Wherever You Go, There It Is: How Are Gender Roles Different In Ghana?

November 12, 2012  |  

Source: Shutterstock.com

So recently I was in Ghana on a repatriation and investment tour, taking in culture and history and some of the social scene, particularly the men folk.

Let’s be honest, I don’t care how wonderfully vibrant and economically lush a country may be, a good social game is paramount to any choice destination, especially if you are a young, single person looking to repatriate.  Well, you would be happy to know that there are some really good looking men in Ghana in a variety of styles and hues. Likewise, most folks there speak English, in addition to native languages, and they dress almost similar to Westerners, so you won’t be too home sick.

But there are some notable cultural differences.  For one, Ghanaian men have no qualms about being affectionate–including with each other. Imagine the raised eyebrows at seeing men – self-described straight men — holding hands, hugging and dancing in groups with each other. That would never happen here in the States. Never. Even Yuwil, a new friend of mine from Washington State, who dreams of expatriating to Ghana in hopes of getting more in touch with his African side, said upon seeing two men swinging arms and holding hands, “S**t, that’s one local custom they can keep to themselves.”

However, despite having a more modern feel to the country, in some ways Ghanaians, particularly Ghanaian men, still tend to lean more on traditional gender roles. For instance, Stephanie from Brooklyn, another traveler on the tour, was sitting with me and having food and drinks at the lounge at our hotel in Accra.  We were conversing with two Ghanaian men about how common it was to see women walking around balancing and carrying trays of stuff – food, water bottled for sale, meat, rice, firewood – on their head and a baby tied to their backs, while her male companion seemed to walk beside her, untethered by baggage and/or children. “Why does it seems like the women do all the work and the men here just pretty much take it easy?” Stephanie asked, with some cosigns from me.

“See when women start talking that human rights stuff, I stop listening and say go ‘head,” said Kojo, who acted as security and local customs and courtesy expert for the tour.  By human rights, he meant gender equality. And he was done with the conversation before we even started. “You see, those are Western women values. Ghanaian men are very respectful of women,” said Kobina, another native Ghanaian tour guide and friend of Kojo.  According to both men, who hail from the Ashanti region, the foreigners, particularly NGO (non-government organizations), have imposed their own values on Ghana, including the belief that women are being oppressed. Therefore, more women are willing to delay marriage and leave their husbands for what both men described as the most frivolous of reasons.  “I know a woman, who left her husband because he cheated on her. How silly is that?” said Kobina.

As Kobina explained, there are duties in society that each gender is expected to perform. Women are expected to take care of the house, take care of the children, take care of the men and perform their womanly duties every night – the latter of which was emphasized many times. However, this doesn’t mean that women are powerless. In fact, said Kobina, when it comes to the home front, the family is very matriarchal. While women do most of the housework including laundry, cooking and the cleaning, women also keep order and call most of the shots in the house, particularly decisions around the family. “Really when it comes to the children, women have the final say. It doesn’t matter what the men say. If the mother doesn’t like it, it’s not going to happen,” he said.

But then I asked about our visit to the local weaving craft village, where we witnessed how the process to make the ink they used to die fabric was divided between the genders. What about that?. “You had this woman with a baby tied to her back, using all her might to pound and pound at this wood bark with this big, six-foot-tall pounding stick in order to extract liquid from it. And after all that huffing and puffing she does, the guy casually picks up the ink, puts it in a pot and stirs it – and that is the extent of his job.  Clearly she is doing all the hard work in the relationship,” said Stephanie.

Kobina, laughing, assured us that we’re just not seeing the full picture.  According to him, men are the ones who cut the wood and bring the food to make the stuff in the pot. “We’re the hunters. Who do you think finds the food?  Women are not going to go up in the tree to get the coconuts, instead, they want us to do the heavy lifting jobs.” Using a panties analogy, Kobina said that while women will wash a man’s “panties,”  men, on the other hand, wouldn’t wash a woman’s panties because that is woman’s work. And any man caught tending to his wife’s unmentionables would likely be laughed at and ridiculed by as many women as men. Kobina added that, “The reason why men don’t carry things is because they always have a stick in their hands. This is because they have to be ready to fight and defend their family, in case of an attack.”

