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date: 29 February 2024

Women in Ghanafree

Women in Ghanafree

  • Akosua Adomako AmpofoAkosua Adomako AmpofoInstitute of African Studies, University of Ghana
  •  and Deborah AtobrahDeborah AtobrahInstitute of African Studies, University of Ghana


The academic study of women in Ghana has received considerable attention, particularly from a feminist perspective or gender framework since the 1980s, albeit with some important studies preceding this period. Earlier studies from the 1960s–1970s mainly approached the “woman question” from an anthropological, historical, and later sociological perspective, paying attention to descriptions of women’s lives prior to colonialism and the effects of colonial rule. These studies underscored the importance of the complementary roles women and men played, submitting that colonialism was responsible for introducing forms of gender inequality and domesticity that had not existed hitherto. Prior to colonial rule, women generally enjoyed significant status from their roles not only as wives and mothers, but also as sisters, rulers, priestesses, and performers in their own right. At the same time, some accounts of women’s lives point to the hardships they suffered because they were exploited for their social and economic value, for example as slaves or pawns. Both before and during colonial rule, especially during the years of struggle for independence, women were important organizers, and not just around gender issues. Several studies discuss the important place of women in the Nkrumah-led government just prior to and immediately after independence in 1957; however, women’s relationship with the postcolonial state was not given much attention until the 1980s.

After the first UN International Women’s Conference held in Mexico City in 1975, and the establishment of a women’s bureau, the National Council on Women and Development in 1986, more instrumental and also quantitative-survey approaches were employed that described women’s so-called objective status, especially in the areas of education, work, and health. In conformity with the times, a women-in-development approach to examining women’s status was favored by practitioners but also some scholars. By 1994, when the Development and Women’s Studies Programme was established at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, feminist approaches were more common and also brought with them an interrogation of the postcolonial state’s relationship with women. Women’s organizing and activism around such issues as livelihoods, access to land and other resources, and gender-based violence, took center stage as groups like the Network for Women’s Rights (NETRIGHT), the Domestic-Violence Coalition, and the Women’s Manifesto Coalition emerged. The problematics of gender roles and social relations, especially within the context of marriage, received much attention. Contestations among scholar-activists and femocrats are also discussed, as well as the institutional challenges of feminist work. Intergenerational collaborations as well as tensions occupy a significant place in contemporary theorizing and practice since 2000, especially the role of social media feminism.


  • West Africa
  • Women’s History

Historicizing the Story of Women in G hana

Since the 1980s the status of women in Ghana has been studied via historiographies, cross-sectional surveys, and ethnographic studies.1 The themes that have received the most attention among postcolonial scholars have included women, politics, and the state; health and education; work and livelihoods; fertility and motherhood; social relations; women’s rights; gender-based violence; and sexualities. This article examines women’s status within precolonial and “traditional” gender systems, and the impact of British colonial rule following the creation of Ghana as an independent nation in 1957.2 The postcolonial state had ramifications for the shaping of the Ghanaian woman and her relationship to the state.3 Women’s roles as scholars and activists, and the development of scholarship on women’s lives in Ghana, also provide a context within which to read Ghanaian women’s lives. This includes consciously feminist scholarship that problematizes the place of patriarchy. Because women were generally excluded as authors or subjects of history until the 20th century, one must rely on an eclectic mix of sources to approach a historiography, with the effect that the periodization approach, taken for ease of analyses, can create the impression of a disconnection between periods, when of course there were continuities as well.4

Before Europe Arrived

The nation-state of Ghana is a colonial construct that emerged from the partitioning of Africa during the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885, where European nations shared colonial land among themselves to enhance their profits and avoid wars. Borders were cut and colonial “authority” asserted, with no reference to the peoples who occupied the existing states.5 To glean women’s place in this “pre-Ghana” requires extrapolating their lives from sociological and historical accounts and oral narratives—mainly on marriage, family and kinship, and religion, politics, and the economy.

There is evidence that the area that subsequently became Ghana had been inhabited for more than two hundred centuries and had consisted of a number of independent kingdoms and states.6 Among the more notable, in terms of numerical strength and representation in the literature, are the Akan in the south; the Ga-Adangbe along the coast; the Ewe in the East of the country; the Dagomba and Mamprusi in the Northern region; Kusasi, Kassena-Nankanni, Gurene, and Builsa in the Upper East of the country; and the Sissala, Birifor, Dagaaba, and Wala in the Upper West region, each with a clearly defined social and political system. Within these states, women played important roles as mothers, sisters, and wives, as well as political and religious leaders, albeit not necessarily equal to men. Women had available to them a number of gender scripts, sometimes complementary and sometimes subordinate to men. Among the Akan, for example, the hemma, the occupant of the female stool, had wide powers, especially over women.7 She was a member of the general assembly of Asante rulers and participated in the legislative and judicial processes, such as the making and unmaking of war and the distribution of land, which was, and remains, a basic resource. She was also charged with the responsibility of consulting with members of the council to select the hene, the occupant of the male stool, from among eligible male successors.8 Only she could begin “destoolment” (impeachment) proceedings against a king. Additionally, she could occupy a male stool, performing all the duties of her male counterparts, including the performance of rites normally barred to women on account of menstrual taboos.9 However, she could not institute the death sentence. It is interesting that there are indications that other ethnic groups have enlarged the scope of women’s participation in community affairs through contact with Akan culture. An example is the institutionalization of hemma-type rulers among the patrilineal Ewe, who did not traditionally assign women this role. In the late 1890s, the paramount chief of the Krobo, Nene Emmanuel Mate-Kole, introduced the queen mother institution in recognition of women’s importance in state affairs. Since then, the queen mother, the stool priestess, and the sister(s) of the chief have been the three most important female positions among the Krobo.10 A counter case in point is female chiefs in Avatime, who have very little power and influence in their capacity as traditional leaders.11

Kinship and Inheritance

Kinship and descent systems—unilineal descent (either matrilineal or patrilineal), dual descent, and cognatic descent—determined succession and inheritance, control over resources, rights of parents over their children, and residence patterns to name a few. The most common form of kinship organization, based on a unilineal-descent system, was practiced by most of the larger groups, meaning an individual belonged to either the father’s (patrilineal) or mother’s (matrilineal) lineage. Among the Akan, for example, it is believed that the father passes on to his child its sunsum or spirit, while the mother gives it her mogya or blood; hence, lineage is traced matrilineally. The Ga and Ewe kinship systems are both patrilineal, i.e., they trace a common descent from a known male ancestor through the male line.

Among patrilineal groups, property usually passed from fathers to sons, and although daughters did inherit property, their share was usually smaller. Among the Anlo Ewe, for example, though there was no fixed proportion allocated to daughters by law, when they did inherit property their share was usually smaller than those of male offspring. Even when a man was normally expected to get about twice as much as a woman, in practice he often got much more.12Among the patrilineal Kasena, Frafra, and Kusasi people of Northeast Ghana, the assets of a man (particularly land) were divided among his adult male sons. Daughters could inherit if he had no sons, and wives could access the land and other properties of their husbands.13

Among the matrilineal Akan, the estate of a man who died intestate passed to his sister’s children, usually sons, since they were members of his lineage, while his own children were not. His sons, in turn, were expected to inherit the property of their mother’s brother. Women generally inherited property from their mothers or their maternal aunts and grandmothers. During a man’s lifetime, however, his children, daughters as well as sons, enjoyed “use-rights” to their father’s property. Among both matrilineal and patrilineal groups, women generally passed on self-acquired property to sisters and daughters. It has been argued that prior to the introduction of a capitalist economy, use-rights to property remained more important than succession. In other words, for women, access was more important than ownership, such that they could accrue substantial returns from the efficient use of that property, say land, which they owned and controlled. Nonetheless, the arrangement of succession to titles and resources privileged men and meant that women’s livelihoods were linked to their relationships to men.

Residence, Marriage, and Childbearing

Residence patterns were generally influenced by the lineage system, such that among matrilineal groups residence was usually duolocal (each spouse lived with her/his own matrikin), and among patrilineal groups, it was generally virilocal (women moved to live with their husbands). In the latter system adult males, upon marriage, left their fathers’ homes and set up their own. A woman moved to live with her husband after marriage, either in her own hut with her children, especially in a polygynous marriage, or in a common residence with her husband. The matrilineal groups practiced a duolocal residence system, where spouses continued to live with their matrikin after marriage, and since children belonged to the matrilineage they usually lived with their mother and her siblings. In some cases, children remained with their matrikin, even after a wife moved to live with her husband. The patrilineal Ga practiced a bilocal residence pattern—individuals lived in the compound of their own sex parent.

