By Paul Teiko Tagoe, Project Officer, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
Globally, women have made significant impact in all fields of endeavor; Ghana is no exception to this success story as women from divers socio economic backgrounds have risen into political leadership, top managerial positions, and have championed developmental projects as agents of change. Thanks to initiatives of women advocacy groups like FIDA Ghana, Action Aid, Amnesty International, name them, the struggles and achievements of these women have generally brought a profound impact in communities across the nation.
Despite these positive developments, a critical look at the lives of many women across the spectrum leaves much to be desired. Stories about women have hit local and international news headlines with gory images of violence against them largely resulting in human rights violations and abuses. In Ghana violence against women continues to manifest itself in harmful cultural practices; domestic violence; spousal murder; psychological and physical violence among others. A cursory observation of news publications indicates that, violence is perpetrated by and against people of all social backgrounds – rich or poor, employed or unemployed, married or single, as well as residents of urban or rural communities.
Recently Donkorkrom, a community in the Asutifi North District of the Brong Ahafo Region has abolished an aged long custom which forbids women and girls in the community from giving birth or menstruating on its ‘sacred’ land. For over five decades, affected women and girls in Donkorkrom had to endure the pain and inconveniences of being transported to nearby villages away from their homes in order to fulfill these biological functions and women who accidentally flout this taboo had to perform traditional rituals/sacrifices to clean the land. The story is similar to experiences of women in Dove, a village in the Volta Region. Other negative traditional practices include Female Genital Mutilation, occasional isolation of women purported to be witches in witch camps, outrageous bride price that encourages men to see women as property, forced marriage of girls and adultery rites which publicly shame women for committing adultery. These customs invariably compromise the dignity of women and have negative consequences on their quest for progression and equality in a supposed democratic society.
Despite the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act 2007(Act 732), incidents of domestic violence are still serious and pervasive issue in Ghana. These include defilement, rape, assaults, psychological trauma and spousal killing. Taking different forms and occurring for many reasons, spousal killing is the worst form of Domestic Violence, with women forming majority of victims. A release by the Human Rights Advocacy Centre in 2012 identifies an alarming rate of two spousal murders taking place every month, from January 2010 to July 2012. It is rather sad to note that, there has not been any institutional intervention to address spousal murders and to protect women in volatile relationships.
With the year 2015 drawing nearer, Ghana is yet to overcome the challenges of maternal mortality. According to CIA World Fact book report made available to the Ghana News Agency in Accra in September 2012, Ghana is the 41st country on the world maternal mortality rate index. In real terms 350 women die out of every 100,000 live birth. The situation is blamed on lack of access to reproductive health care and services, and inadequate medical facilities for women in labor among others. If this negative situation lingers, the nation is likely to miss out on Goal 5 (Improving maternal health) of the Millennium Development Goals, thereby endangering women’s health in their bid to give life.
In view of these negative developments, stakeholders need to critically examine issues affecting women through research aimed at highlighting major issues which affect the holistic development of women. Such findings should be shared with government institutions and women’s advocacy groups for deliberation on how best such challenges could be overcome.
Whilst the recognition of religion, custom and traditions of all citizens is a fundamental human right enshrined in Article 26(1) of the 1992 Constitution, negative cultural practices which subject women and girls to inhuman and degrading treatments should be abolished. To this end, there is the need for constant dialogue among traditional leaders, human rights and gender activists, as well as state actors to identify ways through which harmful customs and traditional practices can be dealt with.
More essentially, the government through its officials and agencies must express commitment and work assiduously towards the speedy realization of the Millennium Development Goals especially goals 3,4,5, and 6 which aim at promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality rates; Improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases respectively. The provision of resources and governmental programs aimed at gender mainstreaming could be of greater help in this regard, and we as a nation will undoubtedly get a step closer to the end of violence against women.