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Ghana: Where'd all the men go?

Husbands desert their wives and children in poor villages, and seek work in the cities

TEFLE, Ghana — A blue poster on a wall of the women's empowerment center in the Ghanaian village of Tefle reads, "Where are the women?" 

But walking through the dirt roads of the village, women — many young mothers — and loads of children are often all you see. The question might then also read, “Where are the men?"

The men? They’ve gone to the cities in an attempt to escape rampant rural unemployment, leaving behind wives and children whose own employment and education opportunities then suffer. 

Some send money home; many do not.

“Education in Tefle is very low,” said Praise Atikpui Djabeng, 55, a former district assembly member in the village. “So their main occupation is fishing and farming. Some time ago the Volta River was very full, but after the construction of the Akosombo Dam, the river has been blocked.” 

Decreasing river levels and rainfall coupled with aquatic weed invasions and the high risk of bilharzia, a parasitic disease caused by worms in the Volta River, has driven fishermen and farmers to cities in search of other employment or to fishing communities north of the dam.

“Those places are a long way from home, if you can’t see anyone, to send food to your family,” Djabeng said. “They go hungry.”

Those who go to cities like Accra, Kumasi and Cape Coast are attracted by the opportunities to work at factories or construction sites, or to sell food, water or crafts to the massive crowds of people, adding pressure to an already overwhelmed urban population.

“When you go to Accra and Kumasi, the population is very dense, so when you are selling something like water they will buy it,” said Bright Kwame Abotsi, 34, who lives in Tefle and is unemployed. “Here the population is sparse and they don’t buy, or they can’t buy. And when you go to Accra they have a lot of factories there — we don’t have those factories here. In Accra you can surely find something small to do to bring some money.”

Of these men, Djabeng estimates that less than one-third send money home from the cities. “They just leave their families,” she said. “Some can stay there for many years, maybe five to six years even without coming home.”

Some stay away because of lack of money and transportation, returning home only during holidays or funerals, if at all. But others shirk their responsibilities to their wives and children simply because they feel they can, she said. 

The men who don’t send money home often get away with it due to a lack of awareness of the law in rural areas. “[Women] don’t know their rights,” Djabeng said. “The law actually is protecting us, but since we don’t know much about it, that is what’s disturbing us.”