Ghana’s success in closing the gender gap

Ghana is an excellent case study for progress made in closing the gender gap and increasing equality. Ghana has prioritized human development, particularly education and gender equality and circumstances that have impacted the capacity, or will, of the state to focus on education. Obstacles to human development can be military conflict or violence, natural disasters, levels of economic development and funding. Here I examine the rankings and indicators of Ghana under the UN Human Development Index as well as other research and statistics on Ghana’s investments in economic development and the prioritization of human development issues.

UN Human Development Index

Ghana is ranked 140 out of 188 countries (where 1 is the best) and is within the medium level of development. Ghana’s overall Human Development Index (HDI) is 0.579. Life expectancy is 61.4, with 11.5 expected years of schooling with mean years of schooling at 7 years (this will be analyzed more in depth below). Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is $3,852 and GNI per capita rank minus HDI rank is -1. Since 1990 Ghana’s’ HDI has continued to trend upwards although at a slow rate.


In terms of health life expectancy at birth is 61.4 years. The male and female adult mortality rate is comparable at female 222 and 261 per 1,000 people respectively. The largest risk of disease is malaria with 67 deaths a year per 100,000 people. Tuberculosis is much less of a threat with only 6.9 per 100,000 people per year. The prevalence of HIV in adults aged 15-49 totals 1.3%. The infant mortality rate is 52.3 per 1,000 live births. Six per-cent of one-year-old infants lack immunization for DTP and 11% of the same population lack immunization for measles. The under-five mortality rate is 78.4 per 1,000 live births and public health expenditure is 5.4% of GDP.


The expected years of schooling is 11.5 years and the mean years of schooling is 7 years, which is reflected in the high adult literacy rate of 71.5% of people aged 15 and older. Education is a clear priority in Ghana as the gross enrolment ratio of pre-primary preschool-aged children is 116.9%, for primary it is 106.9%, secondary school-age population drops to 67.1% and tertiary is significantly lower with only 12.2% of that age population. Overall, the population with at least some secondary education is 54.3% of individuals age 25 and above. The primary school dropout rate is 16.3% of the primary school cohort. In terms of the teachers, 52.4% of primary school teachers are trained to teach and the pupil-teacher ratio in primary school is 30 students to 1 teacher. Public expenditure on education is 8.1% of the GDP.

Income Inequality

Inequality-adjusted HDI is 0.387 with a coefficient of human inequality of 33.1%. Given the Gini coefficient the income inequality is 42.8%, in terms of the given the Palma ratio it is 2.2 and the Quintile ratio is 9.3%.

Inequality in education is 36.7%; inequality in income is 31.7%. Inequality in life expectancy is 30.8%. The overall loss in the human development index due to inequality is 33.1%.


Ghana ranks fairly high on the gender development index with 0.885. The adolescent birth rate is 58.4 births per 1,000 women ages 15-19. The estimated gross national income per capita for females is $3,200.40 while it is significantly higher for males at $4,514.70. The educational gap is not very dramatic with the expected years of schooling at 11 years for females and 12 years for males. However, the mean years of schooling for females is 5.6 while males have 7.9 years. Of all females ages 25 and older, 45.2% have at least some secondary education compared to 64.7 of all males in the same age group. The gender inequality index is 0.554. The overall HDI for females is 0.54 while it is 0.61 for males. Labor force participation rate for females is 67.3% ages 15 and older and 71.4% of males for the same age group. Females have a slightly longer life expectancy at birth of 62.3 years versus 60.4 for males. Maternal mortality ratio is 380 deaths per 100,000 live births. Women’s share of seats in parliament is 10.9%.


In Ghana, 30.5% of the population lives in multidimensional poverty, which is 7.559 million people in the country, with 18.7% living near multidimensional poverty. The population living in severe multidimensional poverty is 12.1%. The population living below income poverty line at $1.25 a day is 28.7% and the working poor at $2 a day is 44.3% of all people working. The population living in multidimensional poverty, with an intensity of deprivation is 47.3%.