The Akan and Ga emphasis on the maternal kin as a residential unit (and in the former case, property group) served to decenter the couple and unsettle eurocentric images of the household. Duolocal residence permitted individuation, the maintenance of separate spaces, and provided both spouses the independence to organize their lives with lineage members. On the other hand, the co-residence of spouses gave women more access to husbands’ time and resources, but also vice-versa, something many women were not willing to give up.14

After the onset of puberty, a young woman took part in ceremonies to celebrate this life stage and seek fertility for her lineage/her future husband’s lineage. She was also expected to begin to display economic productivity. In matters of courtship, although the families of the couple were involved to an important degree, the couple took the initiative much more than is acknowledged in most anthropological accounts. Young people had opportunities to meet each other at various functions such as festivals, on the farm, or when sent on assignments by their elders and so forth. A young man would indicate his interest in a young woman, often with the assistance of his same-sex peers. The young woman was not expected to indicate obvious interest, however. A young man’s obligations to his love interest included the giving of gifts such as fruits and vegetables at harvest time. Structured elopement or “kidnapping” also existed. Among the Dagomba, a girl might elope with a suitor of her choice. A message was then sent to the head of her family, announcing “the theft of their daughter,” a plea for forgiveness would be made, and then bridewealth would be paid.15 Once a young man was tacitly accepted as a girl’s suitor and a potential husband, he was expected to perform some services to the girl’s parents—such as repair works on a house—or offer them generous gifts. Courtship and romance may have been accepted; however, male elders, especially, and parents and linages frequently took the initiative or had the final say in the selection of their children’s spouses.16

Marriage among almost all groups was not a one-day’s event but rather a process that took place in stages over an extended period, from the requests to “meet” a bride with the stated intentions expressed (“knocking”), to the actual ceremony in the presence of both families sealing a union with rights and responsibilities. Gifts would be exchanged along the journey. The basic formality for the contraction of a marriage was the payment of “head drink” and “thanks drink,” the customary procedure for witnessing and sealing most legal transactions.17 The groom was also expected to provide “seed capital” to set up his new wife in whatever economic venture she proposed. Women looked to marriage for children, economic support, and sexual relations within a legally recognized union. Among the Akan, although a woman was expected to be sexually available and to provide domestic services and other forms of labor for her husband, she retained rights over her sexuality after marriage, and “her body, while alive and reproductive or dead, belongs to her lineage” and her children belong to them.18 Children brought prestige to the lineage, ensuring its continuity, and they were considered important economic assets, thus, prolific childbearing was encouraged and honored, and mothers of twins, triplets, and a tenth child were held in special esteem.19 Childless individuals, especially wives, were scorned, and childlessness was an important reason for divorce, remarriage, or the marrying of an additional wife (wives). Among the Dagomba, the value of polygyny was institutionalized by the idea that a hundred children by one wife were considered as one child, whereas two by two different wives were considered as many. Further, a man was expected to beget a male regent and a female regent from different wives.20 However, some terminology around polygyny suggests that it was not necessarily considered the ideal and may have been recognized as disadvantageous to women. For example, when a man wanted to marry an additional wife, he was expected to seek his wife’s permission, arguably a mere formality, and pay her a “pacification fee”—known as ɛbien dze, “it belongs to two” among the Fante—because it was anticipated that whatever resources a husband had to contribute to the household would have to be shared among two wives (and their children).21

Authority and Economic (Re)production

Although women played significant roles in the social, economic, political, and spiritual activities of their lineages and societies during precolonial times, this was not necessarily acknowledged, and warfare, state formation, and expansion elevated men over women in the processes of production and reproduction in kinship networks. Women suffered economic exploitation working for family or husbands, as their labor was appropriated within kinship structures to uphold the processes of production and reproduction.22 Interethnic wars and conquests enabled a vibrant local slave trade, for which women were preferred, because they could trade, perform domestic services, and bear children, in addition to many other tasks males performed.23 The dominant origin of the prepubescent female laborers in the south was the Salaga slave-trading axis.24 The expansion of Indigenous slavery encouraged men to circumvent the obligations of kinship by marrying female captives, whereby they then owned their wives and their children, with the result that most slaves held were women.25 This had implications for how colonial rule repositioned women, but also for the applicability of Western concepts such as wife or slave in the study of Africa. This notwithstanding, women, generally, and free women, in particular, enjoyed economic autonomy over their earnings and did not need to pool resources with men.

Women’s resistance to slavery, especially their being given out as wives and concubines, occurred after the 1878 abolishment of the slave trade and the emancipation of slaves. Female slaves who had been married took their slave owners to court for violating the rules. While such resistance portrays women’s agency in precolonial times, it also highlights the violations that women suffered as slaves in the precolonial era and introduces nuances into the picture of the autonomous precolonial woman.

Creating an Imagined Ghanaian Woman in the Colony and Women’s Resistances to Colonial Oppression

Even though several European nations had contact with the peoples of the Gold Coast, British colonial rule over the colony they so named (1874–1957) was the most significant in terms of its length and impact. Consolidating colonial rule required that the British “contain men and women on terms unfamiliar to them, imposing Western notions of household organisation and gender on local conceptualisations, and to instill new . . . notions of housewifery.”26 Essentially the British imported their version of Victorian womanhood to “educate” and “civilize” African women, while at the same time they also dismantled those aspects of African conceptions that provided women with some autonomy.27 Women were not recognized in the colonial chiefs list, for example, nor as members of the native councils and courts.28 The European slave trade intensified the exploitation of women, and the change from traditional to “modern” farming systems and cash crops enhanced men’s prestige at the expense of women’s by widening the gap in their levels of knowledge, and by introducing changes in production patterns which reduced women’s roles to those of laborers.29 There is evidence that forced female and child labor were used to build the colonial economies, particularly in cash crop agriculture and porterage. It has been argued that while the Colonial Office in London sought to abolish forced female and child labor, policies and practices in the colony tended to be merely ameliorative and also erratic.30

Given that female labor was utilized to introduce cash crops in the 19th century, scholars have concluded that the socioeconomic status of African women was worse in the colonial period than in the precolonial period. Further, colonial administrators and European missionary constructions of the individual, marriage, and family from the early decades of the 19th century sequestered female labor and made it invisible in the realm of domestic production. Colonial policies from the late 19th century also reinforced the “capture” of female labor and the codification of patriarchy through the nature and operation of the colonial economy and the instrumentality of customary law.31 Discrimination on the basis of sex bolstered male superiority. The colonial emphasis was on male education, specifically to prepare males for entry into the civil service. Female education, when girls went to school at all, was geared toward domestic training (for example, subjects such as “home management” and “cookery”). British (Victorian) notions of appropriate gender roles and relations—in which men were perceived as and trained to be “breadwinners,” while women were expected to “support” men—set the tone for certain inequities that remain until this day.32 New income opportunities for men opened in the formal sector, mainly as white- and blue-collar workers in the civil service and European enterprises. Naturally, there were only few women in these sectors, and even when they gained entry, restrictions applied. Between 1874 and 1890, a few Western-educated, elite women—for example, the influential Native Ladies of Cape Coast (NLCC)—mobilized to improve women’s lives.33 Formal education also created opportunities for women to work in the formal sector, including the colonial civil service and as teachers. Once women got married, however, they had to stop teaching and resign from the civil service. Further, wives of civil servants were not permitted to work in that sector either.34 Thus, marriage under the colonial order brought new levels of dependency for wives—dependent “housewives” were created, demure replicas of a bourgeoisie European woman. The myth of a nonworking woman supported by a man emerged, and with it the concept of a male breadwinner, family wages paid to men, the training of men for the public sector, the removal of women from traditional leadership and also leadership in the new civil realm. However, a few “elite” women, particularly of the NLCC, exploited the colonial system to their benefit. Some of them were wealthy trading merchants, owned slaves and pawns, and large tracts of land. They appropriated their conversion to Christianity, Afro-European marriages, and Western education to foster their social mobility, colonial concessions, and personal advancements. Unsurprisingly, some were described as procolonialists because they supported the British-led army in the Anglo-Asante War of 1874–1875, and rounded-up thousands of women as carriers for the colonial enterprise.35

