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18.03.2013 Opinion

Tradition, Discrimination and the Rights of Women

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(A GNA feature by Bajin D. Pobia)

 Accra, March 18, GNA -  "Your wife has produced her own picture again" is the way family members in certain ethnic groups in the country break the news to husbands whose wives give birth to baby girls during their absence.

In the clan of this writer the birth of a son is greeted with happiness. Comments like: "A warrior has come", "The family tree has sprouted" and "The village builder has come," are often made by the clan head.

In the case of a baby girl, comments such as "The woman has produced her own picture", "The bush baby has come", or "The unwelcome stranger has come' become common conversation.

Sometimes the husbands react violently to such news just the way Bawa, a step-brother of this writer, did one evening."Don't mention it again. I tell you never again. I am tired of her. I am not going to stand it any longer.  Seven girls!  What am I going to do with all these girls who cannot cover me from the cold?" He meant that the girls would not go to the farm to help him with his farming activities or bring him some fuel wood to make fire during the cold harmattan season.

He went on: "She may do as she pleases, but I insist that she stops making life here at home so unpleasant for me. I am not going to give her any foodstuff." Bawa's mother, Hayong, rushed out from her room and tried to comfort her son but Bawa would not listen.

He told the mother that he was going to divorce his wife in a week because girls were not counted as part of the man's family, as they were considered as people "who build their husbands homes while their fathers' homes fall".

Since girls are not considered as family members they cannot inherit. Girls cannot bury their dead parents and because of that they are not considered to be as useful as boys.

Indeed members of the clan regarded the situation of Bawa and his wife Lamisi as a misfortune and some advised him to take a second wife who could bear male children for him.

Anytime Lamisi gave birth to a baby girl, her colleagues who had boys in the family used to insult her. They sometimes protested to the clan head not to give her foodstuff because her daughters did not go to the farm to take part in producing the foodstuff.

For instance, while women in the family who had delivered boys were served with a basket full of millet and some smoked meat, she was always served with a calabash full of grain and without any meat anytime she delivers.

Anytime one of the daughters fell sick nobody in the family would go to the bush to bring her herbs. Most fathers preferred boys to girls and, therefore, acted indifferently when it came to matters concerning the welfare of girls all in the name of traditional beliefs.

This writer has grown to appreciate that discrimination such as this, is the worst form of disease in the world. When people discriminate against a person, it is like closing a chapter in that person's life. Discrimination is the source of hatred and one of the causes of modern day conflicts in the world. It is also an insult to God's wisdom and creation since it divides human race and impedes development and progress of those discriminated against.

Morally, no child has ever asked to be born. Children are often born as a result of the conspiracy of two adult parents to a have a baby. Sometimes a child might be borne by sheer accident. The original intention of the partners could have been just to have some pleasure and not a child.

However, whatever the circumstance leading to the birth of a child, the child comes with some rights that must be respected. The child has the right to life and protection, the child also has the right to education, food, clothing, shelter, good upbringing, the right to good parenthood and as well as good and interesting name.

Most traditions in the three Northern Regions discriminate against women. The rights of women come with serious variations according to the traditions and religions. The adherence to these rights depends on the perceptions of the particular tribe or religion as to the value of women.

For instance, in Northern Ghana most parents are of the belief that if you have more boys you are better positioned to fight your enemies than girls. To them, boys are a source of protection to their parents than girls in times of war. Besides, boys also form the labour force of their parents and, therefore, are perceived to be seeds of the family that need to be nurtured well to perform their respective roles.

In fact boys are seen as the symbol of the family and should be fortified to project the family name in the community and outside the community.  Most parents believe that the fortunes of girls benefit only their husbands' families and not their parents.

The fundamental human rights of girls are lost. No wonder that men in this part of the world consider their wives as "sexual object" or "child bearing object", the only value men see in women.

Indeed, women are regarded as property of their husbands and not as partners in development. This attitude among men has largely contributed to the stagnation in the development of the North. The many conflicts in the North could be attributed to discrimination against women, who in many ways would have served as a symbol of peace to their husbands if they were educated.

It is extremely difficult for a girl in the rural North to make it up to the top. Girls are betrothed to family friends while in school and some are removed from school and given out for marriage prematurely.

Statements in some of the scriptures on women are worrisome. For instance, in the New Testament it is said, "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. ' Do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man. She must be silent because it was the woman who was deceived and she became a sinner."

Similarly in Islam, in the "Hadiths" it is read: "If a man could prostrate before another I would have asked a woman to prostrate before her husband …"

Religion and tradition have, to a large extent, worked against the rights of women. Muslims and Christians today have the greatest task of working to improve the image of the woman and to accord her the status she deserves in order to give more meaning and more sense to religion as a human institution. There is the need to give certain verses in the scriptures contemporary interpretations to promote the rights of women.

Culture, they say, is dynamic and so cultural beliefs, norms and perceptions should not hold people hostage and draw them back into under-development. It is painful to note that in some parts of the country, women are assets to their communities and contributing immensely to the development needs of their people, while in the North women are considered liabilities, all justified by tradition. The Northern culture has retired women to the background as their fundamental human rights are denied.

The low level of education among girls despite the abundance of wealth owned by their parents who refuse to send their girls to school or invest in their education is unpardonable.

The race for success in life is now open to all who can endure but not for boys alone. The time has now come for Northerners to give priority attention to girl education to enable them to add more value to themselves and their families because the worst educated woman is still better than the best uneducated women.

The North would continue to lag behind in development if girls' education were not taken seriously. The socio-economic advancement of the North rests largely on the empowerment of girls through education.

As to when this cultural war will end is yet to be seen. Are men really discriminating against women, or is it that God has destined them to be discriminated against?  Are women sometimes not doing certain things to please men but later turn to blame them for their own mistakes?  Where are the gender advocates, have they not closed their eyes to the modern day discrimination going on against women in the world?  Is it also not the case of women discriminating against themselves?

When will women learn to stop insulting each other? One's heart bleeds any time one sees the best assets that God has bestowed on women being exposed on the screens all in the name of beauty pageant and modernity. What is beautiful about the womanhood of our young girls being abused on the screens?

Let us put decency into these contests such as "Miss Ghana", 'Miss GIJ","Miss Mighty Legon", Miss this and that to give meaning to our Ghanaian Cultural heritage. Let us also advocate decent dressing in the famous "Miss World" and the Olympics games contests. It is appalling to see half-naked mothers and mothers to be exhibiting their bodies on the screens, and not caring how their children feel when they see that.

It is said that 'an already peeled banana is meant to be eaten". Without any attempt at justifying sexual harassment, it would not be farfetched to link the recent spate in rape cases to the indecent way young girls dress these days all in the name of modernity. In Ghanaian culture, it is a taboo for a woman to expose her vital or private parts in the public. Indeed, it is only her husband that has the prerogative to see those parts.

In some traditional societies it is believed that if a man should see the private parts of any other woman than his wife, then he has seen the private parts of his mother. The beauty of an African woman is in the decent way she dresses and how she conceals the vital parts of her body. Women should be accorded the respect they deserve because they bring men into this world, but first of all let women also command that respect by treating their bodies with honour.

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