Ghana: Ten thousand Queen Mothers take their power and drive change (Trust)

| January 18, 2016

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In Ghana, some 10,000 Queen Mothers are taking back their ancestral power and bringing social and economic change to women and children across the country.

Each town and village in Ghana has a “royal family” which is descended from the first family who settled there. Selected from these families, Queen Mothers are the custodians of cultural traditions, and are mostly responsible for looking after the women and children in their communities. It is a remarkable but little known tradition. As one Queen Mother explains, “We are called Queen Mothers because as Queens we are partners to the chiefs, and as mothers, we are looking after the whole community.”

The tradition of Queen Mothers endured for centuries in southern Ghana and in other African countries, along with chieftaincy, the pre-colonial form of governance. Queen Mothers were respected and powerful. But colonialists bypassed women leaders, negotiating only with chiefs, and the women’s influence dwindled. After independence in 1957, the new government excluded Queen Mothers from the institutions representing the regions, and their role became mostly ceremonial. Chiefs, on the other hand, retained tremendous social, political, and economic clout.

But recently, Queen Mothers have started to reclaim and modernize their traditional role. They are learning new skills and networking with their counterparts in other African countries. Together, they are playing an increasingly important role in the continent’s struggle for girls’ education and against female genital mutilation, early marriage, poverty, and other issues.

Queen Mothers are called Pognamine in the upper west corner of Ghana, a vast, poor, rural region with little infrastructure, where men own the land and make all the decisions.

Dogkudome Tegzuylle I is a midwife in Lawra town, and the Pognaa (Queen Mother) of Lyssah, a village of 1,200. She says, “Our main challenge is poverty, especially among women. Our men are difficult. They don’t support their women.”

It’s the same in other communities. Maabuora Sanduo I is the Pognaa of Nanyaare, a nearby community. She says: “Look around you; women are the vast majority in our villages. Many of our men die young because they drink and don’t look after themselves, leaving widows; others leave the women and children to fend for themselves.”

To help their women support themselves, Queen Mothers have created small income-generating projects based on their community’s natural resources, such as shea butter. They have initiated soap-making, beekeeping, and hairdressing groups, as well as informal savings and loan clubs, or susus.

Anita Sutha is a junior high school teacher. She says: “Pognaa initiated the susu because we cannot wait for donors’ or government’s help. She paid for me to go to Canada to learn leadership, communication, and health impact assessment. In turn, I now train other women.”

She says that, while women used to depend on their husbands for everything, now they can earn a living and money for themselves and their children. She adds, “Before, women were not included in any decisions; now they are listened to.”

Tegzuylle I is determined to engage men in community affairs. She says: “I say that everyone has to come to the meetings and get involved—women, men, children—and they start to come. Gradually, we are seeing a change: an understanding that men and women can interact and exchange ideas. Things are slowly improving.”

Each Queen Mother has her own vision and priorities for her community. There are programs on climate change, girls’ education, teenage pregnancy, sanitation, HIV, income generation, and more.

Tegzuylle I makes a sweeping gesture which embraces her village and the fields surrounding it. “I grew up here,” she says. “I know most of the women and I know their problems. I want to make a difference. I want to be a real leader.”

To read the full article on which this story is based, The formidable Queen Mothers of Ghana: 10,000 amazing women who are taking back their power and driving change, go to