Presentation on theme: "Gender and cultural based violence and widowhood rituals in Ghana and its effects on womens reproductive health rights Oral Presentation #263 By: Dr. Francess."— Presentation transcript:
Gender and cultural based violence and widowhood rituals in Ghana and its effects on womens reproductive health rights Oral Presentation #263 By: Dr. Francess D. the Penn –ICOWH18th Congress: Cities and Womens Health: Global Perspectives in Philadelphia, USA 7 th -10th April, 2010
AN OVERVIEW INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY PROBLEM STATEMENT OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY METHODOLOGY PART I: THE NATURE AND EXTENT OF WIDOWHOOD RITUALS IN GHANA PART II: WIDOWHOOD RITUALS A FORM OF GENDER BASED VIOLENCE, AND ITS EFFECTS ON WOMENS REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH SUMMARY,CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION
INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY Gender issues are human right issues and these cut across all sectors of society, regardless of the economic, political and social context. It needs emphasizing that the human rights of men and women, boys and girls are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of the universal human rights, as set out in the United Nation's 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Until recent times there had been a silence that surrounded Gender and Cultural Based Violence (GCBV) and a resistance by international agencies to address it because of the cultural differences in relation to challenging existing local norms.
GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE (GBV) Gender-based violence refers to any harm that is perpetrated against a person's will; that has a negative impact on the physical or psychological health, development, and identity of the person; and that is the result of gendered power inequities that exploit distinctions between males and females, among males and among females, (Ward, 2002). Although not exclusive to women and girls, GBV principally affects them across all cultures. Violence may be physical, sexual, psychological, economic, or socio-cultural.
Gender-based violence often takes place in the private sphere, and women and men as social actors each experience a form of violence, both as victims and as perpetrators based on their gender identities in society. Gender-based violence is an articulation of, or an enforcement of, power hierarchies and structural inequalities that are informed by belief systems, cultural norms and socialization processes.
CULTURAL BASED VIOLENCE Many cultures have beliefs, norms and social institutions that legitimize and therefore perpetuate violence against women. Such violence cannot be understood in isolation from the norms, social structure and gender roles within the community, which greatly influence womens vulnerability to violence. Human behaviours and cultural values, have meaning and fulfill a function for those who practice them. However, there is a growing awareness that harmful traditional values and practices act as a root cause for discrimination and violence especially against women and girls across the globe most especially in developing countries.
CULTURAL-BASED VIOLENCE It is believed that people will change their behaviour when they understand the hazards and indignity of harmful practices and when they realize that it is possible to give up harmful practices without giving up meaningful aspects of their culture. Cultural based violence includes a wide range of traditional values and practices that are considered harmful to men and women. According to Article 1(g) of the Protocol to the African Charter, "Harmful Practices" means all behaviour, attitudes and/or practices which negatively affect the fundamental rights of women and girls, such as their right to life, health, dignity, education and physical integrity (Art 1(g))
GCBV disempowers and disables women and men. The importance of addressing GCBV is therefore not only related to the physical, social and psychological well-being of women and girls, but also to the economic and social welfare of any community and nation. It has an indirect but dramatic impact on the individual, the countrys health care system, and places a serve burden on the national workforce.
It is against this background that over the last two and half decades the issue of Gender and Cultural Based Violence (GCBV) have gained international attention and national recognition with a growing awareness that these practices act as a root cause for discrimination and gender inequality in society which not only affects the women, but slows down the growth and development of nations. Gender and Cultural Based Violence (GCBV) is an abuse of human rights, and the failure to address it risks the accusations that governments and international organizations are insensitive to social and cultural practices that encroach on womens rights.
In reaffirming the UNs Charter on Human Rights, CEDAW for instance emphasising the cultural issues, in Article 2(f) enjoins governments: To condemn discrimination against women in all its forms,…., agree to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of elimination of discrimination against women and to take all appropriate measures, including legislation to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women.
It further states in Article 5(a) that appropriate measures should be taken: to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view of achieving the elimination of prejudices, customary and all practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of these sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.
