This article reflects on Dagaaba men’s constructions of masculinity and the implications of such perspectives for everyday peacebuilding amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Africa. The essay is motivated by the observation that, despite the debilitating ramifications of Covid-19, the pandemic may offer men the opportunity to embrace and practice alternative notions of masculinity in their intimate relationships. Importantly, this reflection foregrounds an understanding of impoverished and relatively deprived Ghanaian men’s ideas about peace and how such ideas may enable them to embrace or challenge alternative masculinities as appropriate strategies for everyday peacebuilding. The article draws on the Dagaaba concept of leadership as an innovative African perspective to everyday peacebuilding.
Covid-19 and Ghana’s response
In March 2020, Ghana recorded its first Covid-19 case in the capital of Accra. Since then, the country has been alarmed by reports of increasing cases of Covid-19 that have traversed other regions of Ghana. The Ghanaian government has been compelled to respond to the pandemic to curtail any further spread of the virus, even as the country continues to confront its own financial fragility. Various emergency measures were put in place by the president of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. To keep Ghanaians well informed about some of these measures, President Akufo-Addo embarked on a biweekly series of updates. These updates are intended to provide Ghanaians with information about the measures put in place for containing Covid-19. Between March and April 2020, Greater Accra and Ashanti regions were placed under a partial lockdown. During the same period, schools across the country were closed and social distancing enforced. Large gatherings, such as funerals, markets, religious convenings, and other social forums, were banned.
In July 2020, the government of Ghana announced the supply of free electricity and water to Ghanaians for an initial period of three months and further extended this intervention for three more months.1Kingsley Asare and Jonathan Donkor, “Ghanaians to Enjoy Free Water, Electricity for 3 More Months,” AllAfrica, July 24, 2020, https://allafrica.com/stories/202007240915.html. The Coronavirus Alleviation and Revitalization of Enterprises Support scheme of November 2020 has offered loans to Ghanaian businessmen and women, especially those who engage in small- and medium-scale businesses, to provide a financial cushion in the wake of the pandemic.2“Government Launches GHȼ100 Billion CARES Programme,” Republic of Ghana Ministry of Finance, November 20, 2020, https://www.mofep.gov.gh/news-and-events/2020-11-20/government-launches-gh%C8%BC100-billion-cares-programme.
Despite the various measures put in place, it is reasonable to suggest that Ghana has not succeeded in adequately containing the pandemic, as new cases are reported daily. This situation raises many questions. In a highly marketized country where state-provided electricity and water supplies are at best sporadic, and where most rural communities do not have access to these amenities, what legitimacy does the government have in claiming to be providing free water and electricity? Also, in a country where men’s positions in the family and society are defined by their ability to provide as breadwinners, what sense does it make to provide free electricity to a starving family? When we consider that this is a context where social gatherings are an important means of fostering connections, building social capital, and ensuring a sense of belonging, how do men make sense of their experiences of staying at home? Given the unprecedented circumstances occasioned by Covid-19, how will men navigate gender tensions and conflicts that challenge dominant constructions of masculinity? Does the emergence of Covid-19 offer possibilities for thinking through alternative masculine models, especially those that gravitate toward peacebuilding? These questions are especially relevant considering that the measures introduced by the government were and continue to be insufficiently gender sensitive.
I argue that Covid-19 has endangered the livelihood opportunities for both men and women, particularly those operating in the informal sector. In northwestern Ghana, Covid-19 is likely to cause many informal workers, with their low educational qualifications and skills, to lose their jobs. Due to the partial lockdown and closure of workplaces, informal workers, mostly men who operate as security guards and unskilled laborers, have been rendered jobless. A significant source of livelihood to complement the dwindling yields from rain-fed subsistence farming has thus been lost. Yet it is important to recognize that not even in this context of the denial of alternative sources of livelihood are men spared from fulfilling their cultural mandate of serving as breadwinners. In view of this, the pandemic has contributed to deepening already fragile sources of livelihood for men in ways that may frustrate their aspiration for better social credentials.
