Changing the culture

Changing the culture


describes efforts to empower women in environmental decision-making through cultural change

two people talking

Women in Ghana, as in other parts of Africa, are the primary resource managers, especially in rural areas. Their daily economic and nurturing activities as subsistence farmers are responsible for some 70 per cent of national food crop output, quite apart from their roles as household managers and educators. But some cultural practices have tended to place them at a disadvantage.

While there are no laws in Ghana discriminating against women's involvement in socio-economic development, there are numerous areas where discriminatory practices exist as a consequence of the conditions of women's work, cultural beliefs and attitudes, value systems and behavioural norms, and folklore and folksongs. Such practices give men greater leverage in education and training (and therefore higher educational attainment and status), and greater political and decision-making power - thereby perpetuating women's inferior status. Often marginalized in decision-making, women have not been empowered to incorporate sound environmental management practices into their activities. Reversing this trend would require a frontal attack from various sectors of our society.

Special emphasis on women

Attempts by policy makers to address this social inequality have not been successful or sustainable in the past, mainly because women have been treated as recipients of welfare benefits rather than as producers and agents of development. But over the last decade, and especially in the past three years of democratic constitutional rule in Ghana, a major focus of the Government's development programmes has been decentralization and poverty alleviation, with special emphasis on women as central players in the family set-up and in resource management. Political commitment to programmes for decentralization, poverty reduction and the empowerment of women through environmental resource conservation is a high priority and is evident in the actions of the country's political leadership.

A Ministry to coordinate environmental activities was created, for the first time, in 1993, and later enlarged into the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology.

In 1994 the former advisory Environmental Protection Council was transformed into an Agency with regulatory and compliance enforcement powers.

Ghana's environmental policy, fully documented in a National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP) adopted in 1992, is to ensure that socio-economic development is undertaken in a way that avoids creating environmental problems. Current environmental concerns are mainly over land degradation (from poor traditional agricultural practices and mining), deforestation, waste management and the pollution of water, air and soil.

Implementation of the NEAP is based on key considerations including:

- The inter-sectoral nature of many environmental concerns.

- The major programme of decentralization of the public administration to local authorities.

- The importance of community, and especially women's, involvement in decisions about the use of environmental resources.

The Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies, the key players in the current decentralized Government system, are being assisted to integrate environmental considerations into their development planning by following environmental impact assessment procedures for all development projects.

We realized during the early phases of implementing the NEAP in 1994 that poor environmental management was a consequence of weak or non-existent enforcement capability. There is now a cross-sectoral Environmental Compliance Enforcement Network. Made up of personnel from various sectors including the security services, this is expected to facilitate the work of the Environmental Protection Agency in implementing the various environmental regulations through a national strategy for environmental management.

Capacity-building is a critical requirement for achieving success in environmental or resource management. Delivering Agenda 21 at the national level depends to a large extent on our capacity to implement the programmes we design. So the strategy also incorporates capacity-building for such key participants as public officers and members of assemblies, law enforcement agencies, environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs), traditional rulers, media practitioners, entrepreneurs in commerce and industry, and some local consultants. Many organizations and institutions now include the environment in their programmes, not as an afterthought, but from a realization that we are all stakeholders with equal responsibility for environmental management.

Widespread involvement

women in village Programme initiatives specifically geared towards raising the status of women over the past decade have involved both governmental and non-governmental agencies. Working together with the National Council on Women and Development (NCWD), many NGOs (including the 31st December Women's Movement and workplace and religious bodies' women's associations - World Vision International, Adventist Development and Relief Agency, YWCA, and the International Federation of Women Lawyers) have embarked on programmes, especially in such areas as economic empowerment, human rights, and issues of national and international concern.

Economic and other constraints have hampered progress on a 15-year programme of action by the NCWD for the Integration of Women in Development (1986-2000), but intensive consultations have resulted in the drawing up of future strategies for achieving its goals and objectives. Among the major areas of concern identified for priority attention are: power sharing and decision-making (political participation), mechanisms for promoting women's advancement, legal issues, poverty, access to resources, education, health, employment, violence against women, national and international conflict, environment and social perception and cultural practices. Overall goals, set targets and institutional mechanisms for implementation up to the year 2000 have been outlined for each area.