It is based on the worlds recognition of Womens Rights as a major component of the International Human Rights that had led to the interrogation of the issues of widowhood rituals, if Ghana has signed and ratified most international mandates on human Rights as enshrined in its Constitution and national law, as part of making serious commitments to uphold, protect and respect the rights of human dignity of vulnerable groups which women are inclusive.
Ghana is making stride towards the promotion of women rights with the passing of the Domestic Violence Act 732, having the Criminal Code, and institutions such as the Commission of Human Rights and Administrative Justice(CHRAJ), Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU), Ministry of Women and Childrens Affairs (MOWAC) and many others. However, gender is highly structured by traditional beliefs and practices that shape womens social, political, economic and other roles and benefits, affecting their human rights.
Within Ghanas socio-cultural context, women traditionally have been regarded as inferior to men. This perception still persists today because of the societal transmission of culture (socialisation process), which instils in its members male superiority. The gendered ideology of women being inferior to men had been engrafted into the systems and the very fabric of the society, giving power and authority to men and disadvantaging women. This makes them more vulnerable to the various systems and process. Culture demands that the widow undergoes certain traditional mourning rituals before and after the burial of her spouse. In most Ghanaian communities, the widowhood rites initially, were aimed at driving away the ghosts of the deceased. However, this had taken a new dimension and its effects have been described to some extent as dehumanizing,(Wood, 2008).
This paper examines the nature and extent of widowhood rituals as a form of Gender and Cultural Based Violence and its effects on Womens Reproductive Health rights. It is presented in two parts. The first part provides a description on the nature and extent of widowhood rituals: that is the rituals and the treatment of women; the second part examines the ritual as a form of Gender and Cultural Based Violence and its effects on women health.
STATEMENT OF PROBLEM In Ghanaian culture, important practices exist which celebrate life-cycle transitions, perpetuate community cohesion, or transmit traditional values to subsequent generations. While many traditions promote social cohesion and unity, others erode the physical and psychological health and integrity of individuals, particularly women. Ghana with over 66 ethnic groups has different customs and practices which make them a unique people in their own rights.
However, having a commitment to upholding and protecting the rights and dignity of its citizens as enshrined in its own Constitution and other legal instruments both international and national, ; by the elimination of cultural and traditional practices that are regarded as dehumansing / harmful to women, the questions are: What is the nature and extent of widowhood practices in Ghana? What are the reasons that underpin their performance? Does the practising of these customs as part of Ghanaian Culture really have any impact on womens reproductive health status? Does the performance of these customs have any health implication on women? Are women as actors and victims of such practices aware of the health implications?
Objectives of the Study The study examines the widowhood rituals as a form of Gender based violence and its effects on womens reproductive health in Ghana. Specifically it seeks to Examine the nature and extent of widowhood rituals in Ghana. Examine the reasons that underpin the performance of these practices by women. Find out whether the practicing of these have any health implication on women Find out whether women as actors and victims of such practices are aware of the health implications. Make some recommendations.
Methodology The Explorative study combined empirically both qualitative and quantitative research methods with much emphasis on the qualitative. The survey was conducted in Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana with a population of about 1,517,000. A purposive non-probability sample strategy was adopted in this study, with the use of snowballing. With a sample size of 60, the study dealt with a heterogeneous group made up of 44 women and 16 men. The core respondents of this group were 24 women who were widows and the remaining as key informant and comprised the size for the Focus Group Discussion
TYPE OF RESPONDENTS ParticipantsWomenMenTotal Widows 24 Key Informants 538 FOCUS GROUPS Men only -88 Women only 11 - Mixed 459 Total Participants in the focus group were purposefully selected on the premise that they had a shared experience that is personal or through a close relative ( i.e. lost a parent, sibling, spouse, close family member, an in-law) or had a close friend who had encountered such tragedy
Socio-Demographic Profile Widows : The data on age of the respondents showed that with an age range of between 31 – 85 years, the majority 63% (15) of the widows were between 50 and 60 years of age. The age patterns of the respondents showed that majority of the women were beyond their prime years. Marital status showed that majority 54% (13) of the respondent had been married for more than 30 years and had more than six children with their deceased spouse
Respondents ethnic background showed that majority (67% ) were Akans, 21% Mole-Dagbani, and Ewes and Ga-Adangbes constituting 12 %. The ethnic background of the deceased showed that majority (61%) of them had been married to Akans, while 22% had been married to Mole-Dagbani and a few Ewes and Ga-Adangbes. The data on religion showed that there were more Christians (54%) than Muslems (33%).
