POPULATION: About 23 million
LANGUAGE: English, Akan, Hausa, more than 25 African languages
RELIGION: Islam, Christianity
Modern Ghana was established in 1957, when colonial subjects of the Gold Coast ended more than 75 years of British rule. Ten years prior to independence, these colonial subjects conducted a non-violent movement consisting of boycotts, demonstrations, and mass strikes against the British. One of the leaders of this anti-colonial movement, Kwame Nkrumah, became the first elected head of state. As the first independent nation south of the Sahara, the country was named for the ancient empire of Ghana, a thriving commercial center known to Arabs and Europeans in the 10th century as the “land of gold.” Ethnic groups in the northern part of modern Ghana such as the Mamprussi claim a historical connection to ancient Ghana, which was located in present-day Mali.
In the 50 years since independence, Ghana has witnessed four military coups, the first in 1966 and the most recent in 1981. Presently, Ghana is a constitutional democracy with a multi-party system. The executive branch of government consists of 20 cabinet-level ministers and 10 regional ministers. The legislative branch of government, the National Parliament, consists of 230 members. Ghana is divided into 10 administrative units referred to as regions, which are subdivided into districts. Thus, members of parliament are elected representatives from these districts. National elections for the presidency and the parliament are held every four years. Women hold 10% percent of the seats in parliament.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
Today about 23 million Ghanaians inhabit a rectangular shaped country consisting of 239,460 sq km. Roughly the size of the state of Oregon, Ghana is bound to the south by the Atlantic Ocean and has a coastline stretching more than 350 mi. Otherwise Ghana is surrounded by French-speaking countries: Burkina Faso on its northern border, on the east by the Republic of Togo, and on the West by La Cote d'Ivoire. Major rivers of Ghana include the Ankobra, the Ofin, the Pra, the Tano, and the famous Black and White Volta.
Although it is a small tropical country located just north of the equator, the geographical terrain and climatic zones of Ghana are varied. The humid southern regions, marked by coastal plains and rain forest, receive upward of 200 cm of rainfall annually. Faced with harmattan (dust-laden) winds four months out of the year, the savannah lands of the northern regions only receive about 100 cm of rainfall annually. The country's central regions are marked by plateaus and escarpments which extend for over 200 km and where the annual rainfall is about 150 cm. As is the case with all tropical countries, Ghana has two seasons: the wet season begins in April and ends in October, and the dry season lasts from November to March.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Horatio Bridge, captain of an American ship, was so impressed with the city of Accra that he declared, “My impressions of Accra are more favorable than of any other place which I have seen in Africa...Accra is the land of plenty in Africa. Beef, mutton, turkey, and chickens abound; and its supply of European necessaries and luxuries is unequalled.” Currently the nation's capital, Accra is still a bustling international city with a population just over two million. A cultur center for the Asante, Kumasi is another large historical city, with a population of 1.5 million. Four other cities in Ghana have populations ranging between 200,000 and 300,000. The larger cities tend to be the capitals of Ghana's 10 administrative regions. For instance, Tamale, a city of 300,000, is the capital of the Northern Region. However, the majority of Ghanaians, about 60%, live in small towns and villages.
While there are distinct regional differences in the architectural styles of Ghanaian houses, this is not the case in the urban centers. Most urban houses are single- or two-story family units made of cement. Apartment buildings over 10 stories are rare in most urban centers. However, towering office buildings dot the landscape in cities such as Accraand Kumasi. The pre-colonial central city is often composed of mud and cement houses with corrugated zinc roofs. Exclusive suburbs have the large two-story houses surrounded by compound walls and shaded by palm and fruit trees.
The indigenous architectural styles are found in the rural communities. In the southern and central regions of Ghana, one finds the rectangular-shaped adobe or wattle house with a thatched roof. In the northern regions, one finds the circular adobe house with a concentric thatched roof or the rectangular adobe houses with the flat roof. Among the Gurensi of northern Ghana, women paint the beautiful geometric designs found in their circular adobe homes.