Though not many written accounts of Ghana’s history pay tribute to women’s roles in the nation’s struggle for freedom, self-government, and democracy, Ghanaian women have a long history of political activism and participation in public life, and groups of women, or women’s organizations, played significant roles in the push for independence.36 Portions of women’s stories can be gleaned from accounts about individual women, especially those who were themselves involved in writing.37 During the fight for independence, women organized cocoa hold-ups, they provided food for political activists at rallies throughout the country, and were foot soldiers who worked to recruit people to join the independence movement. Some, like Mabel Dove Danquah and Akua Asabea Ayisi, worked side by side with Kwame Nkrumah of the Convention People’s Party, CPP, on the (Accra) Evening News writing political pamphlets and demanding independence, activities that exposed them to the risk of arrest, and some, including Letticia Quaye, Akua Asabea Ayisi, and the elderly Arduah Ankrah, nicknamed “Mrs. Nkrumah” because of her commitment to Nkrumah and the CPP, ended up in prison for a period.38 Indeed, in his autobiography Nkrumah himself notes that:

Much of the success of the CPP has been due to the efforts of the women members. From the very beginning women have been the chief field organisers. They have traveled through innumerable towns and villages in the role of propaganda secretaries and have been responsible for the most part in bringing about the solidarity and cohesion of the party.39

Between 1951 and 1957, when Ghana gained independence from Britain, a number of women’s organizations were born. In 1951 the CPP Women’s League was formed, charged with organizing rallies, dances, picnics, and the newly established Ghana Women’s Day. The Ghana Federation of Women was formed in 1953, largely as a welfare and social support group (headed by Evelyn Amarteifio), while the Women’s League (headed by Hannah Kudjoe) was established with what might be read as a more feminist agenda. Kudjoe was both a political activist, serving as party organizer and propaganda secretary of the CPP, and a social worker. Her role in Ghana’s independence movement is reflected in the prominent role she played in the founding of the All African Women’s League. Amarteifio, on the other hand, is credited with creating “a new form of internationalism that merged the nation-building strategies of Kwame Nkrumah and the Convention People’s Party with women’s efforts elsewhere in Africa and the wider Diaspora.”40 In 1960, the Women’s League and the Ghana Federation of Women were merged to form the National Council of Ghana Women (NCGW) to replace the women’s section of the CPP, and as the umbrella body under which all Ghanaian women were to organize and be organized.41 Although the NCGW was not independent of government, it was an important locus of development and training for women as they organized rallies, built day-care centers, and sent younger members abroad to study.

Several women leaders emerged during these years, most of them highly educated under the British system. Mabel Dove Danquah was the first female member of the legislative assembly in the Gold Coast in 1954, and thus became the first African woman elected to a national parliament. As a journalist she challenged colonial rule and advocated for women’s rights through a column in the Times of West Africa newspaper under the pseudonym Marjorie Mensah.42 Susan Alhassan was Ghana’s first woman minister of state (for Education and Social Welfare) and the first African woman to hold a cabinet portfolio. She also served as the member of parliament for the Northern region, benefitting from the 1960 Representation of the People’s (Women Members) Act. Sophia Doku was another outstanding political activist and women’s organizer of the CPP. There were also notable market women and traders such as Rebecca Naa Dedei Aryeetey, also known as Dedei Ashikishan, who became influential political activists and feminists in that era. Dedei Ashikishan joined the CPP at political rallies across the country and financed Nkrumah to win the pivotal Ashiedu Keteke legislative council seat, which led to his becoming the first prime minister of Ghana.43 She died tragically at a CPP function in Ho on June 22, 1961, at the age of thirty-eight. Ghana’s fifty pesewas coin bears her portrait.

Women and the Postcolonial State

After independence, women continued to be deeply involved in the different aspects of nation building including various social and legal struggles for citizenship rights, especially for women and children. Besides farming and marketing food crops, women’s trading activities in the markets and communities were remarkable. Market trading was an important economic activity through which many women single handedly supported their families and educated their children, locally and abroad. The influence of market women posed such a (perceived) threat that the Supreme Military Council, Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), and Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) military regimes of Colonel Ignatius Kutu Acheampong and Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings labeled and scapegoated women, leading to the eventual demolishing of the Makola Market under the PNDC in 1979.

The Military Years and the Rise of Femocracy

After the 1966 coup that overthrew Nkrumah, Ghana suffered many political and economic setbacks that substantially eroded women’s options for participation in the nation’s socioeconomic life. The period of changing military dictatorships were particularly hard as women were frequently vilified and blamed for Ghana’s economic woes.44 Nonetheless, in 1975 the military government, under General Kutu Acheampong, established the National Council on Women and Development, NCWD (NRCD Act 322). This was a state machinery apparatus, coming out of the work of the UN International Women’s Conferences. The NCWD’s role was, among other things, to advise the government on all matters relating to the “full integration of women in national development at all levels” and to serve as the official national body for cooperating and liaising with national and international organizations on matters relating to the status of women.45 For many years it had a corps of well-qualified professional women running it. While the NCWD took its work advocating for women seriously, its fortunes were not always auspicious, and this has been well documented in a monograph series on African women’s machineries.46 Successive governments played with its role and status, and at various times it was under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Office of the President, and during the AFRC (1979) and PNDC (1982–1992) eras, under the informal control of the first lady, Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, who was also the president of a women’s NGO, the 31st December Women’s Movement (31DWM).47 So deep was the 31DWM’s sense of insecurity about the NCWD that Mrs. Rawlings effectively collapsed the NCWD. Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings is reported to have had a hand in dissolving the governing council, which was replaced by a management committee that included several 31DWM members, and of being involved in the selection and dismissal of staff. Staff who did not suffer this fate soon left of their own accord.48 The NGO that Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings established, the 31DWM, effectively took over the official space where policy and implementation of work on behalf of women in Ghana took place.49 Thus from the mid-1980s, the women’s front was characterized by what Prah refers to as an “illusion of activity,” purportedly on behalf of women, but in reality, partly, at least, in support of the state through the NGO led by the first lady.50 The 31DWM was involved in many activities that addressed the basic needs of women, such as setting up day-care centers or basic gari processing plants, but that left the patriarchal power structures untouched. For example, none of these projects questioned the gendered expectations of childcare or food processing. Although no first lady since Mrs. Rawlings interfered with the national machinery in the ways the 31DWM did, subsequent first ladies have successively had “women” and children’s agendas that were operationalized from outside the space of the women’s machinery: Theresa Kufuor (wife of president John Agyekum Kufuor of the NPP, January 2001–January 2009; children and mothers); Ernestina Naadu Mills (wife of president John Evans Atta Mills of the NDC, January 2009–July 2012; education); Lordina Dramani Mahama (wife of president John Dramani Mahama, NDC, July 2012–January 2017; HIV/AIDS), and Rebecca Akufo-Addo (wife of president Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, NPP, January 2016 to date; maternal and infant mortality).51

Return to Elected Governments, Women’s Collective Organizing, and Relations with the State

In 1992 Ghana went to the polls to elect her first civilian government since the brief government of the People’s National Convention (1979–1981). Not surprisingly, Jerry Rawlings’s military PNDC was returned to power with almost the same acronym, NDC. Not much changed for the better on the women’s front. Indeed, the year 1999 saw increasing levels of violence against women, and a series of murders of women that eventually led to the formation of several coalitions that could be argued to have played no small role in the eventual loss of the NDC government to the NPP at the polls. When women’s groups mobilized under the umbrella Sisters Keepers to express dismay at the murders, and asked for serious investigations and more committed police protection, the Inspector General of Police, Peter Nanfuri, said, among other things, that women should avoid going out late at night lest they be mistaken for prostitutes—thereby suggesting both that the murdered women were prostitutes, and that prostitutes could be murdered.52 No attention was paid to the fact that thousands of men workers travel and move around at night to work, or to prepare for the next day’s work.

After the NPP won elections in 2000, they set up the Ministry of Women and Children, MOWAC, and under it the erstwhile NCWD became a department under the Ministry. The first minister was Mrs. Gladys Asmah (2001–2005), who was transferred to the fisheries ministry in 2005, a position she held until 2009. Mrs. Asmah was not seen as a women’s advocate by women’s groups in Ghana, a sentiment that was most profoundly felt around her apparent lack of support for domestic-violence legislation, a bill that MOWAC was expected to champion. Indeed, while women’s groups responded to the government’s call to make sure that all Ghanaians understood the implications of the draft bill, Mrs. Asmah frequently cautioned about the possible effects of breaking up families.53 Gladys Asmah was succeeded by Alhajia Alima Mama in 2005, a lawyer and a woman who had been an active member of women’s organizing.