Education and occupational status The educational background of respondents showed that majority (83%), had some form of formal education, with a few (17%) being illiterates. Their employment status showed that majority of the respondents had been working; 13% were unemployed.
PART ONE: THE NATURE AND EXTENT OF WIDOWHOOD RITUALS IN GHANA Widowhood is caused by death and death on its part is as a result of some factors such as : diseases, illnesses, accidents, old age, afflictions or attacks, all of which finally result in death. In Ghana the death of a spouse is viewed as a serious matter which involves the observance of a series of rituals and ceremonies all meant to signify the separation of the deceased spouse spiritually from the surviving spouse. These include the following: confinement, dethronement, proof of innocence, defacement, ritual cleansing and many others. The widow is expected under customary law to carry out these practices for a lengthy period of up to one year.
Confinement / Restriction of Movement : Majority (79%) of respondents stated that they were confined in a room (under lock) alone for some days (most of which was 6 days, before one week celebration), or with corpse alone (over night/ some hours before being laid in state). This was what one of the respondents indicated : … from the night before Nana was laid in state officially[open to public], I was asked to sit beside the corpse for three days. He was laid in state on Monday night to Thursday, before the final burial where all the chiefs had to swear allegiance to him. I had to be in the room every night alone with him till the next morning. The abrafor which means executioners, at night stayed outside and guard the locked door… She added that... it was only during the day that I was allowed to have company from my relative who sat with me beside the corpse. The only moment l was allowed to leave the body was when I was to go and mourn him publicly outside with the women or attend natures call … (70 years)
Confinement/Seclusion of widows.
Dethronement: Sitting posture
Sitting posture (…contd). Widows are made to sit on mat around the corpse whiles laid in state.
The majority 67% indicated that they slept on mats without pillows, while 13% were provided a stone for pillow. All respondents indicated that, they were asked to sit in an uncomfortable position on reed mats. These women had to sit for long hours all day with their legs stretched in front of them and seldom were they given the opportunity to stand and stretch their tired legs except they were getting up to mourn. Among the Northern tribes in Ghana, it is reported that, widows have to spend the night outside sitting on a mat with only leaves covering their private parts, (Public Agenda 19 June 2006; CBC 7 July 2004).
The underlying purpose of the change in both sleeping and sitting conditions of widows symbolises the dethronement of their marital status as princesses who enjoyed all the luxury and comfort of their home. The process is to indicate their fallen status. Restriction on Freedom of Communication: Respondents indicated that during the period of mourning they were not allowed to communicate freely (speak) with people in public this included exchange of greeting through hand shake. All communication was done through the family linguist or in his absence an elderly relative present (woman). They were given a stone or traditionally prepared flowers to hold to prevent hand shaking in public.
Dethronement :Sleeping conditions of Respondents.
Restriction on Freedom of communication This widow is holding a traditionally prepared flower in her hands to prevent handshake while mourning.
Spontaneous /Forced to wail under duress Grief is the most common reaction of any widow. All respondents indicated that they could not hold back their grief anytime they thought about the loss of their husband. However, the majority 92 % stated that they were pressured to cry under various situations, these included: anytime sympathisers came to offer their condolence; when their in- laws were around, or visited the family home of their spouse; led the possession of women to mourn through the town, at the funeral ground and when the body was laid in state. Some respondents indicated they encountered the wrath of their in-laws and relatives, when they were exhausted and could no longer wail. They underwent situation such as : verbal insult, hackling, pushing, dragging, and had liquid substance (pepper/ginger/ water) thrown on them. This was intended to inflict pain on them, to compel them to weep.