Although English is the official language of government and business, Ghanaians speak more than 25 distinct African languages belonging to the Niger-Kongo language family. Akan is the first language of more than 50% of Ghanaians; speakers of this language include the well known Asante and Fante, as well as eight other ethnic groups. Other languages spoken by large numbers of Ghanaians include Ewe, Ga, Guan, and Gur. Most Ghanaian speak two or more African languages. Multilingualism has always been a feature of African societies, stimulated to a large degree by regional and long distance trade. About 200 years ago Muslim merchants introduced Hausa, a Nigerian language, into commercial centers such as Accra. Today, Hausa has become a lingua franca facilitating intergroup communication throughout Ghana. A weekly show is broadcast in Hausa on the national radio station.
Upon arriving at the international airport in Accra, travelers may observe colorful billboards with the word “Akwaaba,” or welcome, written in bold letters. To welcome passengers in the Akan language seems reasonable since it is the first language of half of Ghana's population. Below are typical Akan greetings one may hear in southern Ghana:
|Wo ho ti sen||How are you?|
|Me ho ye||I am fine.|
|Me ho wo ekyere||See you later!|
As a result of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, Ghanaian personal names are found in various parts of the Americas. Among the Fante and most ethnic groups in the southern regions of Ghana, at least one of the names given to a newborn designates the day of birth. In the Carolinas, for example, “Essie” and “Effie” are the shortened forms of Fante “day names” given to females born on Wednesday and Friday. The Akan day name “Kudjoe” is commonly given to males among the people of Jamaica, Surinam, and the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia.
In pre-colonial times, the history of most Ghanaians was preserved by oral historians. In the case of the highly centralized Akan kingdoms, trained court historians preserved the history. The oral traditions of a state society are “fixed texts” and must be recited in a precise manner, word for word. In addition to preserving group history, among the Tallensi of northern Ghana, the legend of Mosuor serves as a charter for the political and ceremonial relationships which exist between chiefs. Today, many of the great leaders of Ghana's different ethnic groups are also included in school history books. A grade-school pupil does not have to be Asante to learn of Yaa Asantewa, the queen mother who declared war on the British in 1900.
Storytelling is one of the most important recreational activities found among Ghanaians, especially in rural villages. While stories are used to teach children morals, social norms, and history, they are also used as a form of social control among the adults. Such stories may allude to the improper behavior of local adults without revealing their names. Just as storytelling is a crucial element of primary curriculum in the American school system, Friday afternoons are set aside as a time for storytelling in Ghanaian schools. Students are encouraged to share with the class stories which they have been told by their parents and grandparents.
Among the Akan- and Guan-speaking peoples, folktale characters include the tortoise, hare, vulture, and crow. However, Anansi the spider is the most popular animal character. Anansi defeats his larger foes through intelligence, humor, and cunning rather than through the use of physical force. Some of these spider tales, referred to as “Anancy tales” by Jamaicans, were introduced into the Caribbean by enslaved Akans forced to work on plantations in the 18th century.
Prior to the introduction of Islam and Christianity in Ghana, the concept of a supreme being was common in the majority of the indigenous religious systems. It was a belief in the power of intermediary mystical beings such as ancestral spirits and lesser deities that made these religions the target of 19th-century Christian missionaries. Islam was introduced into northern regions of Ghana as early as the 14th century among people such as the Mossi. The Larabanga Mosque south of Tamale was built as early as the 15th century.
Whether an individual is Christian or Muslim, he or she is reluctant to totally divorce themselves from certain aspects of the indigenous religions, especially community-wide festivals commemorating the ancestors. In Cape Coast, each August the Fante sponsor the Oguaa-Afahye Festival, an agricultural festival. It attracts Fante from all over the Central Region and family and friends from various parts of the country. Although ancestral reverence is central to this festival, the participants may represent a variety of Christian denominations including Anglicans, Baptists, Catholics, A.M.E. Zion, and members of various independent churches.
During the 1930s, some African Christians became dissatisfied with mission churches controlled by white missionaries. They left to create independent Christian sects, sensitive to both the spiritual needs and cultural values of Africans. For instance, the Harrist Church, which was founded in La Cote d'Ivoire in 1913, spread to southwestern Ghana within a few years. The first Harrist church was established in Ghana by Maame Tani, a healer, and Papa Kwesi Nackabah, a preacher. Not only does the Harrist Church give women a greater role in religious affairs, it sanctions polygyny. The Harrist Church also incorporates African dance and song into devotional services.
