10 August 2006

Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee Commends Ghana for Taking Convention Obligations Seriously 

But Members Raise Concerns About Negative Traditional Stereotypes, Harmful Practice

NEW YORK, 9 August (UN Headquarters) -- While commending the Government of Ghana for taking its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women seriously, members of the Committee monitoring its implementation stressed that further efforts were still needed to eliminate negative traditional stereotypes and harmful practices that had a negative effect on the advancement of women in that country.

The 23 members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, acting in their personal capacity, monitor compliance with the 1979 Convention -- often hailed as women's international bill of rights -- which Ghana ratified in 1986.  Today, Ghana was one of the two countries, whose reports were examined, taken up by the experts in parallel meetings -- a format introduced for the first time this year to accelerate the pace of consideration of country reports.

"We are proud of our achievements", Ghana's Minister for Women and Children's Affairs, Alima Mahama, told the Committee as she outlined the country's numerous measures to redress social, economic and educational imbalance in society, which included introduction of grants to increase girls' enrolment in schools and support for women's economic activities, in particular through a Government and donor-funded Women's Development Fund.

Ghana had also introduced affirmative action for the advancement of women, she said.  Measures to improve women's participation included a commitment to ensure 30 per cent women's representation in decision-making and executive positions at all levels of Government.  A 50 per cent quota had been introduced in the district assemblies.  Despite those efforts, however, women's representation in parliament, at district level and in public life was still low, compared to male participation.

Among other remaining difficulties, the report presented today lists financial constraints, inadequate infrastructure and deep-seated stereotypes and negative customs.  Other challenges include the absence of a comprehensive social security protection schemes for women in the informal sector and, the issue of access to and control of land in some ethnic communities.

While lauding the Government's determination to address those problems, members of the Committee noted that women were perceived to be inferior to men by many ethnic groups in Ghana and that traditional beliefs, practices and sayings perpetuated existing gender imbalances.  Several experts expressed concern about women's marriage and property rights and wide-spread practice of polygamy, and urged the Government to take resolute action to discourage discriminatory customs.

In that connection, members of Ghana's delegation said that the country had moved a long way in combating negative sexual stereotypes and traditional practices.  The Government was not hiding them, and it was in no way condoning them.  The Criminal Code of 1998 had been amended to criminalize harmful widowhood rites and ritual servitude.  Other important acts of legislation included the Human Trafficking Act, Disability Act and the Domestic Violence Bill, which was expected to be passed by the parliament this year.  A strengthened law on female genital mutilation was presently before the parliament and was expected to be enacted by the year's end, as well.

Responding to the experts' concern regarding the plight of Ghana's women branded as "witches" -- mostly older women and widows who are rejected by their communities and live in so called "withes'camps", members of the delegation said three such camps remained, but, the nature of those camps had changed in recent years.  The camps were now communities within communities, rather than locales for banishment.  Measures were being taken to protect the residents of those communities, who would be at greater risk if they lived outside the camps.  The communities also allowed for delivery of special services for those outside the mainstream in that regard, such as providing the children of those living with supposed witches with a basic education they would not otherwise receive.

In essence, the country representatives said, the camps dissolved as education spread.  The approach on all those persistent harmful practices was to sensitize the community first, and, then develop the legislation to control the practice, rather than drive the practice underground.

The Committee will continue its work in Chamber B by taking up China's reports at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 10 August.


The Committee had before it Ghana's combined third, fourth and fifth report, which covers the period from 1993 to 2003 (document CEDAW/C/GHA/3-5).  The country's initial and second reports were submitted in 1991 and 1992, respectively.

According to the document, Ghana is enjoying significant political stability within the subregion.  It has seen three consecutive terms of constitutional rule and has successfully gone through peaceful national elections in 2004.  The Government reports that greater awareness has been created for dealing with gender issues.  Efforts are being made to accelerate the pace of women's participation in national development.  Progress has been made in women's health, education and economic empowerment, but, challenges remain in the areas of politics, administration and industrial development.  The percentage of illiterate women vis-à-vis men remains high.