Forced to Wail Under scorching sun This widow is being directed to wail under the scorching sun as she get the support of elder women
This was what a respondent had to say: I had to cry every moment, everyday, from the day he died. I wept I mean real weeping [weeping in dirges]. I was just exhausted, but they did not let me stop. On the day when he was brought from the morgue, I was very sick, weak and exhausted and couldnt wail as expected. My in-laws really rained insults on me and my family, claiming I had killed him… I know what I did to their son,... why am I quiet?... I should weep... As if that was not enough, the younger sister of my husband and one of her aunts from nowhere threw a bucket of water on me. My mother and some of my relatives got wet in the process. I was really soaked all over… the pain and humiliation, I just couldnt bear it but broke down weeping and shivering… she and the others knew I wasnt well… my relatives encouraged me by weeping with me (54 years, Akan)
A Widow Mourns the husband who is laid in state
Prove of Innocence/ Forced Confession A major dehumanising treatment that widows go through is when they are suspected to have had a hand in their husbands death (i.e. accused of being a witch) or even being unfaithful in their marital relation. About 80% of respondents indicated that they had been subjected to one or several forms of rituals just to prove their innocence. These included the drinking of concoction prepared by the chief priest and family elders, which usually involves water used for washing the corpse, from the same calabash used for the corpse. The most serious was being left to spend the night alone naked with the dead body under darkness and lock.
As part of the confession process in the Upper West region the widows body is exposed to black ants. Bitten by black ants would be considered an indication that the widow had been unfaithful to her late husband. Among most ethnic groups in the Upper East, the widow is required to drink the corpse's bath water and jump over the grave. Among the Bimobas in the Upper East Region of Ghana, after a soothsayer is consulted to find out the cause of death, the widow is sent out of the room naked and given some concoction to drink. According to an article from Public Agenda, throwing hot and cold water at the widow is said to be a practice that occurs in the Kasena Nankana District and that, if the widow is burned, it is an indication that she was unfaithful to her husband, (19 June 2006).
Eating Pattern: Starvation and Ceremonial Food Loss of a loved one, goes with loss of appetite; yet respondents said their eating patterns were altered under strict supervision as they were not allowed to eat anything of their choice. Such alterations include: to fast for the first week (6 days); given only eggs to eat three times a day instead of meat until the 40 th day; not eating any root-crop food - yam, cassava, and cocoyam. Even when the widow is eating, no sound from anybody crying nor beating of drum should be heard else she is denied the food. Some people take pleasure in this to make noise when they see that her food is ready, (PACODEP, 2008). This was what a respondents had to say: Even when I was thirsty, I was asked to sip water; the intake of liquids were reduced because it was believed that it would cause me to be urinating a lot [since]I had to be seated and not get up often.
Defacement : Ceremonial Dressing Respondents indicated that they had to do the following: put on the traditional mourning cloth (black cloth) for a year even after burial; not supposed to put on any jewellery nor wear make- ups before or after burial and for a year, just to signify their status of mourning. A rope is tied around their neck to restrict their movement during burial ceremony; or a rope with padlock around their waist to signify they were not supposed to have sexual intercourse; or a small bell around their ankle for a year. No undergarment - panties/ briefs; but a small piece of cloth that hanged on the rope underneath.
Removal of aggrey beads given to them by their husbands on marriage; and wearing of danta oramoase: that is a small piece of cloth used to cover the private part. a piece of cloth tied to their breasts. ceremonial necklace made of sea shells or traditional leaves and their body smeared with red clay (ntwoma) and raffia tied around the wrist or waist in some cases. wear black clothes; her hair would not be shaved and would walk bare-footed for six months.
Some Forms Of Ceremonial Dressing This widow tied a piece of cloth to the breast and has raffia tied around the arm.
Women in low-cut hair dyed in Charcoal, with red clay smeared on their bodies and wearing traditional leave necklace
Ceremonial Bath Respondents indicated that as part of the rituals, they were asked to perform ceremonial bath until after burial: bath three times a day without soap; 38% of respondents bathed in public under supervision, while 62% bathed indoor. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported that the ritual of stripping the widow is common in Ghana's Upper East region, and that in some cases the widow is "taken out to bathe near a rubbish dump" while hot and cold water are thrown at her, sometimes resulting in her being scalded, (7 July 2004). Women and Orphans Ministry(WOM) identified that widows are stripped naked and put shea tree leaves on their bodies; having her bathe naked in public(Accra Daily Mail May 2004).