Ghanaians celebrate Independence Day on March 6 and Republic Day on July 1. The government often sponsors major parades in the large cities on national holidays. On such occasions, teenagers and young adults enjoy beach parties. The two religious holidays recognized by all are Christmas and Damba, which marks the birth of the Islamic prophet Mohammed.
Every month of the year, one or more festivals are held in some part of Ghana. For instance, during the month of August, while people of the Northern Region celebrate the Damba Festival, the Ga people of Accra sponsor the Homowo Festival, a celebration of female puberty rites. While most festivals may have political or economic significance, Ghanaians use festivals to express their appreciation to the divinities for good health, prosperity, and a bountiful harvest.
RITES OF PASSAGE
The cycle of life from birth to death is marked by some type of celebration in Ghana. Throughout southern Ghana, ethnic groups carry out special naming ceremonies for the newborn. The Ga host a naming ceremony for the newborn infant eight days after birth. Family members and friends may sponsor numerous small ceremonies to mark the child's growth. For instance, among the Adkye-Ga, a newborn's mother or female relatives will dress the infant in waist beads, believed to protect the baby from disease and evil spirits. On a practical level, this string of beads adorning the baby's waist holds the diaper. Once a boy is toilet trained he no longer wears waist beads. A female, however, may wear her waist beads for the duration of her life, simply lengthening the string and adding beads to accommodate changes in her body.
Many ethnic groups in Ghana sponsor events which mark adolescence. Among the Ashanti and other Akan groups, nubility rites are held for a female once her menstrual cycle is regularized. The nubility rite lasts for several days and is conducted by the Queen Mother and elderly members of the girl's matrilineage. As a series of life-affirming spiritual and religious activities, this ritual does not involve any type of genital mutilation. The adolescent female is educated in the moral standard and behavior necessary for her to become a successful mother, wife, and member of her community.
The nubility rite includes activities such as a stool ceremony, a ritual bath, dancing, and pouring libation to thank God, the earth, the ancestors, and the community for having protected the girl. Other ceremonial activities include the presentation of gifts from guests, distribution of food on behalf of the girl, a hair-cutting ceremony, the ceremonial dressing of the girl, and the eating of a ritual meal.
Among Ghana's diverse groups, custom stipulates how greetings should be delivered and received. Among the Akan peoples, one can not initiate a conversation without first extending the proper greeting. To do otherwise, one risks being labeled as rude and uncivilized.
There is an average of five people living in each house in Ghana. In towns and cities, some housing has been built by the government or by organizations and companies to provide housing for their employees.
The dominant family structure in Ghana is the extended family, and the influence of descent groups is still very strong. From birth to death, Ghanaians are members of either a matrilineal or patrilineal descent group. The Fante of the Central Region, like all Akan-speaking groups, trace descent through the female line; children belong to their mother's lineage. The Tallensi of the Northern Region reckon descent through the male line and children are members of their father's lineages. These unilineal descent groups regulate marriage, hold property jointly, perform important religious activities, and provide members with the security of a mutual aid system. Members of a Tallensi patrilineage are obliged to participate in certain ceremonies which revere and pacify their ancestors. Adult members of a Fante matrilineage will be expected to offer financial assistance to children other than their offspring.
Most Ghanaians believe that marriage is a family matter rather than a contract between two individuals. In both urban and rural communities, marriage requires the approval of the family and involves some type of bridal payment (a prescribed set of gifts given by the potential groom to his fiancée's family). Today, young adults wishing to marry may choose one or a combination of wedding ceremonies: the traditional, civil, Christian, or Islamic wedding ceremony.
On a daily basis Ghanaians may choose to dress in either African or Western-style clothes. A woman who chooses to wear the “kaba and slit,” a matching blouse and long skirt made from African cloth, is considered to be as appropriately dressed as one wearing a Western business suit.
While certain types of woven cloth and clothing designs may be associated with a specific ethnic group, they are becoming a part of the national dress. For instance, although the fugu is a shirt worn traditionally by elderly men on ceremonial occasions, among the northern peoples such as the Dagomba and the Kasena, it is now worn by men all over the country. In fact, this striped cotton shirt was often worn by the former head of state President Rawlings.
