Programme on Gender

In Africa and many other parts of the world, women are denied equal access to and control over resources, land, credit, and income and access to services such as education and healthcare. They are marginalized and powerless in decisions about resource use or community development priorities. Many have no secure property or inheritance rights. Some of the root causes of gender inequalities are the norms, laws and practices that discriminate against women and girls. These can be linked to tradition, culture and religious beliefs. Women are the majority poor and the most vulnerable, suffering marginalization and violence within homes and communities. Women’s poverty and powerlessness means they experience the worst impacts of environmental degradation, climate change and diminishing resources.

The gendered roles of women and girls mean they are responsible for meeting basic family needs of water, fuelwood, food etc. As local resources become scarcer due to environmental degradation, climate change and over exploitation, the work of women and girls becomes more difficult. Their time burdens increase. They have to walk further and work harder to meet family needs. Women have less time to earn an income. Girls have less time to attend school. Some girls drop out to help their overburdened mothers, exacerbating the inequalities in access to education between boys and girls. When resources decline and life becomes too difficult, men may migrate to find work. Women’s work increases again as they continue their role as career, but now must fulfil male roles of earning an income and tending the farm and livestock. Lack of access to land means women have no collateral to access credit. This is a huge constraint to income generation. Despite the critical roles women fulfill in societies and economies, their contribution is undervalued and undermined. They produce more than half the food in the world and over 70 percent of Ghana’s subsistence foods. They achieve all this even though they lack access to fertile lands, productive resources, agricultural advice, inputs, credit and new technologies. Imagine how much women could achieve if this situation was reversed. Equitable access to education will bring even greater benefits. Educating
women and girls contributes to improved health, welfare and education of their children than educating men. Improved health also increases productivity. The benefits of equality are huge. This is why we mainstream gender in all our projects and programmes. Gender mainstreaming ensures the concerns, needs, knowledge and experiences of both women and men are accounted for in the planning of any action, and also assesses its implications for both. It aims to ensure both women and men participate in and benefit equally from the action, and that inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.

Gender and sustainable development

Equality between women and men is essential for the achievement of sustainable development. This means we need to change the cultures, traditions, norms and laws that discriminate against women and perpetuate inequality. Women depend highly on natural resources to fulfil their gendered roles. They can only do this is an environmentally sustainable way if they are empowered to have equitable access to resources, and if they
participate in decision making and control over resource use. Equity is also critical for the socially side of sustainability: when women and girls have equitable access to basic services such as education and healthcare, they will be empowered to improve their welfare and achieve their full potential. Subsistence food production is an area where women suffer very inequitable access to resources including land, inputs, credit, and advice. This is a disincentive to women’s investment in land and other productive resources.

Some examples of women in agriculture illustrate the difficulties African women have in accessing resources: 

Desertification – where land becomes so degraded it turns to desert – has many causes including  vegetation removal, poor land use practices, climate change, poor government land-use policies and  poverty. The outcomes are many. Lands  become unproductive and water sources dry  

  1. Food and water security decline, poverty  increases, and competition for resources  worsens. Men migrate and women’s responsibilities and work burdens increase,  exacerbating the difficulties and inequalities  they already face. 

In some West African societies, investing time  and resources in a piece of land secures the person’s user-rights for that land. But women are so  constrained by severe poverty and time burdens, it’s difficult for them to make the investments. In some societies in Ghana, women may be given land temporarily by their husband to grow their  subsistence crops, but it is fragile, marginal and degraded land and usually the farthest away, while the  men keep the fertile lands for their own cash crops. Even so, he will only give the land if he feels he can  spare his wife’s labour. 

In north east Ghana, unmarried women rarely have access to land, and widows lose their access unless  they have male children. 

Rights to irrigation water are closely linked to land rights. So where this is the domain of men, women  have difficulty accessing water for irrigation purposes 

Even access to technologies, information, inputs and extension advice are biased towards the needs of  men because they farm cash crops.

Women’s insecure land tenure results in a number of negative outcomes:

Women limit the crops they grow: for example, they won’t invest in tree crops if they think they’ll lose  the land before the trees start to bear fruit

They are not encouraged to improve the land, for example implementing labour-intensive soil and water  conservation measures, or developing an irrigation system 

They can’t use the land as collateral to access credit from more affordable formal sources because they  don’t own it. 

Equitable access to and control over land and other productive resources will go a long way to supporting and  encouraging women farmers to use resources in a more sustainable way, because the investments towards  sustainability will be worth their time. The cultural norms and traditions that reinforce women’s marginalisation  and powerlessness need to be broken down carefully and sensitively. Our women’s empowerment projects try  to do this by involving men and community leaders as well as the women in the planning, shaping and  implementation of those interventions. In our other projects that don’t focus solely on women, we take a  gender mainstreaming approach so that women and men benefit equally from the project outcomes. Several of  our projects focus on women’s empowerment.

