estimated that by 1984, the proportion of women in senior and middle management professions was about 33 per cent.

In the 1990s, the presence of women in leadership improved considerably.

As a September 1995,the records show that there were no female Chief Directors and only 15 female Directors out of a total of 138 Directors. In 2004 there were six substantive male Chief Directors and only one female. There were 186 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 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 slightly strange since the glass ceiling is believed to be diminishing gradually.


In the last decade, Ghana has witnessed progress in the appointments of women to notable positions in the service sectors (police, customs and immigration) had the financial sectors including insurance and revenue agencies. Other interesting women leaders have been presented in subsequent sections on the “Hall of Fame”. As at 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 owner /managers (Harley, 1996).

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

Women’s relatively under-resourced to male traditional leaders have limited their capacity to effect any significant change. Internally however, there appears to have been some progress. Some ethnic groups have enstooled Queenmothers 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, Elders and Advisers. These mean that the stringent socio-cultural rules and regulations that fifty years ago suppressed and frustrated women from attaining their potential, is 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. Some 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 girls education and contributed options 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.

But then what has accounted for the majority of women to lag behind? What are the reasons for the gross poverty, squalor, ignorance and diseases among women which magnify a feeling of helplessness and reinforces skepticism?

One of the first issues whish accounts for the backward situations of women especially in the rural areas in illiteracy. Education holds the key to development. It builds self confidence and helps the individual to be assertive, provides source of income, economic independence, empowerment; and enhances ones chances to better and quality life and health.

Another issue is inadequate rural development and infrastructure. 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.

Another issue worth stating is that taboos, negative cultural practices and beliefs succeed in suppressing women. Even today, it is still a taboo for a woman to go to certain places, cross certain rivers at certain times and days. These limit their participation and thereby abuse their human rights.

Closely related to all these early marriages and teenage pregnancies. 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. 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 polygene, early marriages and rituals associated with puberty.

A barrier to women’s performance and articulation especially in the assembly sessions, is reported to be the behavior of some District Chief Executives and Presiding Members who do not recognize women’s multiple roles, numerous responsibilities and literacy limitations for which they need somebody’s assistance to understand documents and the subsequent requirements. Such pressures frustrate the women; get them intimidated and force them to recoil into their shells.


According to the Ghana Living Standards Survey (GLSS 4) for 2000, 44.1 per cent of women as compared to 21.1 per cent of men had no formal education. This effectively precluded them from formal sector employment and leadership positions. It is essential ensure that more women find tertiary institutions accessible, both to study in and work in. This is critical for taking their place in national leadership.

As Ghana pushes to become a middle-income country, 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.

If we as Ghanaian women are to make progress in the next fifty years (that is Ghana @ 100) then we should butte adequately to overcome the socio-cultural barriers that limit and suppress us from attaining our desired potentials.


The writer is the Gender Focal Person & an Assistant Director
 with the Policy Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Directorate
of the Ministry Information and National Orientation.


THE GHANAIAN TIMES      -           Wednesday, April 25, 2007.                Page: 9    

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