'Undesirable Practices': Women, Children, and the Politics of Development in Northern Ghana, 1930-1972
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Following the First World War, colonial policy in West Africa underwent a transition as British administrators began to adopt indirect rule reforms to help usher in peasant-driven agricultural development in Northern Ghana. This thesis addresses the impact of these important policy changes on women and children through a study of local colonial and indigenous responses to four bodily practices: female circumcision, human trafficking (female pawning and illicit adoption), nudity and prostitution. Although much has been written about colonial and post-independence legislation of the female body, especially the female circumcision controversy in Kenya and prostitution in the mines and cities of east and southern Africa, few historical studies have fully considered the role of West African development doctrine, or the importance of ‘tradition’ and ‘community’, in colonial policies affecting women and children in Northern Ghana. Through a Parliamentary inquiry in 1930, West African departments came to reluctantly engage with questions of women and children’s status. Collectively, they decided that a gradualist path which sought to preserve community or ‘tribal’ cohesion was preferable to legislation promoting individual rights and civil society. This thesis situates this reluctance to introduce potentially destabilizing legislation in the context of development doctrine in northern Ghana. This thesis focusses on the north-eastern borderland corridor of northern Ghana where in the 1930s anthropologists and district officials investigated questions of female circumcision and as a solution to Parliamentary inquiry, sought to encourage a milder form practiced in infancy, rather than adolescence. The refusal to legislate reflected West African officials’ privileging of ‘community’ over the ‘individual’ and was repeated in their responses to ‘undesirable practices’, including nudity, pawning, and in post-independence times, illicit adoption and prostitution. In exploring state officials’ handling of these practices in a gradualist manner, this thesis illuminates the connections between development doctrine and the role of the male colonial gaze in managing undesirable practices in north-eastern Ghana, West Africa.