A major recent development of FORWARD’s Gender and Reproductive Health has been the completion of a Comprehensive Baseline Survey on the incidence, causes, effects, and manifestation of selected gender and reproductive health issues, including non-education of the girl child, early/forced marriage, widowhood rites, domestic violence, child fostering, “sister-in-bed” and Kayayoo (girl street porters).
The survey revealed some disconcerting facts about female participation in education. Overall access to education and literacy rates were low for both men and women (42% and 28% respectively) but in one of participant communities 94% of adult women had never had any form of education. Participants attributed the low level of female participation in education to pregnancies/marriage, migration, lack of role models, poverty, modernity and traditional practices.
Other findings showed high incidence rates for domestic violence including insults (40%), refusal of food (18%) beating (15%), forced sex (11%). Attributing reasons included alcoholism, gender role expectations, attitudes and poverty. 52% of women interviewed were victims of child/forced marriage.
An important customary practice is “tazaba” or “yiwienzaba” which translates as (‘sister-in-bed’). Among the Gurusi, Nankani and Kassena peoples, because women cannot inherit property “sister-in-bed” allows a family with no male children to produce some through a female member. A daughter is chosen to produce children with a cousin to maintain the family name and inherit property. The practice raises important questions concerning care and maintenance of the resultant children by single mothers, forced sexual relations and women’s inheritance.
The survey recommends that education and poverty reduction should underpin all intervention strategies. Community ownership and commitment should be fostered by enabling men and women to become partners in promoting change.
Demands from communities and organisations for more workshops and radio discussions (currently being organised by the project partners – Association of Church Development Projects (ACDEP), Maata-N-Tudu (MTA) and Navrongo-Bolgatanga Diocesan Development Office (BDO)) -are just one indication that the project is having a significant positive impact on the lives of the communities it aims to reach. FORWARD has no doubt that this will continue to be the case for the coming years.