The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Student Profiles

Constance Sabiru

Project title: Gender Performativity in Dagaaba Marriage:  Implications for Social Relations and Community Development

Supervisors: Dr Cathrine Degnen and Prof Peter Phillimore

Studies of gender equality in Ghana have tended to focus on formal level issues such as gender parity in education, politics and employment. Attention to issues within the marriage arena has been fragmentary, focusing on different components such as domestic violence, income generating activities and inheritance systems rather than targeting holistically the dynamics within the marriage space that engender inequalities. However, women and men have different experiences regarding the norms, rules and expectations that govern their relationships in marriages. Women continue to suffer violence yet these issues are treated simply as family or ‘private’ matters and in many instances (gendered) customary laws are invoked to resolve them and in some cases justice is denied.

This feminist ethnographic study combines 12 months of participant observation with poststructuralist theories of perfomativity of gender, postcolonial and African feminisms to examine gender performativity in marriage among the Dagaaba. The Dagaaba are part of the broader Dagaare speaking people of north western Ghana, what Jack Goody has referred to as the “LoDagaa”. The aim is to assess the extent to which gender equality is negotiated in customary marriage.

Theories of performativity of gender have been mainly employed to criticise, undermine and subvert regimes of heterosexualism and heteropatriarchy as well as the violence that together they exact on non-heterosexual practices and subjectivities. This study, working within heteropatriarchy, deploys the theory to examine how rules and expectations of normative behaviour in heterosexual marriage within a patriarchal society are accepted, re-enacted, challenged and/or subverted. Furthermore, in relation to women’s position and agency within Dagaaba marriage, the role of colonial imperialism is examined; that is, the effects of transposing colonial values and standards of morality within marriage on the already patriarchal social structure of the Dagaaba.