In 2001, a woman’s group, the Network for Women’s Rights in Ghana, NETRIGHT, made a request to the president, John Agyekum Kufuor, to transform the women’s machinery into an independent body such as the Electoral Commission or the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ).54 There was also a request to disassociate children and social protection from women’s issues. The request was not successful. However, when the NDC was returned to power in 2008 under President Attah Mills, the Ministry was renamed the Ministry for Gender, Children and Social Protection (MGSP); the minister for the next eight years was Nana One Lithur, another women’s rights activist and lawyer. In 2015 the MGSP launched a national gender policy, the culmination of years of civil society activism.55

Ghanaian women have long mobilized around specific gender issues as well as broader human-centered issues. For example, Akyeampong and Pashington describe a very carefully planned strategy among the Asante chief’s wives to protect their gender interests by subjecting him to menstrual taboos and thus successfully disempowering him.56 Women’s mobilization today focuses on addressing the cultural subordination of women, policies that disenfranchise or explicitly discriminate against women, as well as exploitative development policies that, while not gender specific, often affect women more adversely than men. Some specific core issues include advocating for more democratic institutions and peace; greater inclusion of women in formal leadership; facilitating access to resources for poor and rural women; addressing reproductive rights; challenging gender-based violence and advocating for the passage of domestic-violence legislation; and promoting formal and informal education to name but a few. Three significant organizations that championed an environment for coalition building around these issues are NETRIGHT, the Women’s Manifesto Coalition, and the Domestic-Violence Coalition. All three are networks that recognize that working in collectives, lobbying, advocating, and campaigning can be more effective in bringing gender perspectives to national processes in ways that individuals, groups of individuals, or even organizations cannot. NETRIGHT’s objectives include (a) to work with and support the work of the national machinery on women’s issues; (b) to provide a forum for sharing ideas and information on issues, developments, and approaches to gender-equality work, and to reduce duplication and fragmentation of efforts on similar concerns; (c) to strengthen and support NGO presence and participation in gender equality and women’s rights in Ghana; and (d) to inject a human rights discourse to women’s equality work in Ghana.57

NETRIGHT has focused on economic justice advocacy, specifically on issues of how people’s livelihoods are affected by government policy (early on the Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy and Multi-Donor Budget Support frameworks) and land tenure reforms. The network’s review of the conception, process, and implementation of government economic policies exposed their flawed nature, such as a lack of sufficient interest in regional and urban-rural differences in the experience of poverty, and their inherent gender biases.

Initiated by ABANTU for development, the Women’s Manifesto Coalition is a response to the “insufficient attention given to critical issues affecting women generally and also concerns about the under-representation of women in politics, policy and decision-making.”58 Women’s representations in politics and decision-making continues to be an area of woeful underrepresentation, and where they are represented, women’s contributions receive less acknowledgement, while simultaneously being ridiculed and infantilized. For example, women in politics are frequently sexualized, their relationships (or lack thereof) to men discussed, and their competencies questioned.59 The research shows that the gender gap in all areas—parliament, ministerial appointments, representations, and chair positions on key boards and committees, and national executive positions in political parties—seems impervious to significant change.60 Some of the explanations point to the enduring strength of so-called “traditional” (read: domestic) roles, especially in the three Northern regions.61 Thus, the Women’s Manifesto Coalition has a very specific political agenda to make demands of the state, political parties, and civil society organizations for addressing this situation. Their political document The Women’s Manifesto provides the following themes to guide advocacy: Women’s Economic Empowerment; Women and Land; Women, Social Policy, and Development; Women in Politics, Decision-Making, and Public Life; Women, Human Rights, and the Law; Discriminatory Cultural Practices; Women and the Media; Women, Conflict, and Peace; Women with Special Needs. The document concludes by examining and making demands of institutions, such as the MOWAC, the CHRAJ, the Women and Juvenile Unit of the Police, known today as the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit, as well as civil society institutions, with the mandate to promote women’s rights such at the national level.

When women gathered at the Osu Castle in 1999 to demand that the state address the serial killing of women, and police and soldiers stood menacingly around them with guns, the women’s experiences and their treatment at the hands of government officials (and the police) eventually led to the loss of the ruling NDC government at the polls.62 With the return to a more open form of government in 2000, civil society came alive again, seeking to actively engage with the state around issues of citizenship, and women have been an active part of this process.

The Domestic-Violence Coalition built on the format of these networks and indeed drew on their membership. From early discussions by Law and Advocacy for Women in Africa (LAWA) and the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) in 1998, until the formal establishment of a secretariat in 2003, and the ultimate passage of a domestic-violence bill into law in 2007, there is a long list of collaborating actors—scholars, practitioners, and advocates—and activities, including controversies over marital rape, and conflicts with the MOWAC minister, Hon Gladys Asmah.63

Critical Feminist Approaches, Issues, and Contestations

The influence of religion on women’s lives and gender relations is rooted in both traditional religion and the colonial religious relics of Christianity and Islam. While most traditional shrines are under the leadership of priestesses, Christian churches have been slow to embrace women’s leaders as recorded by Oduyoye and others.64 Although some contemporary Christian denominations and neo-Pentecostal and charismatic groups adopt female leaders, the sermons and doctrines perpetuate women’s oppression.65 Nevertheless, women continue to derive a high sense of well-being, self-worth, and social support from the churches. With about 90 percent of women identifying as Christians, women also continue to visit the churches and prayer camps with their health concerns, particularly those relating to reproductive health matters.66 The Total Fertility Rate in Ghana has dropped from about 7.2 in 1970 to 3.4 in 2020, and women’s life expectancy at birth stands at 66.1 years compared to 63.8 years for males.67 Women’s formal educational attainment remains low, with between 40 and 49 percent of woman being educated beyond the secondary level. Literacy levels remain low and vary by place of residence; 78 percent of women in urban areas are literate, compared with 54 percent of rural women. The percentage of women in polygynous unions also increases with age, with 16 percent in the 15–45 age group and 23 percent in the 45–49 age group. The median age at first marriage is 20.7 years among women (and 26.4 years among men). Urban women marry 3.5 years later than rural women (22.7 years versus 19.2 years).68

Evolutions in Feminism and Digital Feminism in Ghana

New and ongoing dialogue on women’s issues by feminists has been dominated by the need to dismantle the imposition of Western hegemonies in feminist theory and praxis. There has been a call to pay particular attention to addressing feminist knowledge production in the Global South and ways in which feminist scholars and activists from these regions may break with dominant epistemologies to frame their own sites of feminist theory and praxis.69 Feminist theory and praxis in response to patriarchy and misogyny in Ghana has evolved very rapidly with the intrusion of digital media. With a high access to and utilization of internet in Ghana, the digital space has become an important avenue for young feminist activism. An analysis of digital material produced by young feminist groups in Ghana reveals that in addition to dealing with the old gender controversies around women’s unequal uptake of domestic care work and patriarchy, matters of sexuality, sexual pleasures, and sexual rights have been overtly confronted. In spite of fierce backlash from both males and females, young digital feminists have critiqued Christianity, neocolonialism, and culture as the foundations of heteronormativity and gender oppression.70 In any case, feminist social media sites (particularly Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women, Ghana Feminism, Mind of Malaka, Pepper Dem Ministries), and the responses to them, provide deep insight into the extent to which feminist ideas have or have not become commonplace in Ghanaian society.

Discussion of the Literature

Studies on the lives of women in Ghana were not principally created to engage in a discourse on victimhood, women as beasts of burden of the Ghanaian men, or to romanticize African women’s experiences (as some have accused women’s and gender studies of doing) but rather to describe and theorize about women’s experiences more broadly. Serious scholarly work paying attention to women in independent Ghana can be said to have begun in the 1960s with historical and anthropological approaches. Also important were literary publications such as the work of writers like Efua Sutherland, and a decade later Ama Ata Aidoo. Sutherland was a playwright, director, author of children’s books, and an early cultural activist who used the page and the stage to share the woman’s experience. Foremost among her plays that center on women are Foriwa (1962), Edufa (1967), and The Marriage of Anansewa (1975).71 Ama Ata Aidoo is celebrated for her novels, especially The Dilemma of a Ghost (1965), Anowa (1970), Our Sister Killjoy (1977), and Changes (1991).