One could argue not only that the pandemic is exacerbating the inequalities women navigate daily, but also that men as a gendered category are overwhelmingly affected in the process. For example, the partial lockdown, including the imposition of Covid-19 preventive protocols, such as staying at home, have rendered most men incapable of fulfilling their socially constructed mandate of serving as breadwinners. Because of the socially constructed notion of what it may mean to be a man, most men who now stay at home are likely to feel more emasculated, as they are unable to earn extra income to bolster their financial standing. When schools are in session, most men may feel that their roles as fathers are only tied to providing for the material needs of their children. When schools are closed, the very configuration of fatherhood is likely to be affected, as most parents may assume the additional role of teachers and caregivers. Yet this is not an entirely negative development, as most parents, especially fathers, may invest more time in developing emotional connections with their children, as discussed later in this essay.
Masculinity and Peacebuilding amid Covid-19
While Ghana is largely described as a peaceful country, its economically fragile state is easily complicated by financial shocks, natural disasters, and other emergencies, Covid-19 included. The country has struggled in successfully managing socioeconomic ramifications in the wake of the pandemic. Although measures to manage the socioeconomic impacts of Covid-19 have been on the radar of government, it has failed to address the gender tensions wrought by the pandemic.
As one would expect, Covid-19 has disrupted peacebuilding processes in both peaceful and conflict-affected settings. International peacemakers are beginning to shift the focus toward leveraging local capacities and resources for sustained peacebuilding. Yet the question of how men as gendered subjects may make peace in their intimate relationships in a largely peaceful country remains insufficiently discussed. In most African countries, including Ghana, it is crucial to appreciate that peacebuilding is about not only the presence of conflicts and their catastrophic aftermath, but also the everyday relationships and interactions between people. Everyday peacebuilding in Ghana may also require a careful understanding of how social groups and communities interact with each other in ways that speak to their cultural nuances and social arrangements.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the pandemic has negatively impacted the global economy, resulting in a significant economic recession. The additional burden on increasingly fragile economies has meant that limited resources are devoted to peacebuilding processes. For example, in the context of Ghana, there is a growing demand for public health financing to mitigate the spread of the virus. While global crises and conflicts continue to affect everyone in the world either directly or indirectly, it is important to recognize that the impacts of conflicts are likely to further exacerbate gendered, classed, and spatial inequalities. Although there are no active cases of violent conflict in Ghana, the country is part of the global world order, where resources are distributed based on national interests and economic and strategic priorities. In view of this, people who are working in precarious conditions in both rural and urban areas are more likely to face additional challenges due to the contraction of state resources and donor funding. As the government of Ghana has put in place measures aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19, it is important to begin a conversation around whether such measures might offer fertile ground for everyday peacebuilding processes to thrive.
The Dagaaba perspective on peace or what it may mean to have peace in one’s family goes beyond the narrow liberal conceptualization of peace as the absence of visible conflict. To the Dagaaba of northwestern Ghana,[i] peace may mean being able to provide for the material and spiritual needs of one’s family. Peace may also mean good health. To most men that I interviewed, the value of peace lies in fostering harmonious societal living. Participants believed this to mean that every person in society deserves respect and protection from harm, including the violence of poverty and unemployment. Structured around the notions of patriarchy, the Dagaaba believe that a man’s ability to provide for his family defines him as a respected person. In their perspective, their dignity and integrity as men are at the heart of everyday peacebuilding. Importantly, peace originates from a mindset that is in line with societal notions of integrity and dignity. To most men, overcoming their perceived struggles, which may in turn enable them to foster healthy and peaceful relationships, is a matter of personal priority. Most men underscored the importance of peace to the growth and development of families, communities, and wider society. Most men also noted that they had started challenging the problematic notion of gender, especially the gendered division of labor as a way of nurturing peace in their relationships. Most men are becoming more active fathers compared to the pre-Covid-19 period, when many used to travel to other regions in Ghana to earn extra income to boost their masculine credentials. This shift in fatherhood was expressed by a middle-aged participant:
Covid-19 has made me to realize that I was doing more harm than good to my children. Even though I used to send them money that I earned from “galamsey” (artisanal mining), I realized that the money became their father because I have been absent from home for long. In our telephone conversations, my wife was always mad at me. She was right to be angry because the burden was too much for her. A woman alone does not build a family. Now that I am home, I take care of the children while she prepares food. Sometimes, I wash the dishes and she does something else. This has been instrumental in building peace in my family.
