Donate Today!

Human Rights Issues

Written by Super User
Hits: 5102

Girls and Women

Traditional Policies and Practices

Traditional Policies and Practices that Discriminate Against Women (further referred to as TRAPPDAW) are the most pervasive ways women and children are marginalized and their rights abused. 

CENSUDI coined TRAPPDAW in 2005 in collaboration with ten (10) communities to describe a set of cultural practices and policies that trap women in degrading and dehumanizing situations and prevent them from effective participation in their own development. 

The following section explains the major rites and practices that abuse human rights and trap people in poverty in the Upper East Region of Ghana.

The Place of Women and Girls in the Traditional Setting/Mindset 

Women and girls, who are second rate to men and boys, are regarded at best as producers of children. At worst, they are regarded as highly priced property; unfortunately, the following quotes written by a German anthropologist over 40 years ago are still true today.

“Boys and men are more valued in the family than girls and women. If a man has no son he feels inferior in society. If even he has a son who is only yet a boy, it is better than if he has ten big daughters. This is because the girls will scatter to other peoples’ houses (as wives)” (Rattray 1969:138)

“A woman is valued by the number of children she produces as a wife else it is considered a waste of resources to have married her. When a girl is to be given out in marriage the wish, prayer and blessing invoked on her is that her offspring’s will be numerous so that the man (her husband) may not say that he has thrown away his cows in the long grass” (Rattray 1969:146). 

Marriage Rites


“Courtship can be expensive and getting a wife can be economically challenging for many young men and dehumanising for women. In courtship, the suitor goes to a girl’s house a number of trips with guinea fowls, kola nuts and balls of tobacco. When the number of guinea fowls has reached six or eight, either his elder brother or a younger father (i.e. his father’s young brother) will take charge (of the subsequent proceedings). He will take four hoes and three guinea-fowls and go to greet the girl’s household, and he will continue these visits until they tell him a good word”. (Rattray, 1969: 144).


It can be deduced from the above quote that a suitor may have to send twenty or more guinea fowls to a girl’s house before he is allowed to marry her. A few days or weeks after the woman has moved to the husband’s house, her brothers come and demand at least one sheep, one goat, one dog and several fowls to be killed for them in a ceremony dubbed ‘zua’ or ‘running’. This is then followed by the consecration of the marriage by providing a fowl, which is sacrificed to the ancestral shrine –’lu sundorno’ or ‘falling’. A bride price of four (4) cows must then be paid to seal the marriage. 

These rites reduce women to commodities bought by the highest bidder. Once the marriage is complete, wives become part of the man’s property. Many women are treated as slaves and feel imprisoned in their marital homes because they or their families cannot or do not want to refund expensive courtship and marriage costs to win their freedom.

Ritual consecration 

The consecration of the girl (sundornu) to the ancestors is a very important ritual because it is believed that this is what gives legal acceptance into her husband’s family. This sacrifice also sexually bonds a wife to her husband’s family. Interestingly, this process does not bond the man to the woman or her family. Any infidelity on the wife’s part is not only an abuse to her husband but to his ancestors. Such an offence must be reported for the necessary ritual reparation to be made. At the death of her husband she needs to be ritually separated from her husband to be able to engage in normal life again. Consecration ratifies slavery of women in marriage

Early and childhood marriages 

Betrothals often occur for girls as young as 5 or 6 years and subsequent marriages occur for girls as young as 9 years. The bride wealth often associated with such unions is a traditional means for fathers to accumulate additional wealth, and families accumulate honor because the girls who are forced into early marriages are often virgins. Child marriages lead to early pregnancies and repeated childbirths. These issues coupled with nutritional taboos deprive pregnant and lactating women of essential nutrients and contribute to high maternal and child mortality rates. Early childhood marriages are also a cause of low literacy rates among women and girls.

Funeral Rites

Traditional funeral policies and practices impose heavy social, psychological and economic burdens on women. 