From the 1970s onward, Ghanaian and Ghana-based scholars introduced more nuanced approaches. For example, Christine Oppong, a British anthropologist, was among the pioneer group of Masters students at the Institute of African Studies (IAS), in the University of Ghana. Upon graduating from the Institute in 1965, she was appointed Research Fellow in the same year. She married a Ghanaian, returned to Britain for her PhD, and then joined the Institute again as a Fellow in 1971. She pioneered the Family Studies Series at the Institute, which principally explored questions of (the changing character of) marriage, childbearing, lineages, and families and so forth. Her work was important in demystifying and complicating the hitherto very eurocentric discourses about the “African family.”

In the 1980s, as a result of the influence of the UN International Women’s Conferences, the focus was very much on women-in-development and demographic approaches. Thus, there was a strong focus on work that could inform policy. Topics covered often came out of the UN Women’s Conferences as well as those ratified by African women in the Africa Platform for Action in 1995—namely, health; education, work, and livelihoods; gender-based violence; politics, the state, and representation.72 In this era, critiques were leveled against early postcolonial studies for politicizing women’s well-being in these spheres and for failing to question the prevailing structures of social, economic, and political forces that endangered women’s well-being and material conditions.73

Also notable were the violent and gendered processes of colonialism, which exploited preexisting social divisions within African culture.74 In areas such as sexuality, domestic violence, and same-sex relationships, the concerns ranged from the paucity of studies, sensationalism, and unequal attribution of rights to women’s bodies.75 As such, there were calls for approaches which were rooted in African feminist ethnographies and theories, and a caution against overreliance on postmodernist discourses of difference. For example, studies on women’s health in that era employed a stereotypical approach that focused on women’s reproductive health, associated with gazing on and policing women’s bodies. This often rendered women as spectacles. Such studies either examined women’s health from the biological utility of women’s bodies, or reduced women’s roles to those of mothers and wives. Women’s health studies therefore focused narrowly on matters such as maternal mortality, family planning, sexually transmitted infections, and risks associated with abortion.76 This approach has been critiqued for neglecting the variety of women’s health concerns as well as their contributions as providers of health care services.77

The effects of the colonial educational system in creating gender discrimination at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels has also received attention in the research on women and education in Africa.78 Gender scholars draw attention to the discriminatory effects of colonial education, particularly as delivered by missionary institutions, which prepared women to be “good” housewives and for vocational work, thus denying them equal access to formal paid work. Female education was also further hampered by factors such as early marriage, teenage pregnancy, domestic and agricultural responsibilities, the feminization of certain forms of employment, and potential unemployment. Since the 1980s, more equitable educational policies and the concerted promotion of girls education have led to greater parity in school enrolment and completion rates, especially at the basic and secondary levels. At the tertiary level, although female enrolment in STEM subjects has increased, it remains low.

Studies on work and globalization are generally in agreement that women have been and continue to be engaged in both productive and reproductive labor, and that the forms these have taken have been context specific, changing across time and geographical locations. However, a gendered division of labor has persisted, as has the fact that women’s labor reproductive work is rendered invisible and is devalued even as it remains indispensable to the survival of households and national economies. Finally, women’s workloads have increased substantially in the recent period of economic crisis and adjustment beginning in the mid-1980s.79

From the late 1990s onward, the study of women in Ghana introduced a more political edge, with the establishment of academic units that created spaces where gender and patriarchy could be theorized. The first was the Development and Women’s Studies Programme at the IAS at the University of Ghana (in 1992), which was transformed into an autonomous unit, the Centre for Gender Studies and Advocacy (CEGENSA) in 2005. The University of Cape Coast Women’s Caucus was formed in 1991 and this evolved into the Centre for Gender, Research, Advocacy, and Documentation (CEGRAD) in 2013. The Gender Programs Unit (GPU) was established at the University for Development Studies (UDS), and the Gender Mainstreaming Directorate of the University of Education, Winneba, was set up in 2005. The GPU at UDS were subsequently shut down in 2008 by the Vice-Chancellor, against the recommendations of the report of a fact-finding committee. This was done “under the guise of a merger with the Centre for Continuous Education and Interdisciplinary Research (CCEIR).” The female head of the GPU was advised to return to her original department, while a male, who was her junior, was appointed director for CCEIR.80 The literature discusses some of the theoretical and analytical positions addressed in African gender scholarship, emphasizing the need to recognize that Ghana is not a homogenous society, that there are many cultures, multiple and complex identities, including feminist identities that may converge as well as collide, and that need to be studied and understood to appreciate women’s lives.81 Unfortunately social studies textbooks for junior high school students employ a gender-roles approach that minimizes the place of women historically and contemporarily.82 There has been a growing focus on women’s representations in politics, democracy, governance, and human rights, and how they are transforming the state through politics, civil society, and social movements. The subject of sexualities has begun to be tentatively broached; and geographical, linguistic, and ethnic diversities has received more attention, as scholars argue that women’s conditions cannot be universalized.83 Since the 1990s, work has engaged with various controversies arising in women’s and gender studies, including a debate on whether it should be called feminist or gender studies, problematizing both the terminology, agendas, and emerging contestations.84 It has been noted that while some have identified their work as “feminist,” and recognize the relationship between activism and intellectualism in the liberation of women, others have rejected the term, while yet others have opted for the term “gender” or “women’s studies” as more neutral. This has not been a highly political debate for a variety of reasons. Within the academy, the idea of a feminist approach was, and still is, viewed as a radical, counter-cultural, and possibly not sufficiently intellectual. Scholars who took a feminist approach—including debates on the politics of identity—were critical to addressing differences among women and addressing the patriarchy underlying relations, so that by 2000 the question of sexualities, which had been prominent in southern and to a lesser extent East Africa, began to be discussed in the Ghanaian academic context.85 Whether literary, scholarly, or civil society reportage, what the texts reveal is that Ghanaian women’s lives are neither monolithic, nor can the examination of them be simplified.

Primary Sources

Diverse collections unearth rich materials on the history and contemporary experiences of women in Ghana; however, there are very few digital collections and very few that focus explicitly on women. Below are some locations that might be helpful for the reader who wants to dig deeper.

The African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) Online Repository. The AWDF blog hosts the writing of African women with powerful pieces such as “Sisterhood Is My Political Weapon and Feminist Tool” or the piece for the “Chibok Sisters.”

Online theses via the University of Ghana Balme Library requires searching by keyword to find work on women.

National Archives of Ghana

The Manhyia Archives of the Asantehene’s Palace in Kumasi, which are managed by the IAS, University of Ghana. Here one can find “stool” histories, cases sent to the Asantehene and Asantehemma’s court (often marriage, divorce, and maintenance issues).

The J. H. Kwabena Nketia Archives of the IAS—renamed in 2014 after the first African Director of the Institute, a musicologist—holds rich collections of primary research material (music recordings, films, documents), including the original recordings of Professor J. H. Kwabena Nketia and his colleagues, dating back to his time as a research fellow in the Sociology Department and later the Institute, as well as materials from other research fellows and collaborators.

Balme Library, University of Ghana

Institute of African Studies Library, University of Ghana

CEGENSA, University of Ghana. Here one can also access, through the University of Ghana Computing system, an online exhibition of photographs and short biographies of women associated with the University of Ghana from a 2008 exhibition celebrating the university’s 50th anniversary.

Evelyn Amarteifio’s Papers, lodged at the Department of History at the University of Ghana

The Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre, established in 1995, is a nonprofit, nongovernment organization committed to working for the promotion and protection of the human rights of women. Specifically, the center was founded with the mission of compiling information on women and human rights to support assertions about women’s human rights issues and to help integrate women’s concerns and perspectives into mainstream programs, projects, and policies addressing social and development issues.

Autobiographies and memoirs. Increasingly Ghanaians are publishing memoirs and autobiographies, or others are writing their biographies. These are valuable sites for information on women in Ghana.86

Other Sources

Ghana Feminism, described as a site that “houses ‘modernised’ indigenous feminism from the Ghanaian soul.”

Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women wants to tell a more empowered story of African female sexuality.

Pepperdem Ministries describe their purpose as one of “our probing, interrogating, and theorizing is to facilitate learning, unlearning and re-learning of the narratives both male and females have been operating by, in order to establish a better approach to our socialization. The issues we technically address are certain ingrained gender norms and how partial it can be against women.”87 When Women Speak, a film archiving the lives of Ghanaian women who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s (will be available free and online after October 2022).