The country's gender advancement machinery includes the Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs, established in 2001, with a Minister of Cabinet at its head.  Policies and legislation have been put in place to address discrimination against women.  Progress has been achieved through greater resource allocation by the Government, use of multilateral and donor agencies for training, technology transfer, credit support, health programmes and organisational capacity-building.  Indirectly, the introduction of social amenities has brought special benefits to women, in particular through the provision of good drinking water and access to clinics and health centres.  Schools have also been brought close to the communities.

Among the remaining obstacles, the report lists financial constraints, inadequate infrastructure, deep-seated stereotypes and negative customs, and non-availability of statistical data disaggregated by sex.  Other challenges include the absence of a comprehensive social security protection schemes for women in the informal sector; the issue of access to and control of land in some ethnic communities; and low representation of women in decision-making position at district, regional and national levels.  Women's participation in the power structure still stands at about 10 per cent in parliament.

Among ethnic groups in Ghana, women are perceived to be inferior to men.  Traditional beliefs, practices and sayings perpetuate gender imbalances.  A typical example is the "Trokosi", a cultural practice of ritual slavery, under which young girls (preferably virgins) are given to shrines in expatiation of alleged crimes or sins committed against a deity by a member of the girl's family.

The custom has been studied by the Law Reform Commission as part of its programme of reviewing and consolidating the statutes.  Based on its recommendations, the Criminal Code was amended to deal with this and other such cultural practices.  Over the past 10 years, release of some of the girls under bondage has been negotiated with various shrines.

Regarding poverty, the Government reports that it has adopted strategies to deal with some of the effects of poverty, in particular on women.  These include exemptions from paying hospital fees for pregnant, poor and aged women; the Programme of Action to Mitigate the Social Costs of Adjustment; and the project on Enhancing Opportunities for Women in Development.  Since 1995, various microcredit/financial schemes have been introduced by associations in the informal sector, rural and commercial banks and non-governmental organisations.  Since 2002, the Women's Development Fund (WDF) has been operating under the aegis of the Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs.

One of the "thorny issues" -- polygamy -- is made more complex by the multi-religious, multi-ethnic nature of the country, as well as the fact that polygamy is endorsed by Islam and traditional religions.  In this connection, the report states that "it will be inconceivable to ban a cross section of the society from practising polygamy and allow others to practice it because of their religion".

According to the document, polygamy has serious implications when it comes to distribution of property upon the death of a man with multiple wives.  The Intestate Succession Law is silent on multiple wives.  The issue, then, is where there is one matrimonial home in the name of the deceased husband, do all his wives have a share in the one house, or is it the wife living with him in that house who is entitled to it?  Are the children of other wives or from previous relationships all entitled to a share of the matrimonial home?  Since there are no guidelines, judges have to use their discretion and leave some people disinherited.  As a result, women are often rendered impoverished.  The Government is presently putting together proposals for the reform of relevant laws.

A non-discriminatory education benefits both boys and girls, the report states.  The removal of stereotypical portrayals of boys and girls in the design of textbooks and the conceptualization of education will go a long way towards modifying social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women.  Also, a draft domestic violence bill proposed by the Government is being discussed by the public to facilitate its passage into law.  The creation of women's and juvenile units in police stations throughout the country is helping to break the silence associated with domestic violence.  The police, prison officials and judiciary are being sensitized and trained on the issues of violence.

Introduction of Reports

ALIMA MAHAMA, Ghana's Minister for Women and Children's Affairs, introduced her country's report.  Other members of the delegation included Nana Effah-Apenteng, Permanent Representative of Ghana to the United Nations; Marian Tackie, Director of the Ministry's International Desk; Francesca Pobee-Hayford, Agricultural National Director within the Ministry's Department of Women; Estelle Appiah, Director of the Drafting Section of the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney-General's Department; Gloria J-Quansah Asare of the Ghana Health Service within the Ministry of Health; and Divina Seanedzu of the Ghana Mission.

Further, Rosalind Quartey, Statistician in the Ghana Statistical Service; Beatrice Vib-Sanziri, National Coordinator within the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit; and Juliana Kyatyiwa Dennis, Director of the Department of Women in Agriculture within the Ministry of Food and Agriculture.