Funerals of Parents and Grandparents

During funerals, married daughters from the house and clan are expected to contribute grains, pulses, soup ingredients, shea butter, malt for making local alcoholic drinks, guinea fowls and other forms of animal protein. As these items arrive, elderly men and women inspect each contribution. Those with small quantities are scorned and ridiculed while those with sizeable contributions are applauded with loud joyful noises and dancing. Aware of this process, married daughters try to be impressive in their contributions. This generates unhealthy competition leading many of them into debt and marital problems. Some deplete their resources in the process or borrow money thereby deepening their poverty. Research shows that many women are not able to request further assistance from their husbands for months or even years after funerals because the men will keep reminding the women how much they, the husbands, spent to make their wives proud at a parent’s funeral. 

While married daughters are imposed these heavy requirements and scrutiny, sons are treated more leniently and are required to make contributions based on their financial ability. For example, sons who cannot afford to purchase a cow are allowed to use sheep, goats or even fowls in some instances.

Widowhood rites

Widows are expected to perform these rites and rituals upon the death of their husbands. The main purpose of these activities is to separate women ritually from their dead spouses and to establish that they were faithful to their husbands. The practice is manifested in various forms including: 
• Long periods of confinement in dark rooms 
• Isolation of the widow with the corpse
• Eating from dirty utensils
• Drinking horribly bad tasting herbal concoctions 
• Parading naked in front of the whole community 

Widow Inheritance

The bride price or dowry is often paid from family property. Wives are, therefore, considered the property of husbands and their families. “In the event of the death of a husband, one of his brothers (usually the most senior) inherits (‘vai’ or ‘collects’) the widow and all family property. It is this brother who either marries or gives the woman out in marriage.” (Rattray 1969:207).

Widowhood rituals are extreme and burdensome compared to what men have to perform as widowers. These rituals also infringe on women’s right to dignity, life and health. Some widows’ die and others never recover their full health and mental states after undergoing these rituals.

The “Widow with Living husband” Syndrome

Traditionally the three justifiable reasons for which a man can divorce his wife and expect to get back some of the bride price are witchcraft, adultery and stealing. Usually the woman’s family will expect some evidence and proof beyond reasonable doubt before they can accept the woman back. This is not only for economic reasons but also and most importantly to protect family honour. Wives who are caught in this cross fire between families then remain marginalized in their marital homes. This syndrome has a name among the Frafra people in Ghana – “poku-ure voa” translated literally it is “a widow with a living husband”. In the past, many women who suffered this kind of abuse were old and post-menopausal. In the last three decades, many living widows are young women in their childbearing years who have been ignored and abandoned by their husbands for resisting unfair treatment or polygamy. 

Land Tenure 

Under local customs, women cannot inherit property or retain custody of their children. Under this patrilineal system, land belongs to either the boys as brothers or men as husbands and from them women derive rights to till the land. Upon death, land reverts to the man’s sons and not the spouse or his daughters. For centuries such cultural biases have prevailed unchallenged and embraced as defining norms in the Ghanaian value system. 

Land is an important factor of production in every economy, especially developing economies where agriculture remains the major economic activity. In Ghana land is one of the most important productive assets for over 80% of the rural population. Insecurity of land tenure has been shown in numerous studies to contribute to the decline of agricultural production and to entrench women and poor farm families in poverty. 

Traditional Division of Labour

Customarily, women are the workhorses of their families. Women and girls carry out multiple productive, reproductive and community management roles and responsibilities. They are mothers and wives, economic producers, formal sector employees and community workers. Women’s heavy burdens of household chores are in sharp contrast to men’s considerably lighter domestic activities. According to the 2009 Ghana Living Standards Survey, women’s roles and responsibilities are 30% higher than men’s largely due to women’s traditional commitment to childcare and housework. In the last 2 decades, women have stepped up to the plate by taking on more male traditional responsibilities to help households cope during hard economic times. Men, on the other hand, have refused to take over some of the traditional female responsibilities for domestic work and childcare. 