My research has revealed that most households in northwestern Ghana continue to be molded by complex historical legacies of colonialism. During colonial rule, the gendered division of labor became heightened and more visible. Men were expected to migrate to the gold fields in southern Ghana to make a living. Migrating to southern Ghana or working far from home has become an enviable route to attaining the position of breadwinner. Scholars such as Clowes, Ratele, and Shefer have demonstrated that while such movement of men may enable them to fulfil their gendered role of financial provider, it undermines their capacity to be active and involved fathers.3Lindsay Clowes, Kopano Ratele, and Tamara Shefer, “Who Needs a Father? South African Men Reflect on Being Fathered,” Journal of Gender Studies 22, no. 3 (2013): 255–67, https://doi.org/10.1080/09589236.2012.708823.
How do men who struggle to fulfil a culturally revered model of masculinity make sense of their identity as men in the era of Covid-19, where their opportunities have become even more limited? How do such men make peace with their families in the context of troubled masculinities? The Dagaaba men of northwestern Ghana suggested that most disputes at the family level are triggered by frustrated hopes and failure to meet societal expectations of masculinity. Among the Dagaaba, roles and expectations are divided along gender lines. In view of this, most men expressed the belief that the least desirable situation for every respectable man is to stay at home while your family starves. According to their cultural orientation, credible masculinity was measured by a man’s ability to be a diligent breadwinner and independent family provider. Being able to provide for the material needs of one’s family defines successful masculinity. Peacebuilding dynamics and processes among the Dagaaba require a close understanding of the entanglement of tradition, culture, economy, and gender in northwestern Ghana and the country at large. To better appreciate and foreground the impacts of Covid‐19 on men’s experiences and navigations of masculinity, it is necessary to examine the Dagaaba’s cultural circumstances, heteronormative arrangements, and broader societal perceptions on masculinity and femininity, and how these influence the everyday gendered subjectivities of men and women in Ghana. It is important that cultural norms, roles, expectations, and relations that shape men’s and women’s lived experiences as gendered subjects are considered in efforts to consolidate the gains of global peacebuilding mechanisms and processes amid the Covid‐19 pandemic.
Based on the reflections in this essay, there is a need to turn our gaze toward understanding how best to access and leverage narratives that have been silenced in liberal peacebuilding processes.4 These silenced narratives may offer peacebuilding scholars a useful lens to foreground more personal dimensions of peacebuilding as suggested by Shepherd,4Laura Shepherd, “The Road to (and from) ‘Recovery’: A Multidisciplinary Feminist Approach to Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding,” in Rethinking Peacekeeping, Gender Equality and Collective Security, eds. Gina Heathcote and Dianne Otto (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 99–117. and Hudson.5Heidi Hudson, “Decolonising Gender and Peacebuilding: Feminist Frontiers and Border Thinking in Africa,” Peacebuilding 4, no. 2 (2016): 194–209, https://doi.org/10.1080/21647259.2016.1192242. Tethered to a decolonial perspective on peacebuilding, such an approach may enable us to unpack the everyday spaces of peacebuilding and how power dynamics, privileges, and inequalities are experienced, negotiated, and lived by all genders. Based on my findings, it is recommended that the government of Ghana supports and builds the capacity of both men and women to overcome the structural inequalities that affect their livelihoods. This is important to support peacebuilding processes at the local level.
- 1Kingsley Asare and Jonathan Donkor, “Ghanaians to Enjoy Free Water, Electricity for 3 More Months,” AllAfrica, July 24, 2020, https://allafrica.com/stories/202007240915.html.
- 2“Government Launches GHȼ100 Billion CARES Programme,” Republic of Ghana Ministry of Finance, November 20, 2020, https://www.mofep.gov.gh/news-and-events/2020-11-20/government-launches-gh%C8%BC100-billion-cares-programme.
- 3Lindsay Clowes, Kopano Ratele, and Tamara Shefer, “Who Needs a Father? South African Men Reflect on Being Fathered,” Journal of Gender Studies 22, no. 3 (2013): 255–67, https://doi.org/10.1080/09589236.2012.708823.
- 4These silenced narratives may offer peacebuilding scholars a useful lens to foreground more personal dimensions of peacebuilding as suggested by Shepherd,4Laura Shepherd, “The Road to (and from) ‘Recovery’: A Multidisciplinary Feminist Approach to Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding,” in Rethinking Peacekeeping, Gender Equality and Collective Security, eds. Gina Heathcote and Dianne Otto (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 99–117.
- 5Heidi Hudson, “Decolonising Gender and Peacebuilding: Feminist Frontiers and Border Thinking in Africa,” Peacebuilding 4, no. 2 (2016): 194–209, https://doi.org/10.1080/21647259.2016.1192242.