Apologizing for the delay in the submission of the report, Ms. MAHAMA said that it had been caused by circumstances beyond the Government's control.  Preparation and collaboration of data for the report could be cumbersome and expensive, which sometimes delayed the completion of work within the required time.

Ghana had ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women in February 1986, she said.  Since then, the Government and the people of Ghana had demonstrated their commitment to the tenets of the Convention by ensuring that the Constitution, new laws and policies were consistent with that instrument.  Fundamentally, the Constitution of Ghana committed the country to the elimination of gender discrimination and provided the basis for gender mainstreaming and equality.  The Government had continued to vigorously pursue institutional, administrative and legal reforms and implement various policies to address issues of gender equality and women's empowerment.

Ghana's Poverty Reduction Strategy had been reviewed, she said.  Vulnerability and exclusion were among the key themes, and gender perspectives had been incorporated into all the themes of the reviewed document.  Ghana had reached the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Debt Initiative completion point, and savings from that programme had been directed at education, training, health, potable water, sanitation and other services, as well as the establishment of the Women Development Fund.

Regarding the Ministry of Women Children's Affairs, she said that its mandate related to the initiation and formulation of policies, and promotion of gender mainstreaming across all sectors.  The designation of the Ministry as a Central Management Agency with Cabinet status provided it with the role and responsibility to monitor policy implementation and programmes, coordinate cross-sector issues and evaluate the impact of sector policies on women and children.  The Ministry brought together the National Council on Women and Development and the Ghana National Commission on Children.  The latter two entities now operated as decentralized departments of women and children under the Ministry.

The Ministry was undertaking its tasks through advocacy, broad-based consultations and partnerships, collaboration with other Government entities and support to women's economic and political development.  Among its achievements, Ms. Mahama listed new laws that enhanced women's human rights; work at the community level; organization of support for orphans and vulnerable children; mainstreaming of HIV/AIDS issues; dissemination of information on new legislation acts; and formulation of the national gender policy.  Achievements within other ministries included the establishment of the Girl Child Education Directorate and Public Health Units.  There were Gender Desk Officers in all 138 District Assemblies.

A Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit had been set up in Ghana's Police Service, she said.  The Criminal Code of 1998 had been amended to criminalize harmful widowhood rites and ritual servitude.  Other important acts of legislation included the Human Trafficking Act, Disability Act and the Domestic Violence Bill, which was expected to be passed by the parliament this year.  The Labour Law had been reviewed, providing for equal opportunity for training and working in the mining industry.  It also, for the first time, criminalized harassment at the workplace.

The measures in the health sector included free antenatal and delivery services throughout the country.  The Accelerated Child Survival Development programme had reduced infant child mortality by 50 per cent in the upper east region and there had also been a serious reduction of maternal mortality.  The national health insurance scheme covered children up to 18 years of age, once their parents had registered.  Public awareness programmes on the abortion law and on the prevention of unwanted pregnancy through family planning, as well as dangers of unsafe abortion had been intensified.

Regarding education, she said that due to the introduction of targeted grants, there had been an 18.3 per cent increase in school enrolment for girls and a 15 per cent increase for boys for 2005/2006.  The introduction of a two-year kindergarten as part of the basic education system had been a welcome relief for women.

Measures to improve women's participation in public life included a commitment to ensure 30 per cent women's representation in decision-making and executive positions at all levels of Government, she continued.  A 50 per cent quota had been introduced in the District Assemblies.  Numerous policies were being introduced to redress social, economic and educational imbalance in Ghana's society.  Despite those efforts, however, women's representation in parliament, at district level and in public life was still low compared to male participation.

This year, Ghana had submitted to a thorough peer review of its democratic and political governance and development by Heads of State and Government of the African Union, she said.  The review noted important constraints faced by the country, including problems of achieving gender equity and equality.  The Government had responded to those challenges by preparing a time-bound Programme of Action, which had been costed at $2.85 billion.  The independent African Peer Review Mechanism was to be turned into a permanent body to continue to monitor that Programme.  Ghana had also recently signed the Compact of the Millennium Change Account sponsored by the United States and would have access to some $547 million over 5 years for modernizing its agriculture, transportation and rural development.  Promoting women's effective participation was captured expressly in the Compact, and therefore, enhanced opportunities for the empowerment of women in rural areas.