The population of those employed is 66.2% of those ages 15 and older. Child labor is quite high at 33.9% of children ages 5 to 14 working. Domestic workers that are female total 0.3% of total employment and males in the same field total 0.4%. The percentage of the population that is employed in agriculture is 41.5% and 43.1% of the population work in the service industry. For those 15 years and older 69.3% are participating in the labor force and the long-term unemployment rate is not available. There is mandatory paid maternity leave for new mothers requiring 84 days. The total unemployment rate is 4.2% of labor force with 76.8% of the population having vulnerable employment.

Human Security

In Ghana the homicide rate is fairly low at 6.1 per 100,000 people. There are no homeless people as a result of natural disasters documented in the HDI. The birth registration is 63% under age five. The old age pension recipient’s rate is 7.6% of the statutory pension age population. The prison population is 54 per 100,000 people and there are 22,500 refugees from other countries currently residing in Ghana. The suicide rate for females is much lower than for males at 2.2 per 100,000 people. The male suicide rate is nearly double at 4.2 per 100,000 people. However 44.5% of women have reported experiencing gender-based violence.


Overall violence and instability in Ghana is not an issue. Ghana is a stable democracy and has had six elections since 1992 and two peaceful transitions of power between political parties. “There have been numerous peaceful protests and occasions where isolated violence has broken out, particularly between rival ethnic groups in northern Ghana.” (OSAC: US Dept of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security) As I will discuss later, it is important to note that northern Ghana is the region that experiences the most poverty and lowest level of human development. “There is tension between and within certain ethnic groups in northern regions in particular that can, at times and on short notice, become violent. “(OSAC: US Dept of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security)

The major ethnic groups of the region are the Mole Dagbon, (52.2%) the Gurma, (21.8%) the Akan and the Guan (8.7%). Among the Mole-Dagbon, the largest subgroups are the Dagomba and the Mamprusi, while the Komkomba are the largest of the Gurma, the Chokosi of the Akan and the Gonja of the Guan. The Dagomba constitute about a third of the population of the region. (Government of Ghana)


As mentioned, the overall trend in poverty in Ghana has been declining over the past few decades. “The overall trend in poverty shows a decline in poverty levels from 51.7% to 39.5% from 1991/1992 to 1998/1999. Extreme poverty declined from 35.7% to 29.4% in the same period.” (Awumbia 150) However, “Despite this, the period also shows evidence of the intensification of vulnerability and exclusion among some groups, particularly in the rural and urban savannah, and in the urban coastal regions, which experienced increases in poverty over the period.” (Awumbia 150) Awumbia cites that 80% of those classified as poor reside in the rural areas (150). Furthermore, women have a higher rate of poverty and more severe poverty than men. (Awumbia 149-150)

For those families who are living in poverty, the experience and access to resources can be dire. According to UNICEF, “the major drivers of child deaths in Ghana stem from poverty, discrimination, quality of care and unequal access to basic services. Children from Ghana’s poorest families are nearly 40% more likely to die before the age of five, compared to children from Ghana’s richest families.” (UNICEF Ghana)

UNICEF has identified four primary factors which impact child mortality and morbidity in Ghana as (1) Poor access to quality services, (2) Poor start to life, (3) Risky Environment, (4) Intergenerational poverty. In terms of access to quality services, UNICEF cites that only 68% of women deliver with a skilled birth attendant. Interestingly, this number actually drops to 37% in the northern region where the poverty rate is higher. Impediments to accessing adequate care are cost, distance and quality of services. (UNICEF Ghana) Stunting and other forms of malnutrition in the early years of the child’s life increase their vulnerability to diseases and infections. The leading cause of death for children under five is malaria, as reflected as the greatest threat from the UN HDI and diarrhea. Open drainage and lack of waste management systems are the major causes of these diseases. Finally, in regards to intergenerational poverty, “children’s health and development is inextricably linked to the wellbeing and health of their mothers, and no less crucially, to their mother’s level of education.” (UNICEF Ghana)


UNICEF touts Ghana as a “regional leader in the delivery of Education for All, reaching the education Millennium Development Goals well ahead of the 2015 deadline.” (UNICEF Ghana) Even though remarkable strides have been made, there are still some gender inequalities and again, these intensify by region and by the experience of poverty. “Girls from northern Ghana average only four years of education, three years less than the national average. And 20% of children with physical disabilities are not attending school, according to the 2010 national census.” (UNICEF Ghana)

In 2008, Ghana organized, implemented and published a New Reform program for their educational system. The identified importance of education for the development of the state, community and individual is articulated in the executive summary of the initiative.