All students attending elementary, secondary schools and college wear uniforms; however, it is not uncommon to see urban teenage boys dressed in the fashionable blue jeans worn in American cities. On special occasions, custom dictates that people wear traditional clothing. For instance, the Ashanti must wear the hand-stamped Adrinkra cloth at funerals. Throughout Ghana, men and women holding traditional political titles have specific clothes worn only on ceremonial events. Among the Ga, on ceremonial occasions chiefs must wear the expensive machine-made bazin cloth, draped in the toga style. In addition to dictating clothing to be worn by nobility, there are rules regarding hairstyles, makeup, jewelry, and footwear. The Fante Queen Mother must wear a natural hairstyle and the traditional hand-made sandals associated with nobility at all public ceremonies.
Ghanaian cuisine is very savory, and the use of cayenne, all-spice, curry, ginger, garlic, and onions is common in most dishes. Stews are some of the nation's most popular dishes; the national dish is groundnut peanut stew, which may include chicken or beef. Another common dish is palava sauce, a spinach stew which may use fish or chicken. A spicy rice dish cooked in tomato sauce and meat, Jollof Rice, is eaten by many Ghanaians, and is the antecedent to the red rice dish eaten by African-Americans in the coastal Carolinas. Ghanaians also eat black-eyed peas; the dish “red-red” is black-eyed peas cooked in palm oil and served with rice and fish.
While urban dwellers may include bread, oatmeal, and ice cream in their diet, most rural folk rarely eat Western food. For breakfast, Fante villagers may eat fish and kenkey, a fermented corn dish. The first meal of the day for an Ewe family living in Accra may include an egg and large bowl of oatmeal sweetened with local honey. The main staples served with Ghanaian meals are rice, millet, corn, cassava, yams, and plantains. The latter four may be fried, roasted, or boiled.
Some of the fast foods sold by urban street vendors include roasted plantain or peanuts, corn on the cob with pieces of coco nuts, and beef kebabs. In all of the cities, there are hundreds of small restaurants, referred to as chop bars, serving indigenous cuisine at reasonable prices. Women tend to be the owners and employees of these small chop bars.
After independence in 1957, the Ghanaian government introduced free education, assuming all educational expenses for students from the time they entered primary school until they completed university. Still today, after introducing nominal tuition fees in the 1980s, educational expenditures represent more than 25% of the national budget. Unlike Western countries, the Ghanaian government assumes the bulk of the operational cost for secondary boarding schools, both public and private. While public boarding schools are located in all 10 regions of the country, private institutions tend to be located in or near the major urban centers. Achimota School is an example of a public coeducational facility located in Accra and Sammo Secondary Technical School, located in Cape Coast, is an example of a private boarding school.
Competition to the nation's secondary schools and institutions of higher education is very intense. Two entrance examinations, one for secondary school and the other for the university, weed out all but the most exceptional students. As is the case throughout the continent, the number of female students decreases drastically at the upper levels of the educational system.
Government guaranteed loans have been introduced to help students finance their education at public universities and professional and technical colleges. Four of Ghana's public universities are located in the southern and central areas of the nation: the University of Ghana, the University of Cape Coast, the University of Science and Technology, and the University College of Education. More recently, the government established the University of Development Studies at Tamale in the Northern Region. In the past 10 years, several private universities have been established. Several of the private universities were established by religious bodies such as the Seventh Day Adventists who own the Valley View University in Accra, and Central University College which was established by the Central Gospel Church. The first tertiary institution in Ghana modeled on the American liberal arts college is Ashesi University. There are also several public institutions of higher education similar to American community colleges which offer training in fields such as nursing, teaching, fashion design, and computer programming. Such institutions include polytechnics and nursing training and teacher training colleges which are located in all the country's regions.
Music and dance are intimately interwoven in most parts of African. Ghanaian choreographer A. M. Ipoku asserts, “...one can see the music and hear the dance.” When attending night clubs or house parties, Ghanaians dance to high life, reggae, or rhythm and blues. When attending Christian churches, Ghanaians sing Western-style hymns or gospel music. It is not unusual to hear gospel music at the funeral of some Christians.
Traditional music and dance are performed at all coronations, festivals, and the funerals of high-ranking members of a community. Among the Ga of southern Ghana, during the Homowo Festival which introduces adolescent girls to the public, musicians play the traditional drum music, Kpanlogo. In the north, the final funeral ceremony of a beloved person of high status among the Dagomba may include musical performances by more than six groups, each playing a distinct musical style. The dances performed also vary, the most important dance being the Baamaya. These dancers have bells tied to their feet and waists, wear headdresses, and wave fans while they perform fascinating and strenuous movements.
