Being Jamaican, the phenomenon of single mothers isn't new. The stigma that once was attached has virtually disappeared - at least as far as I can see and yes, I am a single mom. Several of my friends fall into this category, and they represent some of the strongest and most professional women that I know. It was therefore somewhat of a surprise when I visited an NGO in the Upper East of Ghana that was dedicated to building confidence in single mothers. Here is where culture make a distinctive difference.
The Single Mothers Association (or SMA for short) works with rural women to alleviate poverty. They noted that there were a number of factors that gave rise to the number of single mothers - intra-family marriages, preference for boy children, early childhood betrothal, divorce, separation and death of husbands just to name a few. Furthermore there are a number of negative traditional customs in the area that perpetuate single motherhood:
- Sister in bed (Yienzaba):this is a relationship between a man and a woman from the same clan. By tribal custom, this kind of marriage is forbidden, and as a result children are illegitimate;
- Funeral rites: girls, some as young as ten, are forced by their families to choose a man at funeral ceremonies. This leaves the girl vulnerable to rape and teenage pregnancy;
- Preference for boys: refers to the detention of daughters when a family has no male children. The eldest daughter is then kept at home and she will have children with a man chosen by her father;
- Strong belief in fertility : if a woman is barren she can bring another woman to have children on her behalf. The woman who will give birth is assigned a man by the barren woman. In most cases she will remain a single mother as men do not wish to marry a woman who has borne someone else's child.
The SMA has been trying to educate women and the communities to discontinue these traditional practices working through a number of media (radio programmes, village workshops, peer counseling)as well as teaching these women income generating activities such as basket weaving, skills development training and providing micro-finance.
Interested in supporting SMA? Then get in touch - Single Mothers Association, P.O. Box 705, Bolgatanga, Upper East Region, Ghana. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Telephone: + 233(0)72-23396