Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 24, 1994

Rawlings Speaks for Rights of Women in Ghana
By Sujata Massey

Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, the first lady of Ghana, says her
role as champion of her country's women is based on respecting
the past and embracing the future.
    "We are the custodians of tradition," said Rawlings, the
45-year-old wife of President Jerry Rawlings, and mother of three
daughters and a son. "We are not looking at the female
emancipation aspect; we are interested in what women actually
need--their necessities--because we are fighting a battle against
    Mrs. Rawlings came as a fellow to Hopkins' Institute for
Policy Studies earlier this month to gather ideas to strengthen
the 31st December Women's Movement, a nonprofit organization with
the goal of improving life for the women of Ghana. The group was
named to commemorate the day in 1981 when rioting took place in
the capital city of Accra. The 2 million-member group receives no
money from Ghana's government and is supported by donations and
its own fundraising activities. 
     Rawlings, whose family comes from the Ashanti region of
Ghana, is entitled by heredity to be a "queen mother," a female
community leader whose power is passed matrilineally. While
developing the 31st December Movement, Rawlings benefited from
the built-in respect queen mothers are given by working closely
with them. In 1984, for example, queen mothers initiated laws
that were passed to protect widows from culturally sanctioned
    "If a woman's husband dies, it is assumed immediately there
was some foul play," Rawlings said. "The woman is put through a
ritual punishment. She has to sleep on the floor, she has to use
a stone for a pillow. Some put pepper in her eyes so she cannot
see. So many things are done to make a widow's life miserable,
but if a woman dies, everyone says [to the husband], 'poor man,
you need a woman.'"
    Rawlings is also proud that the group has taught more than 1
million women to read and write in their regional languages and
has helped others to establish agricultural and other businesses.
Women are planting trees for lumber and building houses. Others
are producing food, jewelry and crafts. The movement has also
sponsored child immunizations, built preschools and founded
family planning clinics with information on birth control.
    Rawlings does not shy away from comparisons to U.S. First
Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom she is scheduled to meet during
her time in the United States.
    "If you are married to somebody and you don't advise the
person, I think something is wrong with you," she said. "Moving
into the 21st century, we have to change the way we operate as
first ladies. We don't only have to help our husbands, we have to
see what specific areas we can support to improve the quality of
life for the people within the countries. We cannot afford to
just have tea parties, arrange flowers, cut tape or whatever was
done before."
    Rawlings will give a public lecture about her experiences in
Ghana and the United States at 8 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 31, in Mudd
Hall. For information, call the Institute for Policy Studies at

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