Further Reading

  • Adepoju, Aderanti. “The Demographic Profile: Sustained High Mortality and Fertility and Migration for Employment.” In Gender, Work and Population in Sub-Saharan Africa. Edited by Aderanti Adepoju and Christine Oppong, 17–34. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1994.
  • Adomako Ampofo, Akosua. “‘My Cocoa Is between My Legs: Sex as Work among Ghanaian Women.” In Women’s Labor in the Global Economy. Edited by Sharon Harley, 182–205. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers, 2007.
  • Adomako Ampofo, Akosua. “Whose ‘Unmet Need’? Dis/Agreement about Childbearing among Ghanaian Couples Re-Thinking Sexualities in Africa.” In Rethinking Sexualities in Contexts of Gender. Edited by Signe Arnfred, 115–138. Uppsala: Nordic Africa Institute, 2004.
  • Allman, Jean, and Susan Geiger. Women in African Colonial Histories. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002.
  • Amoo-Adare, Epifania. Spatial Literacy: Contemporary Asante Women’s Place-Making. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
  • Apusigah, Agnes. “Engendering Social Change in Ghana: Understanding the Complexities of Ghanaian Women’s Lives.” Legon Journal of Sociology 1, no. 1 (2004): 1–18.
  • Boadu, J. Nana Aba. “The Health of Working Mothers in Accra: A Case Study of Doctors and Nurses at the Kolre-bu Teaching Hospital and Workers at North Gbawe Stone Quarry.” M. Phil Thesis, Institute of African Studies, Accra, Ghana, 2000.
  • Clark, Gracia. African Market Women: Seven Life Stories from Ghana. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010.
  • Clark, Gracia. Onions Are My Husband: Survival and Accumulation by West African Market Women. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.
  • Coalition on the Women’s Manifesto for Ghana. The Women’s Manifesto for Ghana. Accra, Ghana: ABANTU, 2004.
  • Coker-Appiah, Dorcas, and Kathy Cusack. Breaking the Silence and Challenging the Myths of Violence against Women and Children in Ghana: Report of a National Study on Violence. Accra, Ghana: Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre, 1999.
  • Cusack, Kathy, and Takyiwaa Manuh. The Architecture for Violence against Women in Ghana. Accra, Ghana: Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre, 2009.
  • Dankwa, Serena Owusua. “‘The One Who First Says I Love You’: Same-Sex Love and Female Masculinity in Postcolonial Ghana.” Ghana Studies 14, no. 1 (2011): 223–264.
  • Darkwah, Akosua K. Going Global: Ghanaian Female Transnational Traders in an Era of Globalization. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2002.
  • Duncan, Beatrice Akua. Women in Agriculture in Ghana. 2nd ed. Accra, Ghana: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, 2004.
  • Manuh, Takyiwaa. “Changes in Women’s Employment in the Public and Informal Sectors in Ghana.” In Mortgaging Women’s Lives: Feminist Critiques of Structural Adjustment. Edited by Pamela Sparr, 685–714. London: Zed Press, 1994.
  • Manuh, Takyiwaa. “Doing Gender Work in Ghana.” In Africa after Gender? Edited by Catherine M. Cole, Takyiwaa Manuh, and Stephan Miescher, 125–149. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.
  • Manuh, Takyiwaa. “Ghana: Women in the Public and Informal Sectors Under the Economic Recovery Program.” In The Women, Gender and Development Reader. Edited by Nalina Visvanathan, 61–77. London: Zed Books, 1997.
  • Manuh, Takyiwaa, and Nana Akua Anyidoho. “To Beijing and Back: Reflections on the Influence of the Beijing Conference on Popular Notions of Women’s Empowerment in Ghana.” IDS Bulletin 46, no. 4 (2015): 19–27.
  • Prah, Mansah. “Gender Issues in Ghanaian Tertiary Institutions: Women Academics and Administrators at Cape Coast University.” Ghana Studies 5, no. 1 (2002):1–20.
  • Skinner, Kate. “Women, Gender and ‘Specifically Historical’ Research on Ghana.” Ghana Studies 21, no. 21 (2018): 95–120.
  • 6Tsikata, Dzodzi. “Gender, Institutional Cultures and the Career Trajectories of Faculty of the University of Ghana.” Feminist Africa 8 (2007): 26–41.


  • 1. For example, see works by Kwame Arhin, George Benneh, Tom Kumekpor, Christine Okali, and Christine Oppong mainly on subjects of kinship, family, and livelihoods.

  • 2. In 1471 the Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive on the West Africa coast. Thereafter, from the 17th and until the 18th century, Dutch, English, Danish, and Swedish traders were granted licenses by their governments to trade overseas. By 1901 after conquering the Asante, the last hold out against the British, they succeeded in establishing a colony.

  • 3. Akosua Adomako Ampofo, Edwin Asa Adjei, and Maame Kyerewaa Brobbey, “Feminisms and Acculturation around the Globe,” in International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences, ed. James D. Wright (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2015), 905–911.

  • 4. Agnes Akosua Aidoo, “Women in the History and Culture of Ghana,” Research Review 1, no. 1 (1985): 14–51; and Kwame Arhin, “The Political and Military Roles of Akan Women,” in Male in West Africa, ed. Christine Oppong (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983), 91–98.

  • 5. Walter Rodney, “The Imperialist Partition of Africa,” Monthly Review 21, no. 11 (1970): 103–114.

  • 6. There are vestiges of a civilization, referred to as the Kintampo culture (an Akan culture) in the present day Brong Ahafo region and a map drawn by the Dutch in the 17th century that noted twenty-nine Akan states..

  • 7. Often translated into English as queen mother or queen, but more accurate would be female ruler; and Takyiwaa Manuh, “The Asantehemma’s Court and Its Jurisdiction over Women: A Study in Legal Pluralism,” Institute of African Studies Research Review 4, no. 2 (1988): 50–66.

  • 8. Usually translated into English as king.

  • 9. Aidoo, “Women in the History,” 14–51

  • 10. Obeng-Asamoa and Peter Kwabena, “The Mate-Koles of Manya Krobo” (M.Phil Thesis, Department of History, University of Ghana, 1998).

  • 11. Lynne Brydon, “Women Chiefs and Power in the Volta Region of Ghana,” Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law 28, no. 37–38 (1996): 227–247.

  • 12. Godwin Nukunya, Kinship and Marriage among the Anlo Ewe (London: Athlone Press, 1969).

  • 13. Steve Tonah, “Chiefs, Earth Priests and the State: Irrigation Agriculture, Competing Institutions and the Transformation of Land Tenure Arrangements in Northeastern Ghana,” in Land and Custom in Ghana, ed Janine Marisca Ubink and Kojo S. Amanor (Leiden: Contesting Land and Custom in Ghana. Leiden University Press, 2008), 113–130.

  • 14. Gracia Clark, Onions Are My Husband: Survival and Accumulation by West African Market Women (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).

  • 15. Katherine Abu, Family Welfare and Work Dynamics in Urban Northern Ghana (Geneva, Switzerland: International Labor Office, 1991), 1–24. The terms “bridewealth,” “bride price,” and “dowry” have been used synonymously to describe payments made to families of the bride and groom respectively in different cultures. However, “bridewealth” is somewhat of a misnomer since it represented only a limited amount of “wealth” for the bride and/or her family. Boamah Wiafe describes the groom’s gifts to his prospective wife and her family as “posting a bond that the man would carry out his marital obligations,” rather than as payment for a wife, and therefore considers the term a misnomer. See Daniel Boamah Wiafe, Africa: The Land, People and Cultural Institutions (Omaha, NE: BW Wisdom, 1993). Among the Akan the translated term would be more appropriate.

  • 16. A suitor could be considered unacceptable on grounds of marriage prohibitions or because another suitor was considered more appropriate. Nukunya, Kinship and Marriage, 77–79, found no evidence among the Anlo Ewe that a man was ever forced into a marriage against his will, though his own choice might have been vetoed. Older women he interviewed, however, claimed that they were given little opportunity to study their partners, and some claimed that they were compelled to marry against their will, their own suitors having been sidelined.

