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Henrietta Bonney Mercer 


The Social Position Of Women In Ghana

A candid conversation about the struggles of Ghanaian women and where the media goes wrong when telling and retelling their stories.

BY Beryl Karimi-La Patrona

Dec 21, 2022, 10:32 AM

Photo of

Henrietta Bonney Mercer 
Everywhere in the world, women are experiencing a different set of inequalities. Some are in higher magnitudes than others and at times in similar ways that are familiar to all of us.

Henrietta Bonney Mercer is a Ghanaian feminist and gender activist with a particular interest in telling the stories of women and other marginalized groups in a safe space that doesn’t concern itself with performing for the male gaze.

She runs her magazine FemInSytle Africa while working and studying in the United Kingdom. 

In this conversation with Henrietta, we delve into what it means to be a woman in Ghana, her work at FemInSytle Africa, and the media's role in enabling women's subjugation.

Q: How long have you been running Femistyle Africa and how has the journey been?
A: FemInStyle was launched in September 2020 right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. It has been a roller coaster ride that has had its moments. It has been a great learning process for me but it always amazes me that I have writers who have been with us from day one, volunteering their time and skills to bring the stories we tell to life. It’s not been an easy ride money-wise but nothing rarely is especially in our part of the world.

Q: What differentiates FemInStyle from the traditional media in Ghana and other parts of Africa?
A: FemInStyle Africa does one thing differently and that is telling the stories of African women exclusively and for African women. Many “women-focused” magazines market to women while working to maintain the status quo.

FemInStyle doesn’t concern itself with that. We believe that creating a space that amplifies women’s achievements and voices exclusively can be a catalyst for change in the fight for gender equality. 

Think about reading an article that gives you 10 suggestions on how to keep your man happy, and flip that on its head - we want to give you 10 suggestions on how to keep YOU happy. We want to showcase what women are doing in politics, education, health, and all other works of life. Centring women’s voices and women’s voices alone.

Q: Talking of equality, how does Ghanaian society treat its women in this day and age?
A: Much like many countries across the continent, Ghana is a deeply patriarchal country and that reflects in the ways women are treated. Women are expected to fit into these boxes set out by society for them. Be a wife, mother, chef, cleaner, etc. For many women, your academic and career achievements do not matter if you don’t have a husband and children to be your ‘grace’. 

Women are treated as second-class citizens whose opinions and experiences do not matter in the national discourse. You’ll hardly find women on panels that discuss politics or sports etc. Women in media are at best newscasters or talk show hosts, discussing domestic affairs or gossip. The only time you see all women's panels are on international women’s day and even that, the posturing is as though, it’s some favour to women.

Q: Who continues to fail women that much? 
A: This is quite a tough question to answer because we all know that even patriarchy is in part upheld by women but it goes deeper than that. From archaic “cultural” practices which are mostly remnants of colonization, social conditioning, and the refusal by the government to enforce existing laws meant to protect women and girls as well as enact new ones that will go further to even the playing field, there are so many factors to consider. 

For example, we have had an affirmative action bill in parliament which will get more women in governance for instance and it’s been sitting there for years, just collecting dust. 

Q: What can women do to take up more space?
A: Women can take up more space by getting involved in both political and civil life, holding our government accountable when it comes to keeping women and girls safe and just being deliberate about living a life that's contrary to patriarchal standards. These things are by no means easy to just come by. There’s a tremendous unlearning that needs to happen for us to get anywhere close to standing in our power as women.

Q: Why is patriarchy still a deep-rooted problem in Ghana? What enables it?
A: I would say religion directly influences upholding patriarchy and Ghana is a very religious country. It shouldn’t come as a surprise though. But how we are socialized from a young age also entrenches patriarchal beliefs. We have very rigid gendered roles that can be very hard to escape from, no matter how enlightened you become as an individual.

Q: How long will it take to dismantle patriarchal systems in Ghana? Is it even a possibility?
A: Phew! Who knows how long it’ll take? The change will happen, albeit slowly. I refuse to accept that things won’t change and we won’t be able to dismantle patriarchal systems in Ghana, but I know it’ll take a long time so, I aim to make my contribution to that fight while I’m alive and able to fight.

Q: In what ways should the media reinvent itself to help in the fight for equality?
A: I think the media needs to sensitize itself a lot. The way certain issues are reported beggars belief. Media houses need to train their staff to be more aware of gender issues, these bosses need to be intentional about having women at the table when issues of national interest are being addressed. Women makeup half of the population and therefore, their contribution should carry equal weight on issues that affect them equally.

Q: Is that possible within the media industry in Ghana? Or does it also need a complete overhaul?
A: People are a product of their environments but I believe it is possible to change the narrative wherever there is a will to do so. Our mindset when it comes to gender needs an overhaul in general but media especially needs to be extra conscious of how they report because media exists to help shape public perception.

So if for instance, you are reporting a rape case and the headline is something stupid like “man caught having sex with a 12-year-old”, you’re somehow implying that that 12-year-old must somehow be held responsible because by not calling it rape, you’re inferring it was consensual.

Q: As a team player in the industry, what are your hopes for the future?
A: My hope for the future is that women’s contributions and voices will carry equal weight and things like glass ceilings will be the norm rather than the exception. I am particularly interested in having more women participate in politics so I hope to see an increase in the number of women MPs and cabinet ministers. I know that the media can be an instrument for change, and hope that that change comes soon.

Q: What is your parting shot for Ghanaian women?
A: You are more than what society has dictated for you. You are complete without the expectation of being a wife or mother, you have more to contribute to society, and don’t let anyone take your voice away from you, take up as much space as you can, wherever you are!