Roles, Representations and Perceptions of Women

Type Report
Title Roles, Representations and Perceptions of Women
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2016
Patriarchy – a social system within which male authority is central to social, political
and economic organisation – is a feature of most human societies. Consequently,
women’s lives everywhere are marked by distinct patterns of disadvantage on many
fronts: at home, in the labour market, and in the larger society. However, women’s
experiences are not uniformly of oppression, marginalization and vulnerability but
also of joy, pleasure, power and creativity. In Ghana, therefore, as everywhere else in
the world, women’s lives are a complex mix of joy and pain, of power and
Much of the research and writing about Ghanaian women’s lives is on the past two
centuries. However, some historians have attempted to reconstruct women’s lives as
they were before contact with the West and with colonialism. They suggest that in the
area that became the Gold Coast and then Ghana, gender relations were
complementary, with men and women having different but equal roles in a society
where their economic enterprise and independence were valued, and their rights (to
property and in relationships) protected (Aidoo, 1985; Arhin, 1983; Hagan, 1983;
Sudarkasa, 1986). Thus the unequal relations we see today, according to these
researchers, can be attributed to the interruption of African traditions by colonial ideas
and practices.
Others argue that rather than creating gender inequalities, colonisation in British West
Africa merely reinforced them (Bakare-Yusuf, 2003). Policies were created that
compelled women to fit the prescribed roles and behaviours. In the area of work, for
instance, the colonial state largely denied the fact that women of the Gold Coast had
always worked outside the home and instead sought to shoehorn women into
exclusively domestic roles. Women were less likely than men to enter school and, if
they did, would receive an inferior education that emphasised domestic over the
technical skills that might gain them access to the then burgeoning formal sector
(Graham, 1971). Those few who made it into salaried employment were required to
resign from their work on marrying or conceiving (Tsikata and Darkwah, 2013). To
the disfavour of women again, policies in agriculture assumed male control over land
and productive labour, and therefore provided resources such as capital and
agricultural inputs to men to cultivate cocoa (Allman, 1996). Moreover, policies that
made agriculture and the extractive industries the basis of the colonial economy
promoted the commercialisation of land, which further disadvantaged women in terms
of access to their primary livelihood (Agbosu et al., 2006).

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