The drum is by far the most important musical instrument among southern ethnic groups; however, the xylophone dominates the music of northern groups. Both instruments are made in a variety of sizes. Other traditional instruments include various types of rattles such as the shekere; clapperless bells; and wind instruments such as the bamboo flute and single-note trumpet made from animal horns, ivory, or wood. Popular music using Western instruments does not pose a threat to Ghana's rich musical heritage. For instance, the installation ceremony of a new paramount Asante chief requires a new pair of atumpan drum, also known as the talking drum. As is the case with many African languages, the Ashanti language is tonal. Following the high-low pitches of the Akan language, the atumpan recites proverbs and poems recounting the valor of warriors and singing the praises of chiefs. Presently, the atumpan is played at the opening session of the National Assembly in Accra and is used in radio broadcasts to announce the news.
One of West Africa's most renowned composers and ethnomusicologists is the Ghanaian J. H. Kwabena Nketia, a professor at the University of Ghana. He translates the traditional elements of Ghanaian music into contemporary idioms, and some of his best known compositions include Bolga Sonata for Violin and Piano and Canzona for the Flute, Oboe, and Piano.
Prior to independence from the British, the literary arts were very limited. For instance, the works of only two playwrights were published prior to independence. The first Ghanaian to publish a play was Kobina Sekyi in 1913; Sekyi's The Blinkards is a satirical comedy that questions the increasing Anglicization of indigenous culture. Also during the colonial period, Ferndinand Kwasi Fiawoo, an Ewe of eastern Ghana, wrote three plays in Ewe which were well received by readers and audiences.
The first Ghanaian to publish a novel was Joseph Ephraim Casely-Hayford, Ethiopian Unbound in 1911. It was over 30 years later before another Ghanaian writer would be published—Eighteenpence by R. E Obeng in 1943.
After independence, the literary arts began to flourish; literary journals such as Drum and Okyeame published the short stories and poetry of such writers as Ama Ata Aidoo, Efua Sutherland, Kwesi Brew, and Kojo Kyei. Unfortunately, during the nine years that Kwame Nkrumah served as head of state, the creativity of Ghanaian writers was seriously censored. In 1960, Nkrumah shut down the Drum. Only poets concerned with patriotic or nationalist issues, such as Michael Dei-Anang and Yaw Warren, escaped the scrutiny of the government.
After the overthrow of Nkrumah's government in 1966, an impressive group of writers emerged. Well known playwrights include KofiAwoonor, Efua Sutherland, and Joe Graft. Novelists include KofiAwoonor, Ayi Kwei Armah, and Ama Ata Aidoo. Ghanaian poets who are recognized by an international audience include Atukwei Okai, KofiAwoonor, and Vincent Odamtten. Poets as well as other creative writers do recognize the impact of their respective oral heritage on the literary arts. Ewe oral poetry, halo, has been a major influence on the poetry of KofiAwoonor in terms of structure and rhythm.
Ghana has a diversified economy consisting of light manufacturing, mineral production, and agricultural production. Gold is one of the country's most abundant mineral resources, and in recent years it has superseded cocoa as the leading foreign exchange earner. Other minerals mined and exported include diamonds, manganese, and bauxite. In 2008 offshore oil was discovered in commercial quantities in Cape Th ree Points, which is located in the Western Region. It is expected that this discovery will boost the economy and provide more jobs.
In the last 25 years there has been a boom in the timber industry. Although tracks of virgin rain forest such as the Kakum National Park in the Central Region are protected by the government, community groups throughout the country are concerned about the adverse effects of deforestation. Various women's and youth groups sponsor tree-planting projects. Ghanaian farmers are keenly aware that deforestation causes erosion, gradually decreasing agricultural yields.
A large proportion of the population is engaged in subsistence farming. In most groups, men carry out the heavy work associated with preparing the fields, but women and children plant, weed, and harvest most food crops. Principal food crops produced for domestic consumption include cassava, maize, millet, plantains, peanuts, rice, yams, leafy vegetables, beans, and fruits. Many women sell their surplus food crops to urban traders in order to earn cash.
