CGIAR Gender News

Rural women are reshaping gender norms in northern Ghana

Woman cleaning maize in Gwenia, Kassena Nankana District in Ghana. Photo: Axel Fassio/CIFOR.

This year's theme for the International Day of Rural Women is "Building rural women’s resilience in the wake of COVID-19". On this occasion, we have asked CGIAR centers and programs to describe how their research is supporting rural women during times of crises. This post, by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), is one in series of responses.

In northern Ghana’s Upper West Region, climate variability, migration and Covid-19 are transforming the region. Women are adapting by forming farm cooperatives, making, selling and trading goods and taking on additional farming responsibilities traditionally performed by men. In doing so, they are gradually gaining agency over their livelihoods, and ultimately shifting gender roles in their communities.

In Northern Ghana, income and well-being are linked to agriculture. Farmers grow maize, yam, groundnuts, sorghum, rice and other crops, consuming and selling their harvest to maintain food security and bring home an income. But in this semi-arid region, farming is seasonal and growing less lucrative due to climatic variability, with total annual rainfall projected to decline by 20.5% in 2080 in Ghana.

For rural women farmers, these farming challenges can be exacerbated by gender norms. Traditionally, married women do not farm independently of their husbands. Those who do may face challenges, such as limited access to labor and capital.

Mary Lily, a teacher and farmer in the Jirapa district, leads a women’s farmers group, which she started to help smallholder women farmers collectively find solutions to their livelihood challenges. The group promotes access to resources, such as government and NGO service support, as well as financial services.

“Together, we can have access to help from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA),” Lily said. “If some NGOs want women groups to work with, the Ministry people call us.”

MOFA and NGOs have introduced Lily and fellow rural women farmers to new farming techniques, such as contour farming, which helps them retain water in their fields during limited rainfall. NGOs have offered advice on the best times to cultivate crops, which varieties of crops to use, how to price goods at the market, and introduced farmers to weather forecasts from ESOKO, a mobile platform service providing agricultural data.