Beliefs about Education and Skills for Girls and Women 

In the traditional mind, every woman belongs to another man’s house because she will marry in future and move out of her family home into her husband’s family home. Males will continue to live with parents and take care of them in their old age. Parents believe that investing in the education of boys will bring greater returns to parents than the education of girls. Interestingly, modern developments and evidence have debunked this belief yet communities are still slaves to this antiquated thinking. Participatory research done with ten communities in 2005 revealed the following:

• 95% of parents receive regular and substantial support from their single and/or married daughters, with or without formal education 
• 30% of fathers identified seasonal unemployment as the main reason why their sons are not able to consistently support them 
• 60% of fathers and 85% of mothers described their sons as ‘useless and lazy people dependent on their parents, sisters and wives for survival’.

Good Cultural Practices

It is important to emphasise that not all cultural practices in Ghana are detrimental and adverse to women’s rights. Some ethnic groups in Ghana permit certain categories of women to own land. Among the Akans in southern Ghana, and the Dagomba in Northern Ghana, women have some marginal land ownership and inheritance rights. Among the Builsas and Kusasi of northeast Ghana, single unwed women from the Tindana or Land priest’s home can own land. This right is lost when she marries and she cannot pass the rights on in old age or after death. Among the Nabdam tribe, also in northeast Ghana, an unmarried woman can access and use land as long as she remains single. A group of female farmers can request land from the land priest, cultivate it and benefit from it but as soon as they cease to exist as a group, the land reverts to the land priest. In most parts of the Upper East Region of Ghana, there are certain cultural sacrifices and practices that can be done to declare publicly that a piece of land belongs to a woman and no man can take that land back from her until her death. 

Source: CENSUDI/CARE Ghana - Participatory Three Tier Research Findings, Millier, D. & Issaka, F. 2005 


Giving Guide 

There are many ways that you can help change the life of a girl or woman in Ghana and through them transform entire families and communities.

You can: 

• Donate to this noble cause 
• Adopt a girl, woman, family or village 
• Purchase fair trade products 
- Recycled glass Girls Education Bracelets and rings
- Straw Baskets produced
- Better Brittle made in the USA by a Fair Trade woman owned company. The recipe for Better Brittle is Ghanaian. 
• Host a fundraising event 
• Invite us to talk at your school, church, office, shop, etc.
• Volunteer with us. Read our Internship Policy on our website
• Donate toys, computers, etc. 
• Tell your friends about CENSUDI. Share our stories, pictures and songs and tell your friends to pass the word on to many more

Kindergarten, primary and Junior High School fees and necessities for girls $100 For a young girl in Ghana, West Africa, being in school opens up doors to greater opportunities in life. It means she gets an education instead of an early marriage. Opportunity instead of an early pregnancy. Education gives skills that have the power to transform her life and the lives of her children, family, community and nation. Education also provides her a chance to give back to her community and inspire other girls to strive for more in their lives. 
Your gift enables one girl to choose opportunity, progress and development for one year
Uniform $50 School uniforms, shoes, bag, etc for one child for one year
After school social and developmental activities $150 Several studies have shown that barriers to girls achievement in school include gender biases at home and in class, violence, teasing, sexual harassment and insufficient counseling and guidance. Your donation of $50 per term per student will enable us address these issues. 
Learning materials $50 Toys and play books for one child for one year
Community Sensitization $1500 In the Ghanaian cultural mindset, girls and women are second rate to men and boys. At best girls are valued as producers of children and highly priced property, acquired and used by men as they please. Love, respect and self esteem are therefore important elements of any quaility education for girls. 

