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16 July 2007

Prof. Yakin Ertürk, Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, issued the following statement on 14 July 2007,:

“From 7 to 14 July 2007, I carried out an official visit to Ghana, at the invitation of the Government. During the course of my visit, which included the Greater Accra Region, Volta Region and Northern Region, I met with Members of Parliament, the Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs, the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Health, The Minister for Chieftaincy and Culture, the Chief Justice and other senior Government officials at the national and local level. I also spoke with civil society organisations, traditional authorities, individual victims of violence and women detainees at the Nsawam Prison.

“I would like to share my preliminary observations with respect to some priority areas relating to my specific mandate, where much needs to be done by the Government, in cooperation with civil society and the donor community. In doing so, I am fully aware of resource constraints and the urgency of other development challenges linked to high levels of poverty persisting in Ghana.

“Large parts of Ghanaian society still regard the role of women as subordinate to men. Some men even seem to consider that they “own” their wife because they paid dowry. Violence against women and girls perpetrated by husbands, other family members or strangers is widespread and often considered to be a normal part of a woman’s life.

“I would like to congratulate the Ghanaian Parliament for having confronted this grave problem by passing the Domestic Violence Act. This is a first important step in a long journey to eliminate domestic violence in Ghana. The Government now has to swiftly develop and adopt a comprehensive National Domestic Violence Action Plan, which focuses on the two distinct forms of domestic violence that make up the vast majority of all cases: violence against women and violence against children. Parliament has to appropriate sufficient funds in the 2008 budget to implement the Domestic Violence Law and a corresponding action plan. In particular, funds need to be earmarked for the seriously under-resourced Domestic Violence Victim’s Support Unit of the Ghana Police Service.

“These efforts have to be coupled with further legislative reform to ensure equal rights between women and men. One priority area before the Parliament, which is identified in Ghana’s Constitution, is the enactment of a law on the property rights of spouses that gives both spouses equal access to property acquired during marriage in situations of divorce or separation.

“Many of my interlocutors have rightfully emphasized that education for girls and boys is essential to overcome gender discrimination in society. Ghana has still a considerable way to go to fulfil Millennium Development Goal 2 and 3, which call for the achievement of universal primary education and gender equality at all levels of education. In this regard, the Government’s School Capitation Grant programme that aims at eliminating formal school fees is most commendable. Enrolment rates seem to have already increased. The school feeding programme that was introduced in some areas is also a promising initiative. However, many families living in extreme poverty are struggling to keep their children in school because of indirect school costs (e.g. for school uniforms).

“Poverty is only one side of the problem. Many girls are also denied access to education, because little value is attached to girls’ education or because the girls are driven into early marriages and/or teenage pregnancy. As a result, there is a particularly high drop out rate of young girls. Government, civil society and traditional authorities have to strengthen their efforts not only to encourage girls’ initial enrolment, but also to closely monitor that girls, who are at risk of dropping out, remain in school.

“In large parts of rural Ghana, the State still lacks the capacity to implement its own laws and policies. There is a duality between state and traditional authorities in the area of conflict resolution. Even serious grave crimes against women such as aggravated assault, rape or sexual abuse are often “settled” without the involvement of the state authorities, resulting in impunity.

“The Ghanaian Constitution recognizes traditional authorities and ties very clear responsibilities to this recognition. The National House of Chiefs is tasked to eliminate traditional customs and practices that are outmoded and harmful. The Government, namely the Ministry for Chieftaincy and the Ministry for Women and Children’s Affairs, therefore need to ensure that traditional authorities are fully engaged in enforcing the existing laws against practices such as domestic violence, female genital mutilation or ritual servitude, among others. Elected officials must publicly condemn the specific forms of violence prevailing within their constituencies and I would strongly encourage religious leaders of all faiths to do the same.

“I have met with many civil society actors who are doing invaluable work to improve the lives of women with little funds made available by the donor community. By way of example, I would like to highlight two initiatives:

“The International Needs Project for Trokosi to help girls that are given by their families into ritual servitude at fetish shrines. In close collaboration and with the consent of the communities concerned, the project has liberated a number of girls and women, while also providing them with skills training and ensuring development benefits for participating communities.

“The Gambaga Outcast Home, established with the strong and long-standing support of the local Gambaga community, to provide refuge for women accused of witchcraft. Dedicated staff work diligently towards the reintegration of these women into their communities. In the so-called Gambaga “witches camp”, I did not see any witches. I saw elderly and destitute women who had been driven out from their own communities through violence and intimidation and were in urgent need of help.

“Finally, I would like to draw attention to some groups of women whose plight is often overlooked. Very young girls from Northern Ghana (the so-called Kayayee) increasingly migrate to the large cities in the South in search of menial jobs so that they can escape extreme poverty, and in some cases also family oppression. Often having to live in the street, these girls are vulnerable to various forms of exploitation and abuse. Violence against women in refugee camps, ejection of HIV positive women from their homes, rape and sexual abuse in the family as well as the situation of young women with children out of wedlock and widows are also major areas of concern.

“The value of civil society initiatives and the Government’s recent legislative reforms for gender equality are indisputable contributions to the betterment of life and to the enhancement of individual and institutional capacities. Therefore, I call on the donor community to prioritize and increase support for civil society and state initiatives aimed at empowering women and ending all forms of violence against them.

“In concluding, I would like to join the Ghanaian people on their celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the independence of Ghana and call on all Ghanaians to join hands towards a new mission to ensure a life free of all forms of violence for women and girls in their homes and communities, which is a key to the enrichment and development of society at large”.