PART TWO: The hypocrisy of Ghana's so-called traditional norms and family values
The stated premise for Ghana’s draconian Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values, which aims to criminalize LGBTQ+ people for who they are, is that homosexuality and transgender identity threaten Ghanaian social/societal/cultural (the terms are used interchangeably) norms and family values (SNFV).
This assertion is conveniently tossed around and sounds vaguely like a strong defense, but in fact, it is a flawed argument based on the false premise that Ghanaian SNFV are so sacred and perfect that they cannot and must not change.
Traditional norms are not necessarily right
Societal or traditional norms, or the rules that a group uses for appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors, are not fixed. History teaches us that not only do they tend to change over time, by necessity they are compelled to. This is as true in Ghana, in Africa, and the world at large. For instance, in many parts of the world, instead of remaining rigid, there’s been a shift in traditional gender roles that once dictated that men should be the primary earners in their households, while women should focus on housework and raising children. Now, women increasingly participate in the pursuit of careers. Has this been a negative development? No, it has not.
Other examples show how progress in and benefits to society would never have occurred if we had remained mired in outmoded attitudes to SNFV.
Education: Traditionally, education, especially for girls, wasn't prioritized in many parts of Africa due to cultural beliefs and economic circumstances, but in 2020, 66 percent of girls completed their primary education compared to 61% for boys. Girls remain behind boys at lower and upper secondary levels, but the gaps have been reduced in the past two decades. In 2017, Ghana ranked in the top 10% worldwide for female enrollment in secondary and primary education, as a result of active policy decisions to improve educational access and an active gender equity program in the public sector. But Ghana falls in the bottom 25% worldwide for women in parliament, healthy life expectancy, enrollment in tertiary education, literacy rate, and women in the professional and technical workforce.
Political Participation: Women make up approximately half of the world's human population, so gender equality in politics is essential to participatory and accountable governance, long-term growth, and social cohesion. An inclusive society is vital for the building of a democratic system and achieving gender equality.
Countries like Rwanda and Ethiopia have made great strides to gender balance their
cabinets. This is a stark change in societal and traditional norms concerning the
roles women can take in society, marking a true advance. However, for women in
parliament, Ghana falls in the bottom 25% worldwide.
3. Child Marriage: Child marriage is the formal marriage or informal union in which
one or both parties involved are younger than 18 years old. The forces driving child
marriage are linked to gender inequality, poverty, social norms, cultural and
traditional practices, and teenage pregnancy. According to Ghana's Ministry of
Gender, Children, and Social Protection, 1 in 5 young women were in child
marriages in 1990, whereas by 2014, the number was 1 in 3, a substantial
Ghana has launched an extensive social campaign to end child marriages across
the country by 2030. However, childhood marriage is still a cultural and societal
norm (as well as a family value) in particularly the Northern, Upper West, and Upper
East Regions of Ghana. But that doesn’t make it right.
The bottom line: (1) Societal norms are not stagnant, nor should they be. They evolve over time in response to advances in technology, changes in the political landscape, social movements, and economic development. (2) The existence alone doesn’t make them right. There remain many Ghanaian cultural norms or their remnants that still need to be reformed.
The hypocrisy of Ghana's cultural and family values
To hear the Bill sponsors' declarations of Ghana's traditional norms and family values, one would think they are models of excellence. But that isn't the case.
Attitudes toward people with disabilities (PWDs): Ghanaian traditional and cultural views concerning PWDs include the beliefs that physical disabilities are due to curses or punishment from God or the "gods" for the person's "sins" or those of their families. Even from a governmental standpoint, oppression of and discrimination against PWDs continue despite the 2006 Persons With Disability Act, whose promise of proper housing, equal employment and educational opportunities, access to public spaces and transportation, adequate medical care, and protections against abuse by 2016 is largely unfulfilled.
An even worse situation exists regarding children, who suffer social, capital, physical, and emotional abuse from parents and society. Physical abuse supposedly drives out evil spirits from the children, and ritual killings are supposed to end the evil and send the child back to the gods. What kind of family values are these?
Persons with mental health disorders including schizophrenia are still chained in appalling conditions in cages in so-called "prayer camps" and "healing centers," practically a form of torture. In this regard, the Ghanaian government has failed to ensure that these sufferers, who are in real mental anguish, are afforded their human rights. One shudders to think where the government will put arrested LGBTQ+ persons. Perhaps they will be shuttled off to waste away degrading locations such as the witch camps of Northern Ghana. Is this another example of good Ghanaian cultural norms?
Teenage pregnancy, rape and incest
Perhaps maintaining good family values should begin with counteracting the widespread problem of teenage pregnancy in Ghana. The global rate of teenage pregnancy is 49 per 1000 births, while Ghana's rate is 76 per 1000. This leads to dropping out of school and the termination of future aspirations. Even worse, teenager mothers have a 30-50% chance of becoming pregnant again within a year. In a study, the factors contributing to teenage pregnancy included parental neglect. One participant in the study stated, “My parents neglected me after I gave birth to my first child. They behaved as if they didn’t know me. In the first place, it was because of them that was why I was engaging in sexual activities because there was improper parental monitoring.” (participant 31). Is this another example of good Ghanaian family values?
Rape and incest are widely underreported in Ghana, and so the figures available for prevalence and incidence are likely also to be an underestimate. However, at least one well-designed study showed that most cases of incest (90.6%) were between a biological father and daughter, and 72% occurred in ages of 10-19, with the youngest being 3 years old. The incest duration was between one day and 13 years. There is no indication that these crimes are lessening in frequency. Many perpetrators will get away with it because of the gross underreporting.
The risks for rape and incest included lack of the father's involvement in the socio-emotional development of the child, and the wife being away due to work obligations, marital discord, and temporary or permanent separation. Many cases involved a daughter staying with her father as the breadwinner, while others occurred within marriages in crisis: divorce or separation. Are these examples of good Ghanaian family values?
Adultery and serial fathering
Adultery is not a crime in Ghana, but it is arguably a much greater threat to the institution of marriage by far compared to LGBTQ+ relationships. It's not unusual in Ghana for a man to have children by two or more women. This is called "serial fathering." A 2023 study showed that in Ghana, men are increasingly having children with numerous women, whom they refer to as their "baby mamas." The two types of multiple partner fertility are (1) the man is unmarried to the women with whom he has children; (2) the man has children outside of his marriage.
Risk factors for serial fathering include lower income, disrespect of "wifely duties," e.g. "She didn't cook for me, she didn't wash my clothes, she was lazy," etc.; suspected infidelity; social vices like alcoholism; maltreatment of step-children; strife with in-laws; duolocal residences, i.e. the husband and wife live in different locations. Are these examples of good Ghanaian family values?
On the whole, women in Ghana are typically expected to be more faithful to their spouses than men. A woman suspected of infidelity runs the risk of losing her marriage, but the same law does not apply to men. Again, are these examples of good Ghanaian family values?
The bottom line: The sponsors of the Bill speak about "Ghanaian Family Values" as a kind of Shangri-La whereas in fact much of Ghanaian family dynamics are quite frankly a mess. Stating that LGBTQ+ persons could "threaten" the already-broken Ghanaian institution of marriage and family is the height of hypocrisy--a false and dishonest premise being used to justify the attack on the LGBTQ+ community.
As Ghanaian private legal practitioner Akoto Ampaw has stated, "The gravest threat to the family and value systems in Ghana is adultery and the impregnation of teenagers by heterosexual males." [Emphasis by author.]
In Part Three: The long, precolonial history of homosexuality in Africa and a same-sex marriage tradition in Ghana