Letter from Africa: Are men still the bosses in Ghana?

A child plays football with his father at the beach in Accra, Ghana, on 6 February 2008 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Some Ghanaian fathers do spend time with their children

In our series of letters from African journalists, Ghanaian writer Elizabeth Ohene asks why some children are still being taught a traditional view of the roles of parents.

Fathers' Day is not exactly a popular date on many people's calendar here in Ghana. But ever so gradually we are joining in the observance of the third Sunday of June as the date set aside for the celebration of fathers.

The hospitality industry is leading the campaign and there were promotions for special lunches and brunches in some leading hotels and restaurants in the big cities.

Some radio stations ran half-hearted campaigns to draw attention to the celebrations and some churches organised special prayers for fathers.

There is, however, nothing like the buzz and hype seen during Mothers' Day celebrations. And in small towns and villages, the chances are that fathers are not likely to get even a perfunctory Happy Father's Day greeting, never mind a card to mark the day.

'Unassailable position'

Nobody will be taking those fathers out to any special lunch and there wouldn't be any presents either.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Men are still the main bread-winners in many Ghanaian families...
Image copyright AFP
Image caption ... Many women also earn an income in addition to their traditional roles as home-makers

Unfortunately, the reality is that there are lots of people around here whose fathers don't feature in anyway in their lives, and it is not surprising that the Fathers' Day celebrations don't get much traction here.

I have, therefore, been toying with the idea of starting a Fathers Appreciation Society to help put Ghanaian fathers in a more respectable position in our society. I think I owe it to my late father, who was a wonderful father.

But I am beginning to think that maybe fathers in Ghana don't really need such a campaign.

They already occupy an unassailable position in our society and proof of this came with the homework my eight-year old niece brought home from school last week.


She attends one of the private, well-equipped modern schools in Accra, Ghana's capital. The subject matter of the homework dealt with the roles of parents and this is the list she was given to study:

  • The father provides food, clothing and shelter for the family
  • The father pays electricity, water and medical bills, as well as school fees
  • The mother cooks for the family and keeps the children and the house clean
  • The mother washes the family's clothes when they are dirty

Number five on the list then says the mother also helps the father to pay some of the bills.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Will these girls play different roles to their mothers?

The list also adds that both mother and father train the children to live a good life and correct the children when they go wrong.

I took a deep breath and I reminded myself that this was coming from a school where the majority of teachers are female.

Was I expected to believe that what they were teaching my niece is what happens in their homes?

One mother was incandescent with rage and threatened to move her daughter from the school.

The class teacher has tried to assuage the rage of those parents who have questioned what their children are being taught by saying children live with their parents and can see for themselves who does what at home.

The children would know, for example, that fathers get the choicest parts of the meat even if they don't give housekeeping money.

They would know that in this country fathers can appear with two bottles of schnapps and claim paternity of a 25-year-old that they had taken no interest in from birth.

In other words, I shouldn't really be worrying about fathers not being made a fuss over publicly in Ghana - our men believe they are the bosses and the next generation of Ghanaians are being brought up to continue to see them as the bosses.

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