Projects that address gender issues

Peaceful and Sustainable Development in the Northern Region

The Northern Region has suffered tribal conflicts,  persistent poverty and out-migration of the youth.  Following the Nanumba/Kokomba conflicts and the 2002  Dagbon Chieftaincy crisis in the north of Ghana, the area  became more unstable and people were very wary of one  another. Preparations for senior school exams were  disrupted for many students and failure rates were high.  Poverty and food insecurity were also high in the area,  and economic opportunities were limited. Women’s  

participation in decision-making was minimal, and concern over the spread of HIV/AIDS was on the increase.  With funding from the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), FoE-Ghana led two projects in the  area to address these major concerns. The projects sought to: encourage peaceful relations between the  different ethnic groups; assist the senior school children to complete their studies; improve food security in the  area and broaden livelihood opportunities for women; increase women’s participation in local decision-making,  and broaden the awareness about HIV/AIDS.  

Some of the achievements and outcomes of the two projects include

  •  Training and education to give people new skills and techniques for coping with conflict causes,  resolution and management, reconciliation methods, post-conflict reconstruction, and peace building Formation of social clubs and economic groups in communities and schools to bring together the  different ethnic groups in mutually supportive ways. The women developed trade links and travelled to  one another’s areas without fear of intimidation, while the youth from both the Adani and Abudu gates  came together to exchange ideas and opinions without any concerns
  • Around 200 local youth who failed their SSSE exams were funded to retake them. Funds were also  provided to pay for tuition and books 
  • To help reduce food insecurity in their area, activities included: supplying farm tools and seeds,  especially of leguminous crops; and providing shea butter and gari processing centres for the women to  add value to their agricultural produce 
  • To help reduce poverty in the area, activities included: training women and youth in batik and tie-dye  textile design; provision of micro-credit via a revolving ‘susu’ fund; workshops on business management  and book-keeping; and providing bicycles with trailers for women to transport their farm and other  produce to markets 
  • Boreholes in three communities to provide access to potable water 
  • Construction of a training centre and workshop facility including dressmaker training room and a  computer suite 
  • Workshops for women and youth on women’s and child rights to build their capacity for participating in  local decision-making 
  • To help reduce HIV transmissions, activities included: Formation of HIV/AIDS prevention youth clubs in  schools; awareness raising about sexually  transmitted diseases; provision of an HIV/AIDS  Voluntary Counselling and Testing Centres; and  training a project staff member in HIV/AIDS  screening and counselling 
  • A pre-school built in Zabzugu for 150 young children  of kindergarten school age each year. This enables  the mothers to concentrate more fully on using  their businesses learned during the projects. The  school has been very popular and has been unable  to accommodate the number of children eager to  attend.

Particular successes of the project

  • The students who retook their SSSE exams all passed, giving them the opportunity to continue their studies the following year which they otherwise would not have been able to do.
  • Food security in the area has improved with the production of beans and groundnuts, and the capacity to process food has allowed long-term storage so there is food during the hungry gap. There is also less wastage and improved profits for farmers.
  • More children are now attending school because of the women’s increased incomes, and the level of girl child participation in education has increased.
  • boreholes have provided access to clean potable water in communities where guinea worm is endemic. The new water sources also reduce the time women and girls take to fetch water, which means women have more time for to use their new income generating skills, while the girls can get to school promptly. A small fee for the water is paid towards borehole maintenance.
  • Women’s access to credit is traditionally very difficult because they do not own land or other resources as collateral to approach banks and other loan providers. The rotating ‘susu’ micro-credit scheme has enabled trainees to access credit for establishing their own businesses and they sometimes even take on trainees. Women’s groups have been formed based on traditional structures with the Magazia, or women’s leader, as the chairperson. The Magazia is being supported by other group members to speak on women’s affairs at local meetings to ensure women’s concerns are addressed in decision-making.

Women and Youth Economic and Social Empowerment for Sustainable Development in the Volta Region of Ghana

While FoE-Ghana was completing some activities in the Volta Region, a part of the primary school in Tafi Mador collapsed during the rains. The Chief and elders asked for support from FoE-Ghana to build a new school. By collaborating with the Polish Green Network, FoE-Ghana was able to raise funds from the Polish-Canadian Development Cooperation through the Education for Democracy Foundation.The project encompassed youth and women’s economic empowerment activities, HIV/AIDS awareness raising and training, provision of a primary school, and an information campaign inPoland about the project and the development needs of African countries.