Daniel Tanko Dawda, Female political authority in a patriarchal society: The role of the Wuriche in the Gonja traditional political system in Ghana

It has become an issue within contemporary social and political discourse to provide space for the inclusion of women in leadership positions. However, most African traditional political systems are influenced by patriarchal tendencies which ascribe authority to males to the neglect of women. Like in all other political systems, the traditional leader exercises both executive and ceremonial functions. By Montesquieu’s categorization, political power is exercised in the form of legislative, executive and judicial authority (Heywood, 2007). In the traditional political system however, the traditional leaders combine these three spheres of power in the same body or person. The influence and visibility of the traditional leader depend on the extent to which he/she is able to combine these powers effectively in the same person or body. It is that ability which establishes the authority of the leader over the subjects (community).

The female chief (Wuriche) among the Gonja, is expected to occupy these role situations for traditional societies. But the society in which she finds herself is essentially a patriarchal society with male chauvinistic tendencies. In such circumstances, the female chief, is circumscribed by social definition of the role of women. The traditional system of the Gonja hardly allows for women to ‘command’ men around. In this circumstance, it is difficult for the female chief to extend her role over men. In the contemporary gendered situation, even though the Wuriche had been part of the Gonja traditional structure, the effectiveness in combining both ceremonial and executive authority is not guaranteed. The issue therefore arises as to whether the female chiefs are just cultural ‘tokens’ without political power. There is also the issue of the extent to which the role of the Wuriche complements the male chief or the extent to which the female chief plays equal roles to the male chief. This therefore raises the issue about the extent of the Wuriche’s authority and whether they have effective roles to play in the political arrangement of traditional Gonja.

Broadly, the study seeks to answer the question; to what extent are traditional leadership roles in the political organization of the Gonja gendered?

Researcher supervising: 
Project status: 
Countries, location: