How does the gendered politics of farm household production affect women’s livelihoods? This study focuses on livelihoods-based interests in farm land and non-violent conflict situations in northern Ghana. It argues that the social positioning of women and whether they work on the land or not are important determinants of their livelihood possibilities.
An examination of the history of land struggles in Ghana reveals that many factors impinge on land-labour negotiations. These affect the livelihoods of different social groups such as women and men, settlers, titled and untitled, farm owners and farm hands. Households in northern Ghana depend on collective and individual resources generated largely from agricultural activities. Under the compound residential arrangements, members of the farm household play specific and critical roles toward its provisioning. These roles are based on culturally-specified gender divisions of labour, authority structures and social obligations.
Some analyses have focused on inter-group struggles, with women on both sides portrayed as passive victims rather than interested parties. They tend to suggest that women’s interests in land are secondary. However, the real situation appears to be more complex and variable:
- Men as heads of households and boys as potential heads are socialised as providers. This positions them as heirs of household resources, especially land.
- Women and girls as wives or potential wives are socialised into subordinate positions to depend on men for resources. Positioned as non-heirs, women and girls have no direct inheritance rights under customary arrangements.
- Where women are considered farm hands, their culturally-assigned roles enable them to undertake personal cultivation activities by acquiring land for personal farms, even as they work with their men on the household farm.
- Where women are considered non farm-hands, their roles are perceived largely as non-productive. Their obligations are limited to cooking for farm hands.
- Male custodianship is purported to guarantee equitable distribution of resources. Yet, evidence shows that the distribution system is contrived to maintain socio-economic inequalities.
- Land is traded for personal monetary gain without adequate consideration of women’s interests. Community-based alternatives, however, are beginning to include women in management systems.
- Some women have been mobilising around resource rights, using diverse tools including radio and workshops to engage with traditional authorities and formal structures.
The characterisation of women as either farm hands or non-farm hands is problematic. The two terminologies confound and minimise the diverse and important roles that women play beyond cultivation, as well as the many tasks the two groups have in common:
- Both groups of women are involved in transporting, processing, storing and marketing farm produce. Both groups are put in a subordinate position.
- Women who are culturally permitted to work on farm cultivation (farm-hands) can express their land interests.
- Non farm-hands (those whose labour is directed toward secondary activities) are denied such entitlements because their connection with the land is weak. They have to seek alternative work that further undermines their land interests and traditional entitlements to secure livelihoods.
- In both cases, unjust accommodations underpin negotiations, limiting possibilities for agency and activism that might enhance women’s land interests and rights.