  • 17. J. B. Danquah, Gold Coast: Akan Laws and Customs and the Akim Abuakwa Constitution (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1928); Meyer Fortes, “Kinship and Marriage among the Ashanti,” in African Systems of Kinship, ed. Alfred Reginald Radcliffe Brown and Daryl Forde (London: Oxford University Press, 1970); Robert Sutherland Rattray, Ashanti law and constitution (London: Oxford University Press, 1929); and John Mensah Sarbah, Fanti Customary Law: A Brief Introduction to the Principles of the Native Laws and Customs of the Fanti and Akan Districts of the Gold Coast (London: Frank Cass, 1887).

  • 18. Christine Oppong, “From Love to Institution: Indications of Change in Akan Marriage,” Journal of Family History 5, no. 2 (1980): 197–209.

  • 19. Peter Sarpong, Girls’ Nubility Rites in Ashanti (Tema, Ghana: Ghana Publishing Corporation, 1977).

  • 20. Lucy Mair, “Tradition and Modernity in the New Africa,” Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences 27, no. 4 (1965): 439–444.

  • 21. Personal communication, Professor George Hagan, May 18, 1999.

  • 22. A. Perbi, “The Relationship between the Domestic Slave Trade and the External Slave Trade in Pre-Colonial Ghana,” Institute of African Studies Research Review 8, no. 1 (1992): 64–75; and Ebenezer Ayesu, Francis Gbormittah, and Kwame Adum-Kyeremeh, “British Colonialism and Women’s Welfare in the Gold Coast Colony,” Africa Today 63, no. 2 (2016): 3–30. In Emmanuel Akyeampong and Hippolyte Fofack, “The Contribution of African Women to Economic Growth and Development: Historical Perspectives and Policy Implications Part I: The Pre-Colonial and Colonial Periods,” Policy Research Working Papers (Washington, DC: The World Bank, 2013), the authors provide some of the debates on whether African slavery pre or post dates the European slave trade, and the distinctions between slavery and serfdom.

  • 23. Perbi, “The Relationship,” 64–75; Ayesu, Gbormittah, and Adum-Kyeremeh, “British Colonialism and Women’s Welfare,” 3–30; and Emmanuel K. Akyeampong, “Ties That Bound: Slave Concubines/Wives and the End of Slavery in the Gold Coast, c. 1874–1900,” in Essays in Honour of Ama Ata Aidoo at 70: A Reader in African Cultural Studies, ed. Anne V. Adams (Banbury, Oxfordshire: Ayebia, 2012), 231–240.

  • 24. Kwabena O. Akurang-Parry, “Slavery and Abolition in the Gold Coast: Colonial Modes of Emancipation and African Initiatives,” Ghana Studies 1 (1998): 11–34.

  • 25. Emmanuel Akyeampong and Pashington Obeng, “Spirituality, Gender and Power in Asante History,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 28, no. 3 (1995): 481–508.

  • 26. Karen Tranberg Hansen, “Introduction: Domesticity in Africa,” in African Encounters with Domesticity, ed. Karen Tranberg Hansen (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1991), 5.

  • 27. Aidoo, “Women in the History,” 14–51.

  • 28. Arhin, “The Political and Military Roles,” 91–98.

  • 29. Ester Boserup, Women and Economic Development (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1970).

  • 30. Kwabena O. Akurang-Parry, ““The Loads Are Heavier than Usual”: Forced Labor by Women and Children in the Central Province, Gold Coast (Colonial Ghana), CA. 1900-1940,” African Economic History 30 (2002): 31–51.

  • 31. Akyeampong and Fofak, “The Contribution of African Women,” 42–73.

  • 32. Diana Gladys Azu, “The Ga Family and Social Change,” in African Social Research Documents, vol. 5, ed. Afrika-Studiecentrum (Leiden, the Netherlands: Afrika Studiecentrum, 1966), 137.

  • 33. Kwabena O. Akurang-Parry, “Aspects of Elite Women’s Activism in the Gold Coast, 1874–1890,” The International Journal of African Historical Studies 37, no. 3 (2004): 463–482.

  • 34. Personal communication, Professor George Hagan, May 1999.

  • 35. Akurang-Parry, “Aspects of Elite Women’s Activism,” 463–482.

  • 36. Aidoo, “Women in the History,” 14–51; Arhin, “The Political and Military Roles,” 91–98; Manuh, Takyiwaa. "Women and their organisations during the Convention People's Party period." (1991): 101–127; Tsikata, Dzodzi. "Effects of structural adjustment on women and the poor." Third World Resurgence 61, no. 62 (1995): 1–8.; Adwoa K. Oppong, “Rewriting Women, Not Ghanaian History: 1950–1966” (Unpublished MPhil Thesis, University of Ghana, 2012); and Takyiwaa Manuh, “Women and Their Organizations during the Convention People’s Party Period,” in The Ghana Reader: History, Culture and Politics, ed. Kwasi Konadu and Clifford C. Campbell (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016): 101–127.

  • 37. Audrey Gadzekpo, “The Hidden History of Women in Ghanaian Print Culture,” in African Gender Studies a Reader, ed. Oyěwùmí Oyeronke (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 279–295.

  • 38. Kwame Nkrumah had returned to Ghana from studies in the United States and time spent in the United Kingdom, at the invitation of the United Gold Coast Convention to join it as their General Secretary. He later parted ways with them and formed the Convention Peoples’ Party (CPP) that agitated for independence with strikes known as “positive action” in 1950. Eventually Nkrumah and other CPP members were arrested and imprisoned, and the Evening News, a paper he led, was banned. The British felt compelled to allow Nkrumah to stand for election.

  • 39. Kwame Nkrumah, Autobiographie de Kwame Nkrumah, ed. Charles L. Patterson (Paris: Présence Africaine, 2009).

  • 40. Nketiah, Eric Sakyi. A history of women in politics in Ghana 1957-1992. AuthorHouse, 2010.

  • 41. Naaborko Sackeyfio-Lenoch, “International Alliances in an Emergent Ghana,” Journal of West African History 4, no. 1 (2018): 27–56.

  • 42. Mable Dove, Selected Writings of a Pioneer West African Feminist, ed. Stephanie Newell and Audrey Gadzekpo (London: Trent Editions, 2004).

  • 43. She financed Nkrumah to win the Ashiedu Keteke legislative council seat, which made him the first prime minister of Ghana.

  • 44. Akosua Adomako Ampofo, “Controlling and Punishing Women: Violence against Ghanaian Women,” Review of African Political Economy 20, no. 56 (1993): 102–111.

  • 45. Japan International Co-operation Agency, “Country WID Profile (Ghana),” Japan International Cooperation Agency Planning Department, December 1999.

  • 46. Rose Mensah-Kutin, Alima Mahana, Susie Ocran, Esther Ofei-Aboagye, Vickie Okine, and Dzodzi Tsikata, The National Machinery for Women in Ghana: An NGO Evaluation (Accra, Ghana: Third World Network Africa, 2000).

  • 47. Takyiwaa Manuh, “Doing Gender Work in Ghana,” in Africa after Gender, ed. Stephan Miescher, Takyiwaa Manuh, and Catherine M. Cole (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007), 125–149.

  • 48. Personal communication with Akosua Adomako Ampofo.

  • 49. A women’s group held a meeting with staff of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Accra around funding for an activity. The UNDP staff that was in the meeting was reminded by his boss that he should be careful of not digging into “madam’s budget”—“madam” being Mrs. Rawlings (reported to Akosua Adomako Ampofo by one of the members of the women’s group).

  • 50. 37 Mansah Prah. "Gender issues in Ghanaian tertiary institutions: Women academics and administrators at Cape Coast University." Ghana studies 5, no. 1 (2002): 83–122.

  • 51. Atta Mills died in office in 2012.

  • 52. Akosua Adomako Ampofo, “Collective Activism: The Domestic Violence Bill Becoming Law in Ghana,” in Researching African Women and Gender Studies: New Social Science Perspectives, ed. Akosua Adomako Ampofo, Josephine Beoku-Betts, and Mary Osirim, Special Issue African and Asian Studies 7, no. 4 (2008): 395–421.

  • 53. The disagreements between Gladys Asmah and women’s groups around the passage of domestic violence legislation have been described in Adomako Ampofo, “Collective Activism,” 395–421.

  • 54. The Network for Women’s Rights in Ghana, NETRIGHT, is a national advocacy platform that seeks to bring a gender perspective into national processes, and together with ABANTU for Development, a Women’s NGO, supported the Women’s Manifesto Coalition to produce the Women’s Manifesto for Ghana (2004), which spells out critical areas for the state to pay attention to and continues to influence organizing around gender issues.