Introduced during the colonial era, cocoa is still Ghana's leading export crop and is processed by Europeans to make chocolate. In most farm communities cocoa cultivation is dominated by the men. Among the Ewe, women own only 4% of the total cocoa acreage. Women farm the food crops and must be involved in the petty retail trade, food processing, or artisan work in order to earn money.
Although farmers raise chickens, cows, goats, sheep, and pigs, fish is indeed the staple protein food among Ghanaians. Fishing is an important economic activity, connecting communities from the farthest extremes of the country. There are hundreds of fishing villages located along the Atlantic coastline. During the fishing season, small crews of men in brightly painted canoes cast their nets into the Atlantic Ocean. Most fishermen have mastered both lagoon and deep sea fishing. The fish they catch is processed and marketed by their wives or female relatives. Women are responsible for the selling of fresh, smoked, salted, and fried fish in the Makola Market and other smaller markets in Accra. Some Ga women travel hundreds of miles to sell their product in the markets of cities such as Kumasi, Ho, and Tamale. Historically, and still today, the fish trade is a major economic resource open to Ga women.
Processing foods for Western markets is a slowly developing but lucrative business venture in Ghana. Commercial fishing companies with expensive boats and high-tech equipment supply an increasingly large number of American and European supermarkets and restaurants with tuna and lobster. Some women's cooperatives have begun raising and processing snails, known as escargots in metropolitan restaurants in European cities.
Women are well represented in the labor force, but also tend to work in the informal sector of the economy, mainly as petty traders in sales and retail. Professional women cluster in occupations such as nursing and teaching. In the corporate world, women are underrepresented in managerial positions and dominate the clerical positions. Lack of capital is the main reason why few women have been able to establish independent businesses; banks and loaning institutions discriminate against them.
The manufacturing sector of the economy is growing at a slower pace and includes wood processing, food processing, textile, brewing, and distilling. Few of these products are exported outside of the African continent. However, the handicraft industry is thriving and exports are increasing. Traditionally woven clothes, leather bags, bead necklaces, and beautifully carved masks and stools are sold in many large American cities. Currently, many African-American secondary and college graduates adorn their robes with kente scarves produced by Asante weavers.
The most popular spectator sport in Ghana is soccer. Every major city supports one or more professional teams and a stadium—Asante Kotoko in Kumasi, the Venomous Vipers in Cape Coast, and the Hearts of Oak in Accra. The Black Stars, Ghana's national team, is made up of the best players from these various teams. Ghanaians playing abroad, such as Michael Essien, who plays for the English soccer team Chelsea, return home to play with the Black Stars during international matches such as the Africa Cup or the World Cup. On any given weekend it is not uncommon to find teenage boys or men competing in soccer matches. Soccer for females is gaining in importance, and a female soccer league was launched in April 2008.
While soccer is the sport of the masses, basketball and tennis are replacing cricket in popularity among the elite. Females attending secondary schools and institutions of higher education tend to excel in sports such as track and handball.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
After World War II, the concert party, a type of comic opera performed in the Akan language, became the most popular form of entertainment in the coastal towns. This folk theater is a fusion of Akan performing arts, especially masquerade and Anansi stories, influenced by Western musical and dramatic traditions. While the theatrical form used is similar to slapstick humor, there are both moral and political overtones in the performance. Today, there are over 50 concert party troupes who perform in both urban and rural areas. The events open at nine o'clock with a dance and live band playing popular tunes. Two hours later, the troupe performs a comical play which lasts until two or three o'clock in the morning. Generally, the band ends the concert with a selection of music.
FOLK ARTS, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
Although the British manufactured goods introduced during the colonial period decreased certain cottage industries, Ghana has maintained a rich art and craft tradition. While certain crafts such as batik were introduced in the 1960s, others such as pottery have been practiced for thousands of years. In pre-colonial times, those ethnic groups that were organized in kingdoms boasted many full-time artisans. Weavers and smiths were full-time artisans in Kumasi, capital of the Ashanti kingdom. Today, Asante smiths still produce the incredible beautiful gold jewelry for the monarch, and the weavers produce the kente clothe worn by royalty.
