"We want to educate women and give them income-generating activities as an alternative to having children," said Ghana's first lady, Nana Agyeman-Rawlings. "If you just say, 'Distribute condoms it goes in one ear and out the other."
The wife of President Jerry Rawlings is a true activist for women's rights in Ghana. Several years ago she formed the 31st December Women's Movement, which has been sustained with help from the United Nations Population Fund. It provides loans, equipment, and training to women in small businesses such as a palm-oil extraction plant in eastern Ghana. She has pushed free compulsory education and prenatal care for pregnant women. And yet even she is sensitive to pressure from outsiders and the need to hold on to traditional values. "Christianize me, but don't Europeanize me," is the way she put it.'
What Agyeman-Rawlings does want to change are practices she calls "truly inimical to the development of women' These include polygamy, rules against women inheriting property, and the ritualized female genital mutilation that is still widespread despite being outlawed by Parliament.1
The first Lady of Ghana, Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings is busy with many responsibilities. When President and Mrs. Clinton visited Ghana in March, Mrs Rawlings was involved in almost every detail of the preparations. Beyond the ceremonial duties of the First Lady, she is the President of the 31st December Women's Movement. Founded in 1982 amid social and political upheaval, the movement boasts achievements and accolades that would make any organization proud.
Today it is a large organization with an imposing presence throughout the country and beyond, with 2.5 million members of all social conditions. Dedicated to the empowerment and liberation of the Ghanaian woman, the movement has made every effort to achieve its objectives, by addressing the concerns of women and responding to their needs.
The First Lady has made it her personal crusade to address gender disparities between men and women in Ghana. To this end, she works tirelessly to integrate women's concerns and needs into the mainstream of development and the decision making process not only in the home, but in the Community, District and National level.
More than 52 percent of the estimated 18 million people of Ghana are women out of whom over 72 percent live in rural areas and provide about 88 percent of the food crops. They are also in charge of preparing the food and looking after the children.
Dressed in t-shirts that declared "Total liberation by any means necessary", members of the Movement criss-cross the rural areas of Ghana informing and educating women on new government policies that affect their lives. As Mrs Rawlings says "if you do not know about the policy you cannot benefit from it." Members of her Movement encourage women to identify their own needs so that they can decide whether to have a well in their village instead of something else. "What we try not to do, is tell them what they should do," Mrs Rawlings stated during a recent interview. Women are organized into groups that negotiate with the local chiefs for land, needed for various purposes.
The December 31st Women's Movement is entrenched on the grassroots level, fully aware of the impact of any new or existing policy. Feedback and evaluation of these policies is communicated to various government agencies and to the Movement's head office.
The 31st December Women's Movement agenda has as its aim the liberation of women from poverty by engaging them in productive ventures, as well as encouraging group action and communal solidarity. civic education, literacy, education, income generating activities and day care centers are among the many programs the Movement is involved in.
Indeed when it comes to First Lady Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings one thing is sure, no one is indifferent. She has as many supporters as detractors, she has changed the political landscape in Ghana for good. Whoever will be running in the year 2000 elections will not be able to run without talking about gender sensitive issues, public health campaigns, family planning, mother and child health, women's rights, equal rights, women's empowerment, girl education, micro-finance, day care centers, vocational training and the environment. Mrs. Rawlings is quick to point out that her Movement has an environmental protection program, because African women are very dependent on the ecological balance in nature, since they are the ones who provide food and water to the family unit.2
- Renee Loth, A Culture of Change in Africa. Boston Globe - Editorial Notebook - April 1999. From: http://www.unfpa.org/focus/ghana/culture.htm
- The First Lady of Ghana forging the way for Ghanaian women. From: http://www.internationalspecialreports.com/archives/98/ghana/3.html
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