  • 55. Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, National Gender Policy, 2015 (Accra, Ghana: Government of Ghana, 2015); Victoria Hamah, “Women’s Participation in Ghanaian Politics: An Assessment of the Opportunities and Limitations” (Unpublished Master of Arts Thesis, University of Ghana, 2015); and National Commission for Civic Education, “Cultural Practices Affecting Women’s Rights in Ghana” (unpublished report, 2004).

  • 56. Akyeampong and Obeng, “Spirituality, Gender, and Power,” 481–508; menstrual blood was seen to be both polluting—so that menstruating women were kept away from warriors—as well as empowering, as reflected by the fact that sacred stools were smeared with menstrual blood.

  • 57. NETRIGHT, “Ghana NGO Alternative Report for Beijing + 10 FINAL VERSION”, Accra: Netright, 2004 August.

  • 58. Coalition on the Women’s Manifesto for Ghana, The Women’s Manifesto for Ghana. Accra, Ghana: ABANTU, 2004, 5.

  • 59. Beatrix Allah-Mensah, Women in Politics and Public Life in Ghana (Accra, Ghana: Friedrich Ebert Foundation, 2005); and Baba I. Musah and Ibrahim Gariba, “Women and Political Decision Making: Perspectives From Ghana’s Parliament,” Journal of Alternative Perspectives in Social Sciences 5, no. 3 (2013): 443–476.

  • 60. Hamah Victoria, “Women's Participation in Ghanaian Politics: An Assessment of the Opportunities and Limitations” (PhD diss., University of Ghana, 2015).

  • 61. National Commission for Civic Education, “Cultural Practices Affecting Women’s Rights in Ghana” (2004): 1–118.”

  • 62. Boateng, Francis, Victims of sexual assaults: The experiences of Ghanaian women. International Review of Victimology, (2015) 21(3), 343–360.

  • 63. Adomako Ampofo, “Collective Activism,” 395–421.

  • 64. Grace S. Adasi, “Ordained Women Ministers in the Presbyterian Church of Ghana: Roles and Challenges” (PhD diss., University of Ghana, 2012).

  • 65. Akosua Adomako Ampofo and and Michael P. K. Okyerefo, “Men of God & Gendered Knowledge,” in Africa-Centred Knowledges: Crossing Fields and Worlds, ed. Brenda Cooper, Robert Morrell, and Crain Soudien (London: James Currey, 2014), 163.

  • 66. Michael P. K. Okyerefo and and Daniel Y. Fiaveh, “Prayer and Health-Seeking Beliefs in Ghana: Understanding the ‘Religious Space’ of the Urban Forest,” Health Sociology Review 26, no. 3 (2017): 308–320; and Ghana Statistical Service (GSS), Ghana Health Service (GHS), ICF International. Ghana demographic and health survey 2014. Rockville, Maryland: GSS, GHS, and ICF International; 2015.

  • 67. Ghana Demographics,” Worldometer, October 2022.

  • 68. Ghana Statistical Service (GSS), Ghana Health Service (GHS), ICF International. Ghana demographic and health survey 2014. Rockville, Maryland: GSS, GHS, and ICF International; 2015.

  • 69. Josephine Beoku-Betts and Akosua Adomako Ampofo, “Introduction: Positioning Feminist Voices in the Global South,” in Producing Inclusive Feminist Knowledge: Positionalities and Discourses in the Global South, ed. Akosua Adomako Ampofo and Josephine Beoku-Betts (Bingley: Emerald, 2021), 1–20.

  • 70. Akosua K. Darkwah, “Digital Activism Ghanaian Feminist Style,” in Producing Inclusive Feminist Knowledge: Positionalities and Discourses in the Global South, ed. A. Adomako Ampofo and J. Beoku-Betts (Bingley: Emerald, 2021), 147–166.

  • 71. Efua Sutherland, The Marriage of Anansewa (Accra, Ghana: Sedco, 1975).

  • 72. Abena Yeboah, Akosua Adomako Ampofo, and Maame Kyerewa Brobbey, “Women’s and Gender Studies in Ghana,” in Changing Perspectives on the Social Sciences in Ghana, ed. Samuel Agyei-Mensah, Joseph A. Ayee, and Abena D. Oduro (Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Springer, 2014), 285–312.

  • 73. Desiree Lewis, “Review Essay: African Feminist Studies: 1980–2002,” Gender and Women’s Studies Africa (2002).

  • 74. Amina Mama, “Postscript: Moving from Analysis to Practice?,” in Engendering African Social Sciences, ed. Ayesha Imam, Amina Mama, and Fatou Sow (Dakar, Senegal: CODESRIA, 1997): 413–424.

  • 75. Dorcas Coker-Appiah and Kathy Cusack, Breaking the Silence and Challenging the Myths of Violence against Women and Children in Ghana: Report of a National Study on Violence (Accra, Ghana: Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre, 1999).

  • 76. Akosua Adomako Ampofo, “Does Women’s Education Matter? A Case Study of Reproductive Decision Making From Urban Ghana,” Ghana Studies 5 (2002): 123–157.

  • 77. Nana Aba Boadu, “The Health of Working Mothers in Accra: A Case Study of Doctors and Nurses at the Kolre-bu Teaching Hospital and Workers at North Gbawe Stone Quarry” (M. Phil Thesis, Institute of African Studies, Accra, Ghana, 2000).

  • 78. Mansah Prah, “Gender Issues in Ghanaian Tertiary Institutions: Women Academics and Administrators at Cape Coast University,” Ghana Studies 5 (2002): 1–20.

  • 79. Aderanti Adepoju, “The Demographic Profile: Sustained High Mortality and Fertility and Migration for Employment,” in Gender, Work and Population in Sub-Saharan Africa, ed. Aderanti Adepoju and Christine Oppong (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1994), 17–34; Mama, “Postscript”; Takyiwaa Manuh, “Changes in Women’s Employment in the Public and Informal Sectors in Ghana,” in Mortgaging Women’s Lives: Feminist Critiques of Structural Adjustment, ed. Pamela Sparr (London: Zed Press, 1994), 685–714; Takyiwaa Manuh, “Ghana: Women in the Public and Informal Sectors under the Economic Recovery Program,” in The Women, Gender and Development Reader, ed. Nalina Visvanathan (London: Zed Books, 1997), 61–77; and Akosua K. Darkwah, Going Global: Ghanaian Female Transnational Traders in an Era of Globalization (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2002).

  • 80. Personal communication of the then Head of the unit.

  • 81. Obioma Nnaemeka, “Mapping African Feminisms,” adapted version of “Introduction: Reading the Rainbow,” in Sisterhood, Feminism and Power: From Africa to the Diaspora, ed. Obioma Nnaemeka (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1998), 31–41.

  • 82. Clement Sefa-Nyarko and Alexander Afram, “Gender in National History Narratives in Social Studies Textbooks for Ghana,” Yesterday and Today 21 (2019): 80–105.

  • 83. Yeboah, Adomako Ampofo, and Brobbey, “Women’s and Gender Studies in Ghana,” 285–312.

  • 84. Akosua Adomako Ampofo, Josephine Beoku-Betts, and Mary J. Osirim, “Researching African Women and Gender Studies: New Social Science Perspectives,” African and Asian Studies 7, no. 4 (2008): 327–341; and Sylvia Bawa "“Feminists make too much noise!”: generational differences and ambivalence in feminist development politics in Ghana." Canadian Journal of African Studies/Revue Canadienne des études Africaines 52, no. 1 (2018): 1-17.

  • 85. Broke Up, but Too Broke to Move Out,” Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women, August 11, 2018.

  • 86. Some examples are those of Elisabeth Ohene, a journalist, who has provided a collection of her essays from The Graphic, which are basically her comments on sociopolitical happenings in GhanaOhene, Elizabeth. Thinking Allowed: A Collection of Articles on Events in Ghana, 1978-1981: Through the Eyes of One Woman. Blue Savana, 2006. Other autobiographies include those of the late Marian Addy, A Biochemist—Rewards: An Autobiography (Accra, Ghana: Amanza, 2011); and Letitia Obeng, the first woman president of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences—A Silent Heritage: An Autobiography (Surrey: Goldsear, 2008).

  • 87. Pepper Dem Ministries. n.d. “Pepper Dem Ministries: Rewriting Gender Narratives.” Pepper Dem Ministries.