In conclusion, she reiterated the Government's determination to continue its work towards women's empowerment and gender equality.  "We are proud of our achievements: attaining a gender parity index of 0.97 per cent in basic school enrolment; the girl-child-friendly grant programme; the development of policy initiatives and legislation; dissemination of information to women at all levels; support for women's economic activities, especially at the micro-level; focus on and improvement in health of women and children; collaboration with all stakeholders, including NGOs and so on," she said.

Interactive Dialogue

The first round of questions was clustered around articles 1 through 6, concerning discrimination, policy measures, guarantee of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, special measures, sex roles, stereotyping and prejudice, and prostitution.

PRAMILA PATTEN, an expert from Mauritius, began by asking for clarification about Ghana's constitutional provisions for eliminating discrimination against women, which were inadequate in terms of definition and non-binding applicability.  Further, when would the optional protocol be signed?  What was being done to promote the Convention, and what was being done to train and sensitize judges and others in the legal system to women's rights to equality?  Also, she recommended that Ghana seek technical assistance to improve its data collection capability.  CEES FLINTERMAN, an expert from the Netherlands, also asked about constitutional provisions.  Further, what was being done to outlaw restrictive traditional customs?

Other questions were related to marriage rights and steps being taken to achieve equality for women in marriage; the national machinery for eliminating discrimination; outreach to rural women most affected by harmful practices; the relationship between the Ministry on Women and the Human Rights Commission and other institutions; and finally, reports of witchcraft and the consignment of alleged witches to camps.

With members responding in their areas of expertise, the representative of Ghanaian delegation said the Constitution contained an article on property rights of spouses without making reference to the type of marriage, so that it was possible to legally interpret equality.  Other measures for ensuring equality in all three forms of marriage in Ghana were being considered.  Training and sensitization of judges and other members of the judiciary were ongoing, for example, in a recent address to judges by the Ministry on Trafficking Legislation.  A strengthened law on female genital mutilation was presently before the parliament and was expected to be enacted by year's end.  The Constitution also contained an omnibus article that provided for making use of all legal instruments to protect human rights.

Regarding the national machinery for advancing women's rights, the delegation said there were regional agenda advisory committees that would eventually be centralized to fill out the national machinery.  That was expected to happen within the next year if funding was made available.  In the meantime, gender advisory officers were available to give technical support at the regional level.  Monthly forums of community-based women's groups were held for dialogue, advisory services, feedback and dissemination of information.

Those forums were also instrumental in eradicating harmful traditional practices, the delegation said.  Other measures toward that end included a domestic violence bill that was being formulated, the promotion of women's participation in local government, monthly meetings between relevant sectors, including police, educators and those involved in women's economic empowerment.  Outreach to urban women was centred in the Women in Agriculture Department of the Food and Agriculture Ministry, represented by an officer in each of the 10 regions and with offices in all districts to disseminate information and provide advisory services on rights.

On the question of persisting witchcraft in Ghana, the delegation said three camps remained for the shipment of alleged witches, but, the nature of those camps had changed in recent years.  The camps were now communities within communities rather than locales for banishment, including the single establishment that could be considered a "camp" in the true sense.  The Human Rights Commission and members of the system for administration of justice worked together to protect the residents of the communities because residents would be at greater risk if they lived outside the community in society at large.  The communities also allowed for delivery of special services for those outside the mainstream in that regard, such as providing the children with a basic education they would not otherwise receive.

In essence, the delegation said, the camps dissolved as education spread.  The approach on all those persistent, harmful practices was to sensitize the community first, and then, develop the legislation to control the practice rather than drive the practice underground.

Finally, the delegation said a book was being prepared on gender in Ghanaian society that contained statistical data and a national identification programme was being implemented.  Efforts were under way with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the African Development Bank to obtain technical assistance for data collection.

While commending the Government for its affirmative action to improve the situation of women, an expert encouraged it to take a fresh look at its special temporary measures and urged the delegation to study the Committee's general recommendation in that regard, stressing that not all measures favourable to women -- such as introduction of focal points on women -- could be defined as such.