Pottery, the country's oldest craft, dates back to 4000 bc, and women still throw pots of various sizes without the wheel. The perfectly round clay pots produced by Shai women, known throughout southern and central Ghana, are used for storage and cooking. Akan women are some of the few female sculptors in Africa; their clay figures are idealized portraits of deceased chiefs or important elders in their society. Beads commonly found in markets throughout Ghana are also produced by women. Among the Krobo people in the eastern part of Ghana, beads are used in several socio-religious ceremonies, including puberty rites for adolescent girls.
As mentioned above, many Ghanaian groups continue to use traditionally woven cloth for special occasions. Th rough-out Ghana, men are the weavers. Men in northern societies such as the Dagomba make leather products and weave the fugu shirt described earlier.
The minimum working age is 15, but custom and economic necessities often force children to work at a younger age. The government has established agencies to help protect children. Ethnic tensions in the northern parts of Ghana eased somewhat in the 1990s, although they have not completely disappeared.
Any visitor to Ghana will notice the high visibility and dynamism of women in commercial and social life. They are found on the streets carrying their wares on their heads, selling in shops, in the markets, or from tables set up on pavements. Women in Ghana also play important roles managing church, home, and community activities. Among the matrilineal communities, some royal women become queen-mothers, and perform political and ritual functions. However, despite their high visibility in daily life, few women occupy positions of authority in formal power structures. After elections in 2000, only 19 women were elected to a parliament of 200. In 2004, although 100 women contested the parliamentary elections, only 25 were elected.
Women in Ghana are faced by constraints such as a lack of education, training and skills, low rates of utilization of productive resources such as land, and poor literacy rates in comparison with men. According to a major social survey, the Ghana Living Standards Survey (GLSS 4) for 2000, 44.1% of women as compared to 21.1% of men had no formal education.
This has a direct effect on women's capacity to take up formal sector jobs and leadership positions. Thus the majority of women in Ghana are self-employed. Their main activities are petty trading, food processing, and marketing food crops. Although this makes them highly visible, their businesses tend to be small-scale, home-based and loosely structured with limited management expertise and weak infrastructural support.
Due to their low levels of literacy and skills, women tend not to be able to improve their opportunities, and they remain in low-skilled, low-status and low-paid jobs.
The underlying causes of the constraints are deep-seated traditional social attitudes and socio-cultural practices and beliefs which are slow to change. Also, the Judeo-Christian traditions tend to reinforce patriarchal cultural practices and beliefs, and this makes Ghanaians adopt conservative attitudes toward issues such as homosexuality and fashions and fads which are thought to be “Western.”
Efforts have been made by both the state as well as civil society organizations to bridge the inequalities that persist between men and women. In 1975 the National Council for Women and Development was established as the national machinery to promote the advancement of women, following from the first United Nations Conference on Women. Since January 2001 the national machinery has been transformed and elevated to a full ministry, the Ministry for Women's and Children's Affairs (MOWAC), headed by a minister of state who has cabinet status. MOWAC has worked with academia, NGOs and members of legislative bodies to research and review aspects of Ghanaian laws which do not promote the advancement of women. Ghanaian women have a long history of organization and association and many belong to groups with a variety of interests. Such groups could have any of the following interests: religious, professional or occupational, micro-finance, self-help, politics, women's rights, or charity.
Feminist groups such as Abantu for Development and Netright have been at the forefront of activities to support the empowerment of women, and also to support them when they venture into formal power structures and take up public office. Since the 1980s, the collective efforts of the state and civil society have brought about a number of achievements for gender issues in Ghana. Notable examples are the establishment of the passing of PNDC Law 111 or the Intestate Succession Law, the establishment of the Girls' Education Unit of the Ministry of Education, the passing of The Children's Act, the amendment of the Criminal Code to suppress trafficking in women, the establishment of a Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit within the Ghana Police Service, and the passing of a Domestic Violence Bill. Particularly since 2000 some women's rights groups have begun to form networks. One such network was very instrumental in mobilizing the public to support the passing of the Domestic Violence Bill in 2007. Another network had earlier mobilized the public to support a Women's Manifesto which was presented to President Kufour in 2005.
In spite of the activities by both the state and civil society to improve the status of women in Ghana, and the increasing levels of awareness of women's and gender issues in the country, challenges to women's empowerment and leadership still persist. Although the status of women in Ghana has improved greatly during the last 25 years, there is still room for more progress.
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Wilks, Ivor. Forest of Gold: Essays on the Akan and the Kingdom of Asante. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1993.
—revised by M. Prah