Okay, so it’s the African version of chivalrous behavior? I’ll bite. However, I wasn’t quite convinced. So Kobina invited some strange local woman, who just happened to be waiting at the pool, to come speak to us.  While she agreed with Kojo and Kobina that women do perform these duties out of respect for the family structure, she was also adamant that women, in fact, do the majority of the hard work.  That’s when Kojo and Kobina thanked the sister and told her to go on about her business.  I guess they had to send her away before she let the cat out of the bag any further.

There are plenty of men I met in Ghana, who offer the same opinions as our male Ghanaian friends. However, the gender equality conversation I had with Kojo and Kobina is almost identical to conversations I’ve had with men right here in Philadelphia. In fact, there were many situations that felt similar, including talk about baby mothers, child support and cheating spouses. It just goes to show you that no matter where you go in the world, male/female relationships stay virtually the same.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

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  • Anonymous Coward

    “Dangerous work was the work of men, and it still is. Physically taxing
    work was the work of men, and it still is. Going out into the big bad
    dangerous world to get resources while women stayed safe was the work of
    men, and it still is. Those among our ancestors who were born without
    some pattern of these gender roles in their brains would have ultimately
    been unsuccessful wrt passing on their genes. The woman who decided to
    go hunt mastodon rather than staying home in the cave was much more
    likely to end up dying young.”

    Don’t let your feminist ideals get the best of you ‘cuz you’ll die young.

  • Gold Coast

    These are the ramblings of an uncouth, uncivilized, uncultured brute poorly disguised as an article. You will do well to invest your time in getting an education/enlightenment instead of exposing your ignorance on the world stage. You are the very reason some people use the derogatory word “akata” when describing African Americans. Kwasia baa!!! GTFOHWTS

  • Lola

    You know what, you’re not even worth it.

  • chanela

    homophones honey! dye/die

  • Gye Nyame

    I don’t know what Ghana she is talking about, but my visit there was amazing. Not only was the scenery breathtaking, but the history and culture was so rich…I finally felt “at home”. The order and respect that was shown to elders, is something we need to re-adopt. Men were present with their children, and the men in the streets constantly kept order among the younger men. Some women on my trip started that “women are oppressed” foolishness, and really why are we forcing women in other countries to “be more like us” . Is it so they could have an above 50% divorce rate, how about 7 out of 10 children born out of wedlock, or could it be the “I don’t need a man” mantra black women love to chant. We have enough work we need to perform on ourselves before we attempt to “liberate” anyone else. Let’s remember the feminist movement was for white women, and we need to stop applying their culture to our lives…that’s why we witnessing the total decay of black culture.

  • bits

    this is exactly why I don’t mess with african men or west indian men. culturally they are just different and twisted from American culture.

    • Gye Nyame

      Do you mind qualifying your statement, b/c I need to be schooled on how one appears to be “twisted” from American culture?

    • lol

      no worries sweetheart, deal with African -American men who you the women claim
      are jobless,
      lack ambition,
      are not marriage -oriented,
      hate their own black women,
      have multiple babies oow,
      drug-dealers and thugs who shoot it up everyday and kill each other,
      notoriously unfaithful,
      yes, other men are twisted…

  • Don’tProlongAdolescence

    Madame Noir, is this website intended for tweens? If so, continue posting articles by “writers” such as Ms. Ball. If not, please respect your readers and post content suitable/relevant for mature, educated, and sensible women of color.

  • “However, the gender equality conversation I had with Kojo and Kobina is almost identical to conversations I had with men right here in Philadelphia. In fact, there were many situations that felt similar including talk about baby moms, child support and cheating spouses. It just goes to show you that no matter where you go in the world, male/female relationships stay virtually the same.”

    That’s a pretty broad statement to make after having visited this one country outside of the U.S. I would need to see more comparisons to fully accept that statement. Maybe I’m naive. IDK.

    But I notice most pieces I see on Africa deal with gender inequalities or poverty. Even though this may be a constant in African life (and I know Africa is not a monolith) I, as an African American, would love to see other aspects of this continent, whatever the country.

    I can only assume that Africans are as aggravated by this narrow representation, as we are about our own narrow representation mostly based on rap videos and crime.

    • “Even though this may be a constant in African life” meaning it may be apart of their reality.

  • Sheena

    Maybe all the Ghanaian women can move to America and be praised for writing articles with poor grammar, little intellectual thought, numerous syntax errors all the while they lay under their air conditioners in cubicles surrounded by people who could care less if they existed and sleep with random men while reading articles about how unnattracted these random men are to them anyway! Whooooaa talk about gender equality! woo hoo!