NAELA GABR, an expert from Egypt, and HEISOO SHIN, an expert from the Republic of Korea, agreed that strong action was needed to eliminate negative sexual stereotypes and harmful traditional practices that could have a negative effect on the advancement of women.  Ms. GABR said she had an impression that the Government was taking "a soft approach" to the problem, working with traditional leaders and the media, for example.  However, such phenomena as the existence of witch camps, needed to be seriously addressed.  According to the figures presented by the Government, the number of witch camps had been reduced to about 115, but the information presented by non-governmental organizations indicated that there were about 1,000.  Thus, accurate statistics and more precise information on the matter were needed.  The Government should opt for more resolute measures in that regard.

Several experts asked about the Government's efforts to address polygamy and requested further details on the draft Equality Law, which was awaiting final approval in the country.  Questions were also posed about the Domestic Violence Bill, which had been presented to the parliament and was expected to be passed by the end of this year, as well as the functioning of the Domestic Violence Units.  An expert wanted to know if there were any Government-sponsored shelters for victims of violence.  Ms. PATTEN and Mr. FLINTERMAN also emphasized the need to incorporate the provisions of the Convention into the training of the judiciary personnel in Ghana.

Responding to those questions, the Minister said that Ghana's Constitution was the legal framework for dealing with traditional practices, prohibiting any practices that were degrading to a human being.  Also, specific legislation, including the laws on ritual enslavement and female genital mutilation, had been promulgated in the country.  Also needed were educational programmes, which should go hand in hand with the legal measures.

Another member of the delegation added that the country had gone a long way in combating negative sexual stereotypes and traditional practices.  While they still existed, the Government was making progress.  The Government was not hiding them, and it was in no way condoning them.  The report mentioned the stereotypes and traditional practices, because it wanted the Committee to appreciate the difficulties the country faced.  However, it was not the stereotypes that presented the greatest challenge -- it was the lack of resources.  Education was an effective tool, and through its grant programme, the country had achieved a 50 per cent increase in girls' enrolment in the region with the lowest statistics in a single year.

On the medical form that victims of abuse needed to fill out under existing legislation, another country representative said that it had been introduced to provide medical evidence of violence.  Following free treatment, the victim had to submit such a form, which, she felt, the system could not do without.  The issues of gender and violence had been introduced in police training in Ghana and there were now 43 domestic violence and victim support units around the country.  Following ongoing restructuring and further training, there would be more such units in the regions.  Regarding shelters, another country representative said that while plans were being made to create more shelters, it was also necessary to sensitize the community to the needs of the victims.  At present, women coming out of such shelters were often viewed negatively by the community.

The Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice was a constitutional body monitoring the implementation of human rights standards, a member of the delegation said.  It had the status of a high court and, was an important and effective body dealing with women's complaints of sexual discrimination.  Its staff had been trained on the provisions of the Convention.  Law students taking human rights also received training on women's issues as part of their curriculum.

Regarding the definition of discrimination against women, a speaker said even if Ghana's definition did not conform to the definition in the Convention, there was an omnibus clause in the Constitution, which dealt with human rights in general.  However, several amendments to the Constitution were now being considered, as well as revisions to the country's inheritance law.

A member of the delegation said that at present, the Government did not have any proposals regarding legislation on polygamy.  Many women, while aware of their rights, felt that they must be married, and they consciously made a choice to enter into a polygamous marriage.  The issue of polygamy had been addressed during the national consultation on the Domestic Violence Bill, another country representative said.  Both men and women had shared their experiences in the polygamous marriage, and the debate on the matter would continue.

Women's Participation in Society

Experts asked for further information on measures to increase women's participation in the political arena.  Were programmes in effect for the sensitization of men, particularly of men in the Ghanaian political parties that were traditionally inhospitable to women?  What kinds of affirmative action measures could be taken for increasing the presence of women in the political and international arenas?

The delegation said the Ministry was linking with local non-governmental organizations and civil society to get more women into district elections.  A number of women in Ghana were now educated and prepared enough to run for political office and win, but, the drawback to broader involvement of women included the intimidating fear of losing an election and of being a public figure.  That was in addition to the high cost of running for office.