Goals and objectives identified to enhance women's participation and advancement in the specific area of the environment include: the introduction of bye-laws to protect local environments, increased awareness of environmental degradation, increased participation in environmental management, improvement in the monitoring of waste management, increasing the direct access of women to housing construction and improved credit, and improving the environmental conditions of market places.

The Ministries of Environment, Science and Technology and Local Government and Rural Development are key actors in putting these objectives into operation - with the support of the NCWD; the Environmental Protection Agency; Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies; NGOs; and community-based organizations.

The Ghana Education Service, religious bodies, NGOs and the traditional authorities are expected to carry out awareness campaigns to combat harmful practices against women. More research to expose degrading cultural practices is expected to be carried out by NGOs, universities and local assemblies. The Ghana National Commission on Culture is committed to promoting science and technology in Ghana's cultural development and inculcating the culture of scientific planning in the population. We envisage that the regional Centres of National Culture should be involved in the regional and district Resource Management Committees.

Attempts are being made to revive and promote traditional cultural practices which help to protect and preserve the environment - such as the maintenance of sacred groves in forests and traditional conservation sites or burial grounds, which are believed to house gods and ancestral spirits. Folkloric groups are to be encouraged to incorporate sustainable development themes into their works so as to make it easy for people to imbibe the concept and practice of environmental protection as part of their daily lives.

Women have been encouraged to compete in the tourism industry, and are successfully operating as tour operators and managers, and as participants in rural industries that promote cultural and environmental tourism. Programmes to benefit women by the generation of capital through rural industrialization, by the improvement of family and community life, and by the general enhancement of self-confidence among women, have been incorporated into a recently launched five-year (1996-2000) Tourism Development Action Programme.

Recent laws and discussions in Parliament (and by other public and private sector institutions) have been geared towards eliminating some of the cultural practices that not only violate the human rights of women and keep them under subjugation, but undermine their confidence and limit them from realizing their full potential as equal partners in the socio-economic development of our nation.

The need to increase the participation of women in decision-making cuts across all areas of socio-economic activity, whether in agriculture, education, administration of justice, politics, tourism or environmental management. It is intrinsically linked with training and education. The female illiteracy rate is higher, at 65 per cent, than the male one (44 per cent), though it is improving. Women made up 54 per cent of enrolled learners in 1992 in adult literacy classes and have a lower drop-out rate.

Under Ghana's current education reforms environmental concepts are being taught to students from nursery to senior secondary levels by incorporating them in core science and social studies subjects. New programmes on Population and Family Life Education (PFLE) have been introduced to address environmental issues, and emphasize the links between human activities, population growth, the environment, quality of life and the sustainable use of resources. Courses dealing with various aspects of environment and development are handled in different university faculties. Gender issues are key components of the PFLE and environmental studies programmes, with a view to empowering women to play their roles effectively.

Capacity-building for resource management by professional women's groups in such fields as science and technology, management and economics and agriculture and forestry have focused on special programmes designed, for example, to encourage girls to take up science and technology education and careers. They have also concentrated on better management and use of resources in such areas as nutrition and health status, improved food production and security, housing and environmental sanitation, consumer behaviour, and education and communication. All these have proved very popular with women in secondary schools.

There have been modest gains in creating awareness about Ghana's pervasive environmental problems through various policy initiatives and inter-sectoral and inter-agency collaboration. But much more remains to be done to sensitize the population in order to change the negative cultural perceptions and stereotyping of women, and to empower them to play leadership roles in promoting sound environmental management.

These modest gains reflect the political direction and total commitment of the Government of Ghana to the ideals and goals of Agenda 21. Its success will depend to a large extent on the contribution of women.

Dr. Christina Amoako-Nuama is Minister of Environment, Science and Technology, Ghana.

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