…Thousands of people Wanna see me, Millions are waiting For the Message, Billions are dying for the message I am going round the world spreading the message… Don't cry baby, don't cry…
Lucky Dube: “Don't Cry”
Alan Paton's “Cry, the Beloved Country” (published in 1948) was one in which Reverend Stephen Kumalo was invited from Ndotsheni to Johannesburg to help his sister who had “fallen ill”. Gertrude, his sister, had become a prostitute in that sprawling city. He cried.
We had read Vicky Wireko's “Why I Cry for my beloved Ghana” in the Daily Graphic issue of March 16, 2016 in which the lady wrote: “We travel to other countries and participate in well-planned activities that take months of preparation and commitment. Unfortunately, no learnings are brought back to transform Ghana”. She cried.
And it came to pass that Hanna Bissiw who is proud of being black and hairy would not spare President Nana Akufo-Addo for saying in Canada: “We are not seeing enough dynamism and activism on the part of those who are seeking to be where decisions are made… 30% of my Cabinet are women… that's not good enough…” Nana Oye Lithur, whose divorce allegations are yet to be proved, lent her support to Dr. Hannah Bissiw's diatribes against Nana Akufo-Addo. They yelled.
Of course, Ursula Owusu Ekuful was handy to match those who practiced “arm-chair feminism” boot for boot (apologies to JDM). To Ursula, the women's movement in Ghana is “dead”. Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey became Ursula's ally. She thought what President Akufo Addo said was “the truth, unfortunately, we are all playing politics with it…if we do not act, government will put in all the laws and nothing will change… So far those who are crying should stop crying and get to work.”
Throughout history, women have had to “fight hard” to assert their rights; and to achieve a semblance of equality. Women have had to show “dynamism” and “activism”. In Genesis, we read: “Then the LORD God created man in His image from the dust of the Earth. Seeing that it was not good for man to be alone, he created a woman from the ribs of a man…” Huh.
In Ancient Greece, women lacked political rights; there were laws on gender segregation; while men's age for marriage was 30, that of women was 14, and women had no legal personhood being part of the 'oikos' (households) headed by the 'kyrios' (master). Women, like slaves, were not eligible for full citizenship, even though we talk of democracy (demos – people; kratos – power). The rules were a bit more relaxed in Sparta than Athens, and Aristotle thought Spartan women's influence led to its ruin. Aristotle thought that women would bring disorder and evil, and were “utterly useless and caused more confusion than the enemy” (sorry for the offensive words); so, the women were given home tutorship on spinning, weaving and cooking. Life for women in Greece changed with the turn of the 21st Century when Efharis Petridou became the first female lawyer in 1925. Women gained the right to vote in 1952, and adultery was decriminalized in 1983. By 2014, the Greek Parliament had 21% women.
Life for women in Ancient Rome was not very different from that of Greece. Girls were expected to safeguard their reputation, modesty and chastity. The minimum age of marriage was 12 for women. Women could not vote or hold public office – with few exceptions, including Lucretia, Claudia Quinta and Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi and Fulvia dynasties. Girls dedicated their dolls to Diana the goddess concerned with girlhood. Emperor Augustus introduced “Lex Papia Poppaea” which rewarded marriage and childbearing. Daughters and sons were subjected to 'patria potestas' the power of the father as head of the 'familia' (household). A daughter kept her own family 'nomen' (name) for life, never assuming that of her husband: A woman could not bring a case to court herself, she had to fall on a man as an 'attorney'; Cato the Elder said “…the man who struck his wife or child, laid violent hands on the holiest of holy things… that it was more praiseworthy to be a good husband than a good senator.” Roman women were valued for the number of children they produced, and infanticide was endorsed, especially for deformed children. Italy (Rome) gave the vote to women in 1945, whereas France did so in 1944. In the US, universal adult suffrage was given in 1920 after the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution and in the UK women received the vote in 1918 (over 30 years of age with men over 21 years of age).
In Ghana, there have been some efforts by women to bring about gender equality. It is unthinkable that any Ghanaian man at this day and age will suppress women – to the extent of denying them voting rights and participation in politics. In the past, few women were enrolled in schools. It was in 1960 that the government insisted on giving all children compulsory education (primary to middle). We are yet to have a female President, but we have had female Chief Justices. Whereas in 2012, 19 women occupied seats in the 230-seat Parliament, in 2016, they were 36 in the 275-seat Parliament. The judgment in Mensah v Mensah speaks volumes, and the Domestic Violence Act in 2007 is a pointer.
But we are hemmed in by our own cultural norms: the traditional belief is that a woman's home is the kitchen, and women have inhibitions speaking at political platforms. Any woman who emerges as a powerful speaker is termed “obaa-akokonini” (a female cock). Procreation is still the aspiration of almost every woman. Of course the more western-educated the less child-bearing. Ironically, the poorer the family, the larger the households. Ghana has signed on to various international goals and conventions to brighten the chances for women's rights. There is a Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection to essentially handle women's affairs (sorry gender affairs).
There is no need to “politicize” the issue of women's rights. We should do better than accept the dictum: “obaa ton nnyadewa na onnton atuduro” (A woman should sell garden eggs, not gun powder). Women in politics should have lent their support for Ursula Owusu Ekuful when she was being molested in Ablekuma West. And when Lydia Seyram Alhassan won the Ayawaso West Wuogon seat after her husband, Kyeremateng Agyarko's death, the women in Parliament should have welcomed her and not politicized her entry.
Ghana is progressing steadily on the front of women's emancipation. They should avoid the temptation of being their “own enemies”. The first feminine Chief of Staff may be admonished to play a role in this ensuing “battle” of who said what, and to whom the President should apologise for what he said in Canada. We need to focus on bringing back home the “Takoradi girls”.
We got tickled by the remarks of the Kenyan female MP Millie Odhiambo while defending Esther Passaris: “…I know some of the men here have up to twenty girlfriends and we (women legislators) have never questioned you… Leave Esther Passaris alone… else we (women leaders) will deal with you perpendicularly.” (Not “squarely”?). Women in Ghana should not leave the grounds for misogynists. It should not be “paradise lost”; it should rather be “paradise regained”.
Africanus Owusu – Ansah
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