Personal hygiene Among some ethnic groups, the practice is that the widow must sit on the floor and eat with unwashed hands and calabash. If the kins family women see her attempting secretly to attend to her personal hygiene, she might be whipped, spat upon and scolded that she is attempting to beautify herself so as to attract men and may be accused of being responsible for her husband's death.
Burial Rituals Respondents indicated that customarily they had to provide items for bathing (adwade) the late husband; these includes: soap, pillow, blanket, bucket, underwear and items for the burial (adesedie) 29% of respondents indicated that their husbands family demanded a sheep to be slaughtered as part of the rituals. They bid their final farewell by using signifiers such as going ahead of the burial procession and throw the flower, stone, or break the ceremonial pot. This they do without looking back as they return home.
Carrying and Throwing of Ceremonial Pot / signifier: Bidding Farewell
The Final Breaking of the Marital Bond When the widows are asked whether they were told to sleep with an unknown man whom their sister-in-laws would provide; most respondents refused to comment on this issue. However, all respondents indicated that they always had to place a male shoe in front of their door to indicate spiritually that they had a man in their room at night to drive away the spirit of their late husband. It is evident that some of the mourning rites may include "ritual cleansing" through sex with designated individuals. The widow has to sleep with an unknown man and must have unprotected sexual intercourse with him. These could be the "first stranger met on the road" or brother-in-law, or the heir (IRB, 2003; Pacodep, 2006). This was confirmed by the key informants and participants in focus group.
Economic activity All respondents indicated denial of any economic activity from the day their husbands die to the 40 th day. 42% of respondents returned to work after the 40 th day because they had exhausted their leave, 58% stayed home between six months to one year. Traditionally, the mans family had to provide the daily up- keep money for the widow for a year; but respondents received nothing after the burial of their husbands; a few indicated it ended after the 40 th day. They had to rely either on their families and /or adult children since they were not supposed to engage in any economic activity for the period stipulated.
Person(s)Responsible for the Supervision of the performance of the Rituals: Perpetrator(s).
Perpetrators of Widowhood rituals. It is clear that generally, women carry out most of these dehumanising acts against their fellow women, although they act on culture and at the request of men.
PART II Widowhood Rituals: A Form of Gender and Cultural Based Violence, and its Effects on Womens Health Gender and cultural based violence both reflects and reinforces inequalities between men and women and impinges on the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims. It is against this background that the researcher sought to find out whether the human rights of widows were respected, the kinds of abuse they encountered and their effects on their health.
Reasons for the carrying out the widowhood ritual by respondents When respondents were asked whether they saw any of the activities that they performed as a violation of their human right; the response was an overwhelmingly No (100%). Giving reasons to their response, 9% of the respondents indicated that it was part of cultural norm/expectations and that they had to do it. Again 51% stated that it was a way of honouring their husbands whiles 40% indicated it was to avoid any spiritual ramification on them and their children.
In term of its significance, interestingly few (29%) of the respondents indicated that it had no significance. The reason they gave was that most of them were instructed to perform most of the activities without been given any convincing explanation in their view. However, as part of their cultural expectations and fulfilment they had to conform.
Sanctions for Refusal to perform rituals. None performance of these practices has both overt and covert sanctions. There are perceived consequences that society attributes to a refusal to observe these traditional practices. These are that: certain misfortunes can be visited upon the person by the ancestral spirits as well as the dead husband. Some of these misfortunes are unsuccessful marriages, unsuccessful business or trade, miscarriage of pregnancy, depression, rejection by society and even death. They face rejection and isolation from society. People will not want to associate themselves with those who do not respect traditions and so they reject them, resulting in stigmatisation of their extended family (abusa/lineage). Families may also distance themselves from non- performers because such an act of disobedience brings disrespect to the family.
Some forms Of Gender and Cultural Based Violence Evident in the Performance of widowhood rites. Gender and cultural based violence takes many forms - physical, sexual, psychological, restricted freedoms, coercion and threats - occurring in both the public and private spheres. It encompasses a wide range of human rights violation, including sexual abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, and several harmful traditional practices.
