"The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development promises to leave no one behind. To deliver on that, we must help rural women to thrive, and to access the support and information they need, so that they can fulfill their potential without leaving their communities."
The Former United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon stated this when he delivered his report during the commemoration of the 2016 International Day for Rural Women.
He also stated that rural women, almost all of whom depend on the environment and agriculture for their livelihood and that of their families, make up over a quarter of the total world population. In Ghana, rural women make up about 20 percent of the nation's total population.
The question then is, are these women in the rural Ghana receiving the needed help or support to thrive and fulfill their potential at where they live?
Subsistence farming has been the primary occupation of people living in Ghana’s rural areas. Because most roads to rural areas are in deplorable shape, farmers have a hard time transporting their produce to the markets, for which reason they rarely make ends meet. A situation that hits women in rural areas so hard.
With funding assistance from the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP-Ghana) , I set out on a six day visit to some rural communities in the Eastern, Central and Ashanti regions of Ghana to find out how rural women are impacting their communities and striving to catch up and move along with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
"I have five children and all what I did for a living was subsistence farming. As a result i could hardly raise money to cater for myself and my children's education.
“Thanks to an NGO that came to offer us training on how to add value to our produce for sale. I took that advantage and it has been beneficial to me and my colleague women. We are now able to make some money to run ourselves and to settle fees of our wards.
"With the right and adequate support, our next generations will see better living standards. We the women will be equipped with skill, our children will be educated and with the help of God, life will be more bearable," a 43-year-old single mother at Mpaem said.
Mpaem is a simple farming community located near Akwadum in the New Juabeng Municipality with a population of 845. Women in this community number about 300 and are into farming and petty trading. Some of the women I interacted with gave me the impression that despite some economic and social challenges, they were working hard at achieving economic freedom.
Mpaem community is fortunate to have access to portable water and schools from kindergarten to the Junior High School level but the closest health center to the community is three kilometers away.
According to another woman from the community, with difficulty in accessing transport due to the bad nature of the roads, it is always a worry whenever there is an emergency. She expressed that with their roads intact life would be more bearable.
Agyekumhene Akura, a community also in the New Juaben municipality that has a population of 416 inhabitants has no school and no portable water. The closest health center is three kilometres away. The women here trek longer distance to access water from streams. The children also trek for close to four kilometers to school along a highway that poses danger to their lives.
In an interaction, Ajara Bukari, 42, requested for the establishment of at least a kindergarten to absorb their kids so their mothers could have ease to go about their farming. She said she had received economic empowerment but would be grateful to the government if it established a small factory to process her crops for sale and consumption.
Like the others, Women at Dossi in the Assin South, Ninkyiso in the Assin North districts in Central Region and Yaw Boadi in the Ahafo North District of Ashanti Region of Ghana, have overlooked their immediate barriers but have taken the bull by the horn by not sitting idle and gnash their teeth in poverty. At Dossi for instance, the women are engaged in Gari and palm oil processing. Those at Ninkyiso and Yaw Boadi have formed groups to cultivate acres of rice farms respectively to make income for themselves and to cater for their wards. A common challenge they face however is the 10km distance they cover before accessing healthcare.
One thing is generally clear
Households in these communities largely rely on not-so-clean rivers and uncovered hand-dug wells. Their boreholes have broken down. As a result, they are highly exposed to illnesses such as cholera and diarrhea. However, health posts are not so close to them in time of illness, especially in emergencies.
Although primary and junior high school education is tuition-free and mandatory, most of the children in these rural communities are largely undereducated because they have to walk several miles to get to their schools aside the classrooms lacking basic teaching and learning materials.
"This disincentivises most of the children here from attending school," a 17-year-old JHS graduate told me at Agyekumhene Akura.
At Yaw Boadi, where because it was a Tuesday they did not follow their parents to the farms but were supposed to be in school, children were rather seen swimming in a pond. When asked, they said school had just reopened and so usually attendance would be low.
It has been said that most rural communities lack the belief that they can break free from the struggle of subsistence living. But these communities, I realised, have received support NGOs to break free from subsistence living. However, existing infrastructure challenges as bad roads continue to be a hindrance.
Goal nine of the Sustainable Development Goals expects to build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation which are crucial to empowering communities. Factually, growth in productivity and incomes, and improvements in health and education outcomes require investment in infrastructure. These rural women hope to have to good roads, health posts and educational facilities in their communities.
Thankfully, one of the flagship promises of this present Government of Ghana is to build at least a factory in every district. If only this promise will be fulfilled, rural women will benefit much. According to the Municipal Chief Executive for New Juaben, Madam Comfort Asante, the government's promises and the plans of the Assembly have rural women's needs at core.
By: McAnthony Dagyenga