  • GeekMommaRants

    WOW! This article can best be described as sub-standard, grammar, spelling and knowledge. Please take this ROUGH draft and turn it into a finished article. Thanks.

  • Esi

    What a stupid piece! My husband and I are both Ghanaians born and raised in our beautiful country and he wont dare think of cheating on me not because he’s any different from the typical man here in Ghana or anywhere else in the world but because of how he was raised to respect the marriage institution. Your two guides or whatever you call them can’t represent the average Ghanaian man who’s highly religious, humble, hardworking and make sure his family is comfortable no matter what he does for a living or his educational background. Most men cheat and this isn’t different in Ghana but for you to make it sound as if it’s normal is very insulting. And instead of looking at the beautiful side of brothers freely hugging, holding hands etc because homosexuality is not even recognised in Ghana which make interactions between men as innocent as it was intended to be, you chose to see it as appalling. How? On behalf of my people we thank you for your visit and pray that we made you cringe so much you won’t dream of coming back to our country ever again. Keep your invetsment to yourself. Total crap!

    • Gold Coast

      Obaa, as our people would say “don’t mind them”. This “writer” is the reason so many Africans feel justified in labeling African Americans as “akata”. The ignorance spewing out of this charring chick is unbelievable. She should go sit down somewhere with that nonsense.

      • Really?

        So let me get this straight. This one African American women is culturally ignorant and perpetuates some stereotypes and you turn around and do the same thing and deem allll African Americans as some derogatory African term?

        How is that helping the situation? Hypocrite.

  • IgnoranceIsNOTBliss

    I do not know what is more offensive, the inarticulate article or the author’s ignorance and arrogance. I sometimes am embarrassed to admit I am an American when I travel because of the exact exploits chronicled in this article. First, how arrogant of you to think you can go to another country and try to judge an entire group of people/an entire culture! Your ethnocentrism, arrogance, sense of entitlement, lack of knowledge, lack of humility and willingness to listen, and objective to sleep with local men is what perpetuates the “ignorant and easy American woman” stereotype. Second, how long were you in the country? Did you stay anywhere except in hotels? Did you try learning the language? Did you attempt to live outside of your comfort zone? Did you consider letting go of your preconceived notions instead of carrying your self-fulfilling prophecies overseas? All your article did was to continue to vicious cycle of cultural hegemony and offer a superficial and disengaged “analysis” of one of the most historically and culturally-rich regions in the world. Sure, gender disparities are a global issue; Ghana is no different. However, you cannot be an expert of a place you have visited once or for a short amount of time. Last point, screwing men in a different country is NOT social science nor is it equivalent to a geography/history lesson. Call a spade a spade and get some self-esteem!

  • xxdiscoxxheaven

    Grammar! But interesting article

  • Memo

    And thats why when european men come to these poor 3rd world inhuman countries the women get taken off willingly like asian women..

    • bits

      sorry but nobody is checking for african women…ijs…

      • lorna

        wow said as a typical ignorant American what was your point exactly? Still this typical superiority complex black Americans have towards Africans like they’re any better. Sad

      • john

        Black women are beautiful!

        • bits

          yes they are beautiful but no other race of men is trying to go to africa to “rescue” african women like they do in other countries. you’re fooling yourself if you think so. there is still a stigma in the minds of other races of men that surrounds dating/marrying black women and its not because they aren’t beautiful its because of the centuries of stereotypes and degrading of black women by their own men that has tainted the image of black women.

          • John

            I didn’t know African Women needed to be “rescued”. Their culture is intact.

            Black women are soooo beautiful!

            • bits

              please refer to Memo’s original comment which i replied to. Anytime someone is taken from a “poor third world” atmosphere that is a rescue. And “intact” is a pretty strong word to describe African culture especially given the aftermath of colonization.

              • John

                How noble of you to think that Africans need to be rescued from their culture.

          • lol

            um actually African women have no problem getting married wherever they are, African-American women however, different story. get your facts straight.

            • bits

              ha! in your dreams!!! lol!!!!

              • lol

                …but African women aren’t the ones on tv complaining about their own men passing them for another race of women, they aren’t the ones on the internet complaining that nobody wants them…

                • bits

                  okay and now that you have proven that you are an african idiot who believes all of the hype that you see and hear please take your fufu eating, ashy ankle having behind on the corner in Harlem and beg african-american women to braid their hair.

  • Ms_Sunshine9898

    Hmmm, that’s something to think about. Very entertaining article!