An Archive of Activism

An Archive of Activism: Gender and Public History in Postcolonial Ghana

This project provides vital historical and country-specific context for the contemporary challenge of gender inequality, and the under-representation of women in public life. Questions about gender and politics have been raised in comparative studies of democratisation. Feminist scholars have advocated for critical approaches to gender and politics generating substantial research on contemporary gender issues, women’s organising and campaigning, the relationship between research and activism, and on affirmative action (for a small sample see Adomako Ampofo 2008; Adomako Ampofo, Beoku-Betts and Osirim 2008; Appiah 2015; Apusigah et al 2011; Manuh 2010; Tsikata 2009). However, an acute lack of research on the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s contributes to a popular perception that women’s human rights were conceived elsewhere, ‘in the west’, and arrived in Ghana with the re-establishment of multi-party democracy in 1992. This project challenges that perception, by holding in-depth interviews with Ghanaian gender activists to discern what Ghanaian gender activists and political women were actually doing, at home and abroad, during these ‘lost decades.’

Video Credit: An Archive of Activism: Gender and Public History in Postcolonial Ghana, August 2020.

With Kate Skinner (University of Birmingham, PI) and myself as co-Investigator the goal of this project is to:

1) constitute a publicly accessible archive of, and documentary on gender activism and “political women” in postcolonial Ghana. 

2) address gaps in our knowledge of Ghanaian women’s organising and campaigning strategies under military, single-party, and short-lived multi-party governments; and their negotiation of national priorities, cultural particularities, and universalist ambitions through the international women’s movement; 

3) Challenge the representation of women as passive bearers of timeless and essentialised ‘African culture’, and re-shape public understanding of gender activism and ‘political women’ as integral to Ghana’s national history and international relations; 

4) Inform public and policy debate during the period in which the fate of the Affirmative Action Bill will be decided.

This project builds on earlier work, including that carried out at the University of Ghana through the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment research consortium, in which the I participated. The consortium established the principle that women’s empowerment is not an ‘outcome’ to be defined by donors and then ‘fast tracked’; rather, researchers attempted to document and learn from the pathways that Ghanaian women were already taking in order to empower themselves. This approach generated successful partnerships between academic researchers and gender organisations, including an external partner in this project, ABANTU-for-Development.

* two of our participants stories were submitted for the Abena Korantemaa Oral History Prize and won the first and first runner up prizes; October 2020.

Photocredit acknowledgment: Kwame Crentsil

“A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim”

Maya Angelou