For that reason, the delegations said, a Fund for Women in Local Governance had been launched in March.  Two thousand women had contributed to the Fund and, matching funds had been secured from the private sector and development partners.  The Fund was used for building women's capacity to hold office and also to support candidates with the money to run campaigns.  A training manual had been developed and was used throughout the country, and the training was available to any woman who had filed as a candidate.  Training covered such elements as the function of the district assembly, basic campaigning and public speaking.  An intensified effort was under way to recruit the media into efforts to encourage women in politics.

Education, Rural Women, Employment, Health

Several experts commended the country's achievements in the fields of education, employment and health, asking for further clarifications in that regard.

One of the questions related to the fact that free primary education for all had been proclaimed in the Millennium Development Goals.  What was the country's time frame for the achievement of that objective?  Also, the report acknowledged that the gender gap widened at each level of education, and, questions were asked about the percentages of boys and girls in high school and at college level, as well, as on school attendance in rural areas.  Were any special measures planned to stimulate access to school education in rural areas?

Ms. PATTEN said that despite the legal framework, not all classes of women benefited from new labour laws.  The figures revealed that the majority of women in Ghana were not protected adequately by the new Labour Code.  She wanted to know what sanctions were in place for non-compliance with the law and asked about the number of complaints, in particular in connection with sexual harassment cases.  The country also needed to address the issue of maternity leave.  While laudable laws had been introduced to improve the country's social security system, they did not adequately cover the informal sector.  What was being done to rectify that situation?

The experts also addressed the issues of access to health services, adolescent pregnancies, sexual education and abortions, as well as mortality and morbidity among women.  Several speakers expressed concern about a high level of maternal mortality, noting that according to the report, some 30 per cent of maternal deaths were due to abortions.  It was also noted that family planning use in Ghana was low, and the use of modern contraceptives among married women amounted to 19 per cent.  An expert asked how the Government was empowering women to make decisions, as far as their health was concerned.  Did the Government have targets for increasing the rates of medically-assisted births?  Questions were also asked about measures to raise awareness of the dangers of unsafe abortions and figures related to the women's life expectancy at birth.

An expert said that the Government had expressed its political will to adopt programmes to reduce maternal mortality, but, its level still remained too high.  Despite the Government's efforts, many women in Ghana, particularly in rural areas, remained illiterate, did not have access to health services.  Many turned to traditional healers, as a result.  Another topic that needed to be addressed was life expectancy at birth.

HEISOO SHIN, an expert from the Republic of Korea, said that both men and women should be responsible for reproductive health and family planning.  Were there any education campaigns targeting men and boys, in that regard?  In addition to the stigma and misconception about using contraceptives and family planning, she also wanted to know if contraceptives were available at lower cost for both men and women.  It was very important to prevent unwanted pregnancies, so unsafe abortions could be avoided.  Were unlicensed personnel who performed those abortions prosecuted?

The delegation said a million children in Ghana were still not being educated in schools, but, the country was still on target for reaching its goal by 2015.  The same applied to gender parity.  Education was one area where parallel data on boys and girls was available, and, the data would be supplied to the Committee.

Further, they said the Gender and Health policy in Ghana was distinct from Reproductive Health policy.  Improvements were made through the introduction of a community-based health delivery service with a core of services for maternal and childcare to which other health services were later attached.  Maternal care services had been extended, and a National Health Insurance Scheme was being implemented at the district level.  The Scheme was without either male or female bias and payment for services was based on a sliding scale.  The unemployed were covered under an Indigent Fund.  Other improvements included the recruitment of skilled attendants to replace the unskilled in delivery of birth and abortion related services in urban areas and to replace the loss of skilled workers in "brain drain" areas and situations.

They said measures were being taken to make abortions safer, and a comprehensive abortion strategy was being developed in cooperation with all relevant sectors including law enforcement and education.  Also, condoms were widely available through all channels including Government and commercial outlets at easily accessible locations such as gas stations.  In fact, however, the area of reproductive health was one area where men were disadvantaged since services were accessed mostly by women.

