Solidarity-building for gender equality in agricultural production in Ghana

by Angela Dziedzom Akorsu

© Daniel Weber

Angela Dziedzom Akorsu (PhD) is a senior research fellow and the head of the Department of Labour and Human Resource Studies. She is also the research coordinator at the Centre for Gender Research, Advocacy and Documentation, both at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. Her current research is around informal economy organising, decent work along agricultural value chains and rural women’s livelihoods.

Agriculture is one of the oldest sectors and the pillar of Ghana’s economy. The agricultural sector immensely contributes to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), foreign exchange earnings, and absorbs a substantial proportion of its labour. In 2015, the estimated contribution of the agriculture sector to Ghana’s GDP was a little over 20 percent, a fall from the 30 percent mark at the beginning of the third millennium (GSS, 2013; MoFA, 2016). The sector generates about 75 percent of the country’s export earnings and employs about 70 percent of its workforce (GSS, 2013). It is for these reasons that Ghana’s economy may still be considered agrarian. 

Situation of women in agriculture

Ghanaian women’s contribution to the agriculture sector is enormous. They constitute an estimated 52 percent of agricultural labour force, 70 percent of food producers and 95 percent of agro-processors (World Bank, 2008). These contributions not-withstanding, women in agriculture are overwhelmed by many problems, including gendered social norms and expectations, lower access to production resources such as land, fertilizers, mechanisation, labour, human capital, technology and credit. The patriarchal structures governing agricultural productions have been cited as one major source of women’s disadvantaged situation, rendering women in agriculture vulnerable and often placing them among the working poor.

© Michael Dakwa

Discourses on potential solutions

Regarding solutions, there have been several and sometimes competing positions. One position is that governments are the primary duty bearers and must be held accountable to provide support for rural women in agriculture. Another position is that governments alone cannot do it and suggest civil society interventions as the way to go. A third position insists that women need to take control of their lives and demonstrate agency by demanding accountability from governments to address their gendered problems, particularly with respect to land rights. Granted, the presence of active and proactive civil society including diaspora initiatives makes democracy stronger and brings social progress, with gender justice as an integral feature. The rise in civil society organization seems to stem from the increasing withdrawal of state support, creating what has been called a democratic vacuum in most societies as well as the distance between markets and humans – both, the results of the neo-liberal paradigm. Like the state, however, civil society organisations have their limitations. Civil society interventions generally, and around women’s rights in agriculture have been growing in recent years. An interrogation, however, reveal that while some practical benefits of such interventions are acknowledgeable, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are constrained in their ability to address the depth of women’s problems. Whatever their achievements may be, they have been at best, superficial. This is largely due to the overemphasis on mere livelihood approaches instead of incorporating the underpinning gender relations in the agricultural production system. In view of this, women’s own action then remains important; women’s own action then becomes important in development discourse, regardless of how disadvantaged they may be. The exact direction of change and the significance of that change cannot be imposed on them whether by national or transnational entities. Actions taken and change achieved are often the result of negotiations and social struggles among different kinds of actors, of which group formation or solidarity-building is a fundamental part.

Solidarity-building as a panacea for gender-based inequality

Solidarity-building has long been recognised as a conduit for dealing with inequality at all levels and rightly so. Solidarity-building efforts at the grassroots level, among the people who are most affected by the world’s unequal capitalist order – the unemployed youth, disabled and women in Africa’s informal economy –  cannot be overemphasized. Women especially face a deeper level of inequality as a result of their subordination and the ensuing marginalisation and discrimination. Predominantly as landless, subsistence farmers excluded from formal socio-political and economic protection, women have resorted to collective organising and forged organisations to protect their livelihoods as well as satisfy their welfare needs. Thus, the depiction of African women as active agents rather than mere victims of globalisation and of patriarchy has gained currency. Historically, African women’s movements have their roots in anticolonial and national liberations struggles towards independence.

© Michael Dakwa

Farmer based organisations abound in most communities in Ghana. Though there are groups comprising of males and females, female only groups are predominant. Though mostly uneducated, the groups hold regular meetings in their local languages and such meetings constitute fora for information sharing about good agricultural practices. The resilience and resourcefulness of some women’s associations in claiming policy attention and protecting livelihoods have long been acknowledged. Remarkably, most women’s groups have been an avenue for generating capital for their agricultural production through capital and labour pulling as well as through the access of formal sector credit as a group. Specific successes include appropriating space and articulating grievances to protect livelihoods. The welfare and mutual assistance capacities are also prominent features.
There still remains the challenge for such grassroots associations to develop into strong political voice that would transform the power structures that constrain them economically and politically. Thus, to tackle the broader issues of gendered poverty, gendered illiteracy, gendered political participation and also sexual and reproductive health rights among others, there is need to support such associations to enable them go beyond nominal right claims. Cooperation with trade unions may be a potential solution or their seeking to grow into confederated entities like StreetNet International and WIEGO. Discussions around these possibilities are critical in determining the future of women’s associations and their potential contribution to the fight against gender-based inequality. When women’s groups affiliate with trade unions, the benefits are mutual. Trade unions gain increased membership and therefore legitimacy, while the women’s associations benefit from political clout and experience of the trade unions.
To confront inequality therefore, a bottom-up approach to solidarity-building is critical. Essentially, this is about leveraging the power of local women to negotiate the terms and conditions under which they work and even engage policy-makers.  The empowering potential of such solidarity-building lies in collective representation as well as in democratic participation. Transnational efforts to confront inequality should pursue these associations since they are threatening to constitute the future representation of the working poor (13 December 2018).

Further reading and links

Akorsu, A. D. & Odoi, A. (2017) Collective agency and organising among domestic workers in Ghana, in: Webster, E.; Bhowmik, S.; Britwum, A. O. (eds.) (2017)  Crossing the divide: Precarious work and the future of labour, pp. 228 – 249, KZN Press, Durban.  

Britwum, A. O. & Akorsu, A. D. (2017) Organising Casual Workers on an Oil Palm Plantation in Ghana, in: Webster, E.; Britwum, A. O.; Bhowmik, S. (2017) Crossing the Divide: Precarious Work and the Future of Labour, pp. 33 – 53, KZN Press, Durban.

Britwum, A. O., & Akorsu, A. D. (2017) Market women’s associations in Ghana: Exploring the traders’ livelihood support systems, in Badri B. (Ed.) (2017) African women leading transformation, pp. 48 - 59, Zed Books, London.

Ghana Statistical Service (2013) 2010 Population and Housing Census: Analytical Report. Accra: Ghana Statistical Service.

Lindell, I. (2010) Introduction: the Changing politics of Informality-Collective Organizing, Alliances and Scales of Engagement, in: Lindel, I. (2010) Africa's Informal Workers: Collective Agency, Alliances and Trans-National Organizing in Urban Africa, pp. 1 - 30, Zed Books, London.

Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) (2016) Agriculture in Ghana: Facts and Figures, 2015. Statistics, Research and Information Directorate (SRID).