From the data it was revealed that several women had encountered an individual, interpersonal and community violence. These included: physical, emotional, psychological, sexual violence and exposure to harm which are criminal. Physical violence revealed acts which include pushing, shoving, confinement/seclusion and torture and diverse forms of exposure to harm- walking bare footed, throwing substances on women to cause harm or pain, restriction of personal hygiene, tiring a rope around the neck and object around the waist and ankle, shaving of hair, and drinking of concoctions.
Having to take off all clothing by the riverside, being left alone and destitute, widows become vulnerable to extreme sexual abuse, (IRB, 2003). The emotional forms of violence: includes humiliation (bathing in public, throwing water on victim), belittling one in front of others, the various forms of confinement (left along to sleep / sit with/ without the corpse in a room in the home, and restraint from communication as well as all forms of verbal abuse. Widows performed most of these acts out of fear of spiritual predicaments that might befall them and their children.
Sexual violence was depicted in the form of the silent ritual, where the woman is forced to have sexual intercourse with an unknown man to break the spiritual bond of marriage. She is forced to perform sexual acts she might find degrading and through forced marriage of a close relative of the deceased. It is clear that widows encounter diverse forms of abuse, but culture and the supposed spiritual ramifications overrule their decision pertaining to their rights and values.
Some effects of rituals on womens reproductive health. Although respondents failed to indicate that they had sex with unknown stranger or married the in-laws, it was established by key informants and all focus groups that having unprotected sex with an unknown person or forced to marry an in-law in the name of culture is a sure possibility of getting infected with sexually transmitted disease (STDs) or HIV/AIDS virus, and unwanted pregnancies which affects their reproductive health. Again been under such intense stress and pressure had led to some pregnant women having pregnancy complications, miscarriage and even still birth. Forcing the widow to rinse her vagina with pepper or other substances could cause vaginal infections.
Other Effects of Rituals on Womens Health The data on other health symptoms showed that all respondents stated crying, difficulty in sleeping and relying on such medication as sleeping pills. They complained of difficulty in concentration as a result of the trauma they experienced. In addition they experienced high blood pressure, swollen feet, ulcer, chronic back pain and body aches, malaria/fever and headaches, anaemia and anorexia. Anxiety, nervousness, depression, stress, panic attacks, and phobia (darkness) among others result from those grieving moments characterised by the trauma of dehumanising practices.
Some Mental Effects on Respondents.
Furthermore drinking concoctions such as dirty water collected from bathing the corpse in the name of love or proof of innocence, has a high possibility that the widow may be infected from the disease that the husband died from. Episodes of emotional and physical violence can give rise to symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD). PTSD kills through suicide, violence, heart attack, stroke, and even cancer. It is therefore, not surprising that the average number of years that most widows live after such experience is about five (5) years, according to the focus group.
Transformations in Widowhood Rituals Ghana has played roles to bring about changes in these practices through legislations such as the 1992 Constitution, the Criminal Code 1960 (amended), and the Domestic Violence Act. It has also put in place institutional bodies to oversee the implementation of these instruments. Widows, key informants, FGD showed that there is a gradual change in the nature of the practices though the process is evenly slow. Widows relationship with her in-laws, played a very crucial role in determining the kind of activities that she was made to perform. Traditional social status (in the case of a royal or a chief), religious background of the deceased and polygamous relationship determine the extent of the rituals in justifying the widows innocence and prove of love.
Persons/Institutions that play significant influence on changes in the mode of rituals.
Summary of Major Findings Gender based discrimination is evident in the performance of widowhood rites. In all communities in Ghana, the practice is more severe on women than men. To prove her innocence the widow is expected to perform certain dehumanising rituals: drinks concoction prepared from the water used to bath the corpse; not supposed to sleep on a bed until the fortieth day of the death of her husband; sleeping with the dead in the same room for some days, throwing of pepper into the her eyes; tying rope or a calabash in which she eats around her neck and parading her around the village sometimes with no clothes on; carries a pot of fire. The widow faced various forms of violence which were physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual violence.