Other improvements related to reproductive and gender-associated health included changes in the labour law in favour of women with regard to childbirth, the delegation said.  An Adolescent and Youth Health Centre had been established to deliver gender education at the school curriculum level.  A training programme for family life preparation had also been developed along with programmes aimed at advocacy, the media audience or young people.  Social security and national health insurance mechanisms were being expanded to cover an ever-broader range of related issues.  Standards with regard to health-related practices were enforced, and violators were prosecuted.

Noting that at least 35 per cent of rural women were heads of household and represented a large percentage of the rural poor, an expert asked several questions regarding the situation of rural women, in particular their access to land and cases of discrimination in land distribution.  She also wanted to know about the results of the programmes initiated by the Government to meet rural women's needs.  What efforts were being made to reach out to the most vulnerable groups of women, including those belonging to ethnic minorities?

Members of the delegation said that rural women's needs were being addressed at several levels in Ghana.  As their needs lay were not at all related to agriculture.  For that reason, the Government was also making efforts to meet their nutrition, financial, health and other concerns.  Women were increasingly participating in traditionally "men's" kind of projects, such as irrigation work, and taking decision-making positions, at local level.  One of the strategies used in assessing land for women was through district assemblies and traditional leaders.  Also, a land administration project was now being implemented, with support from the World Bank.  The Government was determined to incorporate a gender perspective into that project.

Matters Related to Marriage and Family

As the Committee turned to the articles of the Convention dealing with the issues of marriage and family life, Ms. GABR echoed Ms. MANALO's concerns regarding the fact that Ghana had three different forms of marriage, based on statutory, religious and customary laws, operating side by side.  She understood the sensitivity of the issue of various types of marriage, but, she believed it would be useful for Ghana to study other African countries' experience in that regard.

She also asked several questions regarding the age of marriage in Ghana and, the rights of women in cases of divorce.  Aware of the draft property rights of spouse's bill, she wanted to know about the latest developments in that regard.

Ms. MANALO suggested that a stronger approach should be taken by the Government to improving women's access to justice in Ghana.  A legal and institutional framework was needed.  She also referred to the information provided in the report, according to which, traditionally, failure of a couple to have children was automatically blamed on the wife and was often grounds for separation or divorce.  Children were deemed to belong to the father's extended family and upon dissolution of the marriage, the husband usually acquired custody of non-infant children, if he wanted them.

It seemed that under the provisions of customary law, a woman enjoyed the status of an ordinary human being, but, the man enjoyed the status of a divine being, she said.  All the laws discriminatory to women must be repealed.  "You should insist on your rights as human beings, and the home is your kingdom.  You are the queens of your home and men should follow you," she said to the women of Ghana.

Responding to those concerns, a member of the delegation said that, anyone who had visited Ghana would come out with an impression that the country's women were very active, vibrant and in control.  The Government saw education as one of the key areas to address some of the problems that still existed.  She also said that the minimum age of marriage in the country had been set at 18 years, regardless of the type of marriage.

Another speaker referred to page 25 of the country's supplementary report (document CEDAW/G/GHA/Quartet5/Add.1), saying that the country's Constitution provided that "parliament shall […] enact legislation regulating the property rights of spouses", and the State was in the process of enacting uniform legislation on spousal property distributions.

According to the same report, the three forms of marriages operating side by side were legal under the law, and the constitution guaranteed freedom of choice.  The Law stipulated that if one entered into a marriage under the ordinance, then one could not contract another marriage under customary law and vice versa.  The State was encouraging monogamous forms of marriage, while protecting the rights of women who found themselves in polygamous marriages.  The Intestate Succession Law and the Matrimonial Causes Act dealing with property rights of spouses were gender-neutral.  The two laws applied to all the forms of marriage without any distinction.  Several amendments to those laws were now being considered to make them more gender sensitive and responsive to the needs of women.

In conclusion, Acting Chairperson, MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, an expert from Algeria, said that a lot of ground had been covered by the country.  While the situation was not perfect, substantial progress had been achieved in many areas, and she hoped that the Government would take further steps towards gender equality.  Women of the world should march forward hand in hand, and the women of Ghana should act as an example to others.

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