This amount enables us to sensitize one community on the values of sending and keeping girls in school, to love and respect their daughters. This process helps men and communities change the current cultural mindset.
Teacher Sensitization $1200 25 teachers sensitized on appropriate early childhood education skills and on creating girl-friendly teaching and learning environments in schools. 
Play ground equipment $1200 Swings, slides and playground equipment
Boy Sensitization $2000 Sensitization activities targeting 20 preschool and primary school boys to cultivate a mindset that respects and values girls


Bolgatanga (Ghana) Office

Margaret Mary Issaka – Campaigns Manager
The Centre for Sustainable Development Initiatives
TUC Building, Commercial Street
Box 134,
Bolgatanga, UER

Tel: +233-(38)2022249/2022024/2024137
Email:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

USA Office

Ms. Franciska Issaka – Director
3519 West Fork Road #39
Cincinnati, OH 45211

Tel:  +1 513-376-8192
Cell: +1-513-418-7160
Email:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Mission Statement

Written by Super User
Hits: 4747

We Are Still Looking For Water

Franciska Issaka will show you a long scar on the back of her left calf and tell you that it is the reason she does thework she does. The scar commemorates an incident in her childhood that haunts her still. She and her sister had been sent to find water for cooking. In the dry season in Northern Ghana this was no simple task. In fact the only water to be found was in an irrigation ditch surrounded by a barbed wire fence.  The girls had to sneak under the fence, fill large barrels with water and then carry them on their heads back to the house. During one trip the night watchman awoke and began to chase them. Franciska sent her sister ahead and injured her leg trying to get away. She had to leave her water behind and the leg became infected.  Now, over fifty years later she has made it her mission to ensure that no other child carries the scars of poverty and lack of opportunity into adulthood.

Ms. Issaka was born into a family of girls in a culture where girls were and are still not valued. In fact her local name, Atisbange, translates as “yet another girl” .  According to tradition, Franciska and her sisters were destined to be married off at young ages in exchange for cows and other resources.  In fact, the oldest of her sisters entered into an arranged marriage as was expected. She and her remaining sisters could have met the same fate had not the husband of her eldest sister encouraged his father in law to leave his remaining daughters in school.   Franciska completed her bachelor’s degree at the University of Cape Coast and then went on to attend the University of Denver and Durham University in the UK where she received a Master’s in Business.  Through it all she remembered that scar.

Upon her return to Ghana Ms. Issaka served as Deputy Minister for Local Government and Development under President Rawlings.  Her work in the government brought home the fact that her country was wasting one of its most precious resources. By marginalizing women and children Ghana was losing access to their talents and input.  She knew she had to do something to correct the situation.  She eventually realized that working within government to effect change was not sufficient, so in 1994 she and her sisters Margaret Mary and Elizabeth founded The Center for Sustainable Development Initiatives (CENSUDI).

CENSUDI’s focus is gender equality. The organization works to give women and girls access to resources and education. They also work to eliminate traditional practices that are harmful to women.  This is not as easy as it seems. Changing a culture requires changing longstanding attitudes and mindsets. This means working with local community leaders to redefine women’s roles. CENSUDI has developed processes that allow community leaders and families to talk about the ways in which traditional practices have helped or hindered their communities and then to develop new ways of working together.  Change occurs one leader and one village at a time, but this sort of careful, slow progress is the kind that endures and spreads.  The organization has made great strides in the rural area of the Northeast region of Ghana, but there is still much work to be done.  As Franciska says, “Fifty years later we are still looking for water”.

Source: Jackie Jonas Interview; September 2011, Pittsburgh, USA

Our Objectives

• Improve access to quality education for girls and women 

• Mobilize girls and women for leadership 

• Provide advice and support to communities and organisations to eliminate Traditional Policies and Practices that Discriminate Against Women and Girls  (TRAPPDAW) 

• Support specific activities that benefit and empower women, reduce poverty and generate wealth for long term development

• Transform communities and organisations for sustainable poverty reduction

• Mobilize resources to support our work


More Articles...

  1. CENSUDI Purpose


S5 Box



Fields marked with an asterisk (*) are required.