Sadly, the widows did not regard the performance of these rites as infringing on their human rights, but just a means of honouring their husbands and avoiding any spiritual consequences that characterise non-performance of such rituals. However, respondents stated that there were some activities such as the bathing in public, drinking concoctions, the ceremonial dressing, and confinement among others that they would not have performed if they had a choice. Grief and the traumatic experience that the widow goes through affect her health status - Emotional Stress (EM) such as anxiety, panic, frustration, depression, feeling of hopelessness, restlessness; Muscular stress (MS) such as back pain, headaches, tension, migraine; Sympathetic Nervous Stress (SNS), chest pain, high blood pressure. It is possible that these could result in Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) that have behavioural, psychological and health consequences that can be fatal in the long term.
The stress, the concoction she is made to drink, rinsing her vaginal with pepper and other liquid substances, having unprotected sex with a total stranger or marry an in-law all in the name of culture have possible fatal and or non-fatal consequence on her reproductive health. The possible outcomes which includes: pregnancy complications, unwanted pregnancy, miscarriage or still birth, STIs, HIV/AIDs. Womens rights are human rights and have the rights to Health and reproductive health as indicated in Article 14 (1 c,d & e) of the Protocol to the African Charter, : …. The right to choose any method of contraception …., and (d) to self protection and to be protected against sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDs… (e) to be informed,…,of the health status of ones partner….
Conclusion Widows are often expected under customary law to undergo lengthy periods of mourning whereas widowers generally only observe mourning for a few days. There are restrictions on their movements, the imposition of food taboos and subjection to various forms of humiliation and abuse. Widowhood rites as a harmful traditional and customary practice not only violate the human rights and dignity of women in this country, but also have other emotional, psychological and health effects that impede the total development and personality of women. Causing harm is criminal constituting third degree felony, whiles assault is misdemeanour. However, there has not been any reported case(s) nor arrest made of such dehumanising acts, even though they exist in reality.
Women are mostly victims of such gender and cultural-based violence, yet most often they are used as agents to perpetuate these same acts. Culture is both evolutionary and revolutionary, and people need to understand and admit that today, gender and cultural-based violence represents a violation of women's human rights. This has been pointed out in a number of Declarations from United Nations Conferences, that : Gender-based violence and all forms of sexual harassment and exploitation, including those resulting from cultural prejudice,…., are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person, and must be eliminated,(United Nations, 1993).
Recommendations There is the need for sensitization and attitudinal change towards women issues in society through education and awareness creation on human rights issues and violation of such rights in the name of culture. If womens right must be maintained then our national laws and other legal framework need to be effectively and efficiently implemented. This means that all community members; stakeholders; traditional, religious and community leaders; judiciary, the law enforcement bodies; men as well as women need to work together as a team. Effective enforcements of laws by appropriate state institutions: Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit of the Police Service (DOVVSU), Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice ( CHRAJ), Ministry of Women and Childrens Affairs (MOWAC), FIDA, WiLDAF.
Traditional leaders need to take up their constitutional and legal obligations to ensure that these traditional practices which reduce the dignity of women are modernised and given a human face if not eradicated completely. Article 272 of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana sets out the functions of the National House of Chiefs (NHC). One of the functions under Article 272(c) is: undertake an evaluation of traditional customs and usages with a view to eliminating those customs and usages that are outmoded and socially harmful.NHC must, therefore, live up to its constitutional mandate. Capacity building workshops for staff of appropriate institutions – DOVVSU, CHRAJ, MOWAC.
At the Individual (Micro level): Increase womens knowledge of legal and social rights; Empower women to seek help for abuse; Facilitate womens access to services they need by improving resources available to women and mobilizing local-level network that can serve as a strong voice towards transformative action in the empowerment process. At the Community level: Create a deterrent to aggressors by reducing the community tolerance to cultural based violence and create an environment where perpetrators fear being publicly shamed for their action.
At the community level: Conduct community based assessment to gather baseline information on attitudes and beliefs about widowhood rites as a form of cultural based violence Raise awareness of cultural based violence and its negative consequences with the community at large and among traditional and religious leaders, key professional sectors and the health services and law enforcement agencies. Build networks for support, action and strength to empower individuals to take action and make changes. Integrate action against cultural base violence into the daily life and systematically within institutions.
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