From Frank’s Taxi Backseat: Lessons on Ghana — Part 2

Women farmers in Ghana. (Photo: US Embassy, Ghana)

Read Part 1 of this series.

“So, sir, married or thinking of it?” Frank asked me.

He seemed shocked by my negative response. But after I had proferred a few reasons why, he became more understanding. However, I did not expect my responses to prompt the conversation to take the turn that it did:

“… I see. I, too, was raised by a single mother and I think that I understand what you are saying. The situation in Ghana is not favorable to women at all, sir. My mother raised my younger sister and me after my father left the family. Just like that – he woke up one day and just left! Simple. I woke one morning to find my mother crying; I was 8 years old. She told me that my father had left. For a child, like I was, it just sounded… normal. I do not think that I understood the true meaning of what she had said or of why she was crying because of it. I just wished for her to stop crying – that’s all. The reality of it all became clearer, as I grew older.”

“Have you seen him since?” I asked.

“No. Never since then. It was very tough, sir. I witnessed the hard times that my mother went through, as a single mother of two. At times, it was almost depressing. We lived in a rural community, where most people survived by farming on their lands and rearing their cattle. In our culture, land possession is handed over from fathers to sons. My mother had to struggle constantly to maintain possession of the land that was left by her father after he died. She fought mainly against her uncles, my late grandfather’s brothers, and her male cousins, my uncles. They all wanted possession of the land and tradition was on their side, even though the courts disapproved. It was very nasty. In the end, tired of all the hassles and to get some peace of mind, my mother gave away a significant part of her land. She gave up. Fighting over the land was taking so much out of her. She simply decided to give them enough of the land, so that they will leave us alone. What remained was just enough for her to farm for enough food for us to eat. That was the year when I decided to move to Accra. I had to find a way so that the family could survive.”

Frank had my undivided attention. He had broached a topic that was made prominent in global development circles by Peruvian economist, Hernando De Soto: the fundamental importance of land ownership on the economic performance of individuals. Also, he was describing a timeline in his life that I had witnessed so often in the lives of numerous others in my native Cameroon.

“After two years in Accra, I had saved up enough money to bring my sister over. I sponsored her studies at a vocational school, from which she graduated with a certificate in secretarial work. She began working as an assistant to a prominent Accra business man…”

He paused rather lengthily.

“He was married, and yet took a liking to my sister. He never stopped making advances to her, even as she repeatedly declined. Eventually, he became more assertive… she got involved. What else could she do? She needed the job and the money. I only found out about everything after she got pregnant and informed me about it. My nephew is now 2 years old.”

“Did she inform the business man, her boss, about the pregnancy and their son?” I asked.

“No, sir. If he realizes that the child is his, she’ll lose her job. He’ll find need to get rid of her, for the sake of his family, his reputation, and also because he knows that he can get away with doing so. When the pregnancy became obvious, she told him that the pregnancy was from her boyfriend, even though she never had one during that time. He lost all romantic interests in her ever since. She is no longer the person that I once knew. She goes about her daily business, but that experience has made her a very different person. It saddens me alot. Our women have a very hard time in this society, sir. Maybe, I am just too sensitive about it all because I was raised by women? Anyway, yes, marriage is not a joking matter. It is a very serious decision.”

I had just heard instances of social marginilization of women that bore significant economic consequences. Both in a rural and urban setting. In the rural setting, Frank’s mother’s legal claim to inherited land was called into question by traditional norms and this bore negatively on her economic performance. In the urban setting, Frank’s sisters faced limited employment opportunities and felt compelled to make certain compromises that have irrevocably altered the course of her life. Neither one of these women had the full benefit of a major aspect of a free-market economy: self-determination.

This benefit, or the lack thereof, is lacking among women in general on a global scale. The only difference comes in the degrees of variation of its absence in the lives of women in different regions of the world.