For women in rural Northern Ghana, life is particularly harsh.
To begin with, most girls do not have the opportunity to attend school. Today there are still many villages where not one girl has gone past the grade six level of the local primary school.
Then there are no job opportunities, unless the women move to cities or larger centres where they will typically find work that involves carrying heavy loads of goods from place to place. If they stay in their village, they can expect to earn or produce the equivalent of $20 per year.
Women marry young and it is rare to find a woman that has borne less than five children; on average each woman has seven children. Having so many children so frequently puts a severe strain on their health.
In the Northern Ghanaian and Muslim traditions, men can marry several wives and when a husband dies, he leaves as many as four widows with many dependents. There is no social security, so women have to depend on struggling families for assistance. Typically a widow will be dispossessed of her home, any possessions she shared with her former husband and her male children. She will be sent back to her village of origin to fend for herself and her female dependent children.
Creating Hope for Women
Our women’s programs are designed to give these vulnerable women the ability to produce food, earn income, and become respected members of their communities.
Women are placed into co-ops, with other community-based women who are trained in agricultural practices as their co-op leaders. Each co-op member is given peanut seeds, plus the money to purchase labour for clearing land, plus one female goat. The women participate in group training and meet regularly to discuss challenges that they are facing and to develop solutions together.
When women harvest their peanuts, they are expected to give to NEA one bag of peanuts. NEA marks the bag with the woman’s name and stores it, returning it to her at planting time so that she can farm again the next year. Women are also expected to return the first female kid that is born to their goat, enabling NEA to extend the program to another woman.
Women tend to eat part of their harvest of peanuts and sell part of it. Some women have invested their income into small businesses that will continue to earn for them throughout the year.
Each woman participates in the co-op program for about three years, after which she is a self-sustaining farmer and/or business owner. A typical graduate of the co-op program earns at least $320/year — more than 10 times the income she had prior to starting.
NEA also advocates on behalf of women at the community level. One of the key aspects of this is providing training to chiefs and elders of the important contribution that women make in development. We are seeing more and more women taking on positions of influence in their communities as a result of this important program.