“If you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation”. – Dr Kwegyir Aggrey (Educationist & African Scholar)
Globally, there is an assertion that women’s economic and social rights have considerably improved, but the recent COVID-19 pandemic and resulting global financial crisis have helped to illuminate the gaps that exist in the protection of women’s rights. These are especially in access to social safety nets as well as help to clarify the consequences for women across the world when countries fail to prioritize women in agriculture programming and national policy. The aftermath of the pandemic offers a window to understanding women’s changing role in food and nutrition security, and the real-world repercussions of women’s empowerment and prioritization in agriculture and nutrition as a key tool to national economic and social recovery.
In this light, the FSL-Ac WP2 baseline survey sought to define the scope of food and nutrition security both in urban and rural fishing communities, identify key areas for action and develop community-based change agents to drive social behaviour change communication and awareness activities. With this understanding in mind, there were two challenges experienced. The first was identifying and profiling possible changemakers through our interactions with the study population and secondly, increasing their capacity to influence positive nutritional behaviours in the communities through training.
This blog is a discussion of baseline photo journal and shines light on a few of the unique experiences and realities of the women changemakers we encountered who are helping to address some of the food and nutrition consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mrs. Aflo: vegetable vendor on market days, seamstress for the rest of the week
Mrs. Aflo, a seamstress by trade, was among the first survey respondents to the household baseline survey in Tema. She was energetic and conversational with many insights about Ghanaian cuisine. She casually mentioned that after the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, her sewing business went downhill. Instead of resulting to bank loans, she switched to vending fruit and vegetables, after having heard of the booming business of fruit and vegetable vending from a local radio broadcast. Realising her area had very few fresh fruit and vegetable vendors, she used her savings to purchase fruits and vegetables to ensure her neighbourhood had access to healthy food options. Her trade which started in a small bowl has since grown into a tabletop stall in her local market.
Mrs. Aflo pictured above said: “Most days, I sell all my produce or keep the rest for use at home and invest the income generated back in my sewing business. I earn a living for my family, along with feeding them an array of nutritious foods. I am a vegetable vendor on market days and a seamstress the rest of the week”.
Yoo Kate transferring nutritional knowledge to her granddaughter
Similarly, in Ada-East District, our team was privileged to meet three generations of women in the same household; Yoo Kate, age 78, pictured below on the left turning an “aflata” (semi-cooked corn dough for making kenkey, a local staple), 54-year-old Auntie Aggie, her daughter who was frying the accompanying fish and Yoo Kate’s granddaughter, Narkie, a 21-year-old medical student who had just come from university and lending support to the household business. During this visit to Yoo Kate and her household, our team was able to observe the real-life intergenerational transfer of nutritional knowledge in the form of recipes and culinary skills.
Yoo Kate tells: “In this area, our kenkey has been responsible for nourishing hundreds of people daily, we don’t even have to call people whenever food is ready. They come on their own.” She continues to narrate how her family has been doing this for decades from generation to generation by saying: “When people are hungry, they come here for kenkey and fish, when they are sick, they come for kenkey broth”.
The positive and overwhelming feedback from the community is what keeps her motivated to cook daily at the ripe age of 78 years. Narkie giggles as she chips in and say “I never thought I could sell kenkey. I never had the confidence to cook for people” she says. “But now I do all those things with confidence, because with school, I understand the science behind the process, and the important role food vendors play in providing healthy food. Additionally, I get to spend time with my family and learn the traditions. Who knows: maybe in the future I will write a recipe book?”
Women like Yoo Kate are custodians of indigenous nutritional knowledge. They are an indispensable vehicle for the dissemination of nutritional information and the preservation of indigenous nutritional knowledge on recipes, delicacies, medicinal ethnobotany, and local agriculture that can ensure that Ghana’s food future is diverse. Our encounter with Yoo Kate and her family highlighted the importance of indigenous or traditional nutrition-related knowledge in the promotion of healthy behaviours. From our observation, the knowledge seems to develop and evolve over generations; therefore, it encompasses an intergenerational collection of skills, experiential wisdom, innovation, and ingenuity of the local community. However, we also realized the need for written documentation of this oral knowledge and skills cannot be overemphasized. Written documentation of recipes, delicacies, and cooking technique skills will not only allow for the preservation of such knowledge in their complete raw form for future use but it will facilitate knowledge sharing and access to information for planning and decision-making in nutritional programming, especially in skill transfer.
Three sisters volunteering to feed all school children
In the last days of the field work, we met three sisters, Aishatu, Rama, and Rukia who live in one household in Tema Zongo (a slum neighbourhood). Aishatu who was a participant in the focus group discussion invited our team to come witness an initiative she and her sister had undertaken to ensure that children have access to nutritious food at school.
“Last year the Ghana School Feeding Programme in my daughter’s school was understaffed and operated at low rate due to few cooking assistants, leaving a lot of the children hungry during school hours. These days I only leave the house when I have to go to the market, organise my sisters to volunteer at my daughter’s school. I like going out to work there even though I am not paid. I like being helpful” Aishatu tells with enthusiasm and pride.
She added that her pride stems from the fact that thanks to her efforts, many more children have access to cooked nutritious food at school. Aishatu believes that being able to play different roles as wife and mother at home, a volunteer during cooking session at her daughter’s school, and a women organiser, who is passionate about her child’s access to nutritious foods throughout the day, has enhanced her communication skills built strong empathetic relationships with her neighbours, and slowly she sees herself becoming a role model for her daughter and women in her community.
With an understanding that the post-COVID-19 economic crisis has had a range of devastating consequences around the nation, it is perhaps hard to overstate the nature and scope of the ramifications on the Ghana School Feeding Programme in the most vulnerable populations. Thanks to the proactive, brave, and timely actions taken by women like these three sisters (pictured above) across the nation, Ghana is slowly making gains toward recovery from the post-COVID-19 economic crisis.
Women as change agents
As we approach food and nutrition security via a food systems lens, we need to acknowledge a growing awareness of the interconnection between food systems and other systems such as culture and societal power hierarchy. In our baseline, we observed that though women were custodians of food and nutrition, women especially those in rural settings face greater constraints than men in accessing essential resources and services, technology, information, and financial assets as observed by numerous other studies.
For the FSL-Ac team, stories like these demonstrate the tenacity and versatility of women as change agents in their communities even in the face of adversity. The observation discussed in this piece together with others experienced through the baseline survey demonstrates the role of women in health promotion. Almost all the women we encountered daily had stories of how in their unflagging labour, they always find diverse ways to ensure that their families and communities are nourished. The observations made in this baseline highlight the importance of nutrition interventions that ensure that people, especially women, have the agency and knowledge to shape their own relationships with food systems.
Written by Food System Lab Accra team: Jolene Nyako, Soma-Mahme Loobod, Hilary Kwesi Ketemepi, Mark-Sebastian Ashigbue, Amy Atter, Seth K. Agyakwah, Queronica Q. Quartey, Emmanuel Kuwornu