The philosophy underlying our educational system is to create a well balanced individually (intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically) with the requisite knowledge, skills values and aptitudes for self-actualization and for the socio-economic and political transformation of the nation. Beyond every reasonable doubt, education contributes to improving security, health, prosperity and ecological equilibrium in the world. (Ghana National Commission for UNESCO 5)

The table of contents issued for the commission report include: new reform of the educational system and structure for all levels of education including teacher education, accounting for inclusive education, students with special needs for physical and mental disabilities, gender parity, co-operative and interactive learning, inquiry based learning, technology and more. It is very comprehensive and inclusive of modern educational concerns and reflections.

Although Ghana has prioritized inclusive education there is still more work to be done. Inequalities that stem from education ripple across all aspects of society. “Gender differences in educational levels, access to economic opportunities and resources, as well as unequal gender relations, which make women subordinate and subservient in marital and pre-marital relationships translates into disadvantages for women and disempowers them […]” (Awumbia 156)

Gender Inequality

In spite of the gains made, gender inequality is still persistent. Women make up half of the workers in agricultural activities, yet, “despite their prominent presence in agricultural activities, only 26.1 percent of women are farm owners or managers.” (Prah 412) Given the importance of agricultural activity, land is extremely important both for productivity, livelihood and social and political status.

Women are not only less likely to own land but “size of landholdings also shows that households headed by women tend to own on average lower hectares of land (35 ha) than do households headed by men (47 ha).” (Awumbia 154)

Similarly, although labour participation is fairly equal, “there is gender segregation with about 91% of economically active women employed in the informal sector as own-account workers in agriculture or non-agriculture or unpaid workers on family enterprises.” (Awumbia 155) This means that although women are participating as much as men in the labor force, they tend to work in smaller scale ways than men, and sometimes they are not even receiving a wage. There is also a discrepancy of opportunities between types of jobs available to women in the non-agricultural sector. The most popular types of jobs for women are hairdressing and dressmaking. However men have many more options for work such as “carpenters, masons, blacksmiths, mechanics, painters, repairers of electrical and electronic appliances, metal workers, upholsterers, car sprayers, to name a few.” (Awumbia 155)

Women in Ghana are disproportionately concentrated in the informal sector of the economy, where they are generally self-employed. “Their main activities in this sector are petty trading, food processing, and marketing food crops.” (Prah 412) “About 85 percent of traders in the major towns of the southern regions of the country are women. Although this arrangement makes women highly visible, women’s business tend to be small-scale and loosely structured, with limited management expertise and weak infrastructural support.” (Prah 412-413)

Political/Systemic Efforts

A unique aspect of Ghana’s pursuit of gender parity is that there has been an effort by women’s groups as well as the government itself, to empower women and achieve equality. Making gender equality a specific objective of institutions and systems that drive society is a crucial part of advancing women. In February 1975, the government created the National Council on Women and Development (NCWD). In 2001, they created the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs (MOWAC) and they organized a social analysis with a focus on women and children from 2003-2005 called the Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRS) 2003-2005. Furthermore, the First Lady Mrs. Agyeman-Rawlings led the 31st December Women’s Movement. The state also created gender desks at various state institutions. Other prominent and active women’s organizations are International Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Women in Law and Development in Africa (WILDAF) and the Christian Mothers’ Union (church affiliated).
“The majority of women’s groups tend to focus their activities on two main areas: the creation of income-generating projects for women and advocacy for women.” (Prah 414) Another system difference for women is that law in Ghana recognizes women’s rights to property, separate or non-dependent on men and their freedom to enter into transactions independently. (Prah 412) However, this is still not practiced widely due to the traditional norms that state only males can own property. Additionally, women hold important cultural, social and religious roles in society. “Women are dominant in the religions and cultural life of communities, […] In these positions they are held in high esteem by the society.” (Prah 413) Yet, the long-term traditional role of the chieftaincy system practiced in Ghana still reserves the position of chief for males.



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