By Malaka Gyekye Grant
“I can’t speak for the rest of Africa, but I can say for sure that in Ghana, we treat our women very badly.”
My father had nosed his way into a conversation I was having with a childhood friend who had come to visit me a few years ago. I am always happy to have my father join me in conversation because he brings a humor yet poignant perspective to every exchange he engages in, but I was baffled by his view.
Were women in Ghana treated badly? I hadn’t noticed.
Upon deeper reflection, I realized that my cluelessness was not apportioned to the absence of injustice that Ghanaian women face every day, but rather because my experience growing up had been as a human first, and a female second. My father – or anyone else involved in raising my siblings and I, including teachers, for that matter – never treated us differently based on our gender. It’s worth noting that although this is not rare, it is not the norm in Ghana.
My new favorite photo blogger is Nana Kofi Acquah
, an award winning photographer from the Western Region of the country. He admitted in a post
that he was baffled when he first encountered feminism, because he had grown up with so many powerful female figures his entire life. He didn’t understand the need for it. Furthermore, I gather he didn’t feel victimized by it either. He tells the story of how his grandmother scratched her way to success and prominence in her community and was never hindered simply because she was a woman. There was an unspoken assumption that if one was willing to work hard, they could have anything they put their mind to. This is as it should be. A person, regardless of gender should be able to study, come up with an idea, work hard, and be rewarded for it.
I’ve been engaged in a Twitter skirmish (because our exchange hardly qualifies as a battle) with a man -whom we’ll call ET – for the last two days who is a self-professed anti-feminist. He says he’s “pro-human rights”…which is laudable. We both agree that all humans should be treated equally. Where we part ways in agreement is in the presence of reality: All human beings, particularly in Ghana, are not treated equally.
ET spent hours kvetching over Ghana’s Affirmative Action laws which he sees as preferential to women for the sole design of bringing disadvantage to men, whom he terms (or inferred) as the more “qualified group.” The conversation took several sharp turns, with him making wild proclamations that women have no interest in math, science and technology. This came as a shock to me, particularly since my sister has a Master’s degree in physics and no less than 12 of my closest friends hold advanced degrees in Engineering, Architecture and Mathematics.
But how did they get there? Surely not in the way education is handled in Ghana.
The fact is, Ghana has an emerging middle class, but it is still overall a very poor nation. When the majority of the proletariat spends its days figuring out where their next meal is coming from, sending your children to some fancy university is not high on the list of priorities. When the average Ghanaian of meager means does have the opportunity to send a child to school, he will almost unilaterally choose the send his oldest mail offspring. The fact that his daughter might be the brighter child is not the issue. A male should have greater earning potential so that he can provide for his family, which again is laudable. There is nothing a woman likes more than a working man; the problem lies in his success being incumbent on a certain girl’s failure or doom. Eventually, the trend becomes part of tradition and in time becomes cyclical.
Somehow, ET has failed to recognize that this cycle is part of our reality, and is reality for many Africans on the continent. How he managed to do this is a mystery. I don’t pretend to know the man beyond his twitter persona.
One of ET grievances is in the way women at the university level are scored. A male student needs to get a 15 to pass, while a female student only needs a 12. (Don’t ask me what that means. I was scored in A – Is in university.) While I agree that we do not achieve excellence by lowering standards, I understand the government’s implementation of this policy. With female students missing more days of school on average than their male counterparts, it’s unfair to judge their performance by the same standards. The reasons for female student absence are varied, from the onset of menses to nonpayment of school fees.
ET wants to do away with the scoring biases without looking at the reasons why they exist beyond “to disadvantage the more qualified.” I want to make sure that bright and motivated girls stay in school and indulge in focused study time so that there is no need for a scoring bias. Until we deal with the root causes for the failure of women in Ghana, there will always be affirmative action and perceived female favoritism, to the utter chagrin of men like ET.
Like I said, the entire conversation was an exercise in futility because the man refused to accept the basic truth that gender bias DOES exist. He is also operating on the premise that feminists want to dominate and take over men. I don’t know these women, so I can’t vouch for this assertion. If it’s true, I can understand why. Presenting one’s self as powerful is considered a “male” trait, and there are millions of women who crave power. There is a social experiment taking place in Middle Eastern and some European countries attesting to this fact.
If a family has all girls, for example, they will select of them to live life as a boy in order to remove the stain of not having a male heir. These girls grow up with the privileges of being self-assured, assertive and confident – which are the hallmarks of success in any human being. However, it has been proven that these traits are not desirable in women. An assertive woman is a “bitch” and an assertive man is “a go-getter”. “I can’t speak for the rest of Africa, but I can say for sure that in Ghana, we treat our women very badly.” Let’s not forget when age compounds the issue. An assertive woman of more advanced years is a “crazy old hag” and an older assertive man is “seasoned.”
My husband will tell you without reservation that I am the smarter one of us two. Modesty prevents me from making this proclamation myself, and I only mention it now to make a point. We both went to the same university and I graduated with a far higher GPA and more honors. However, I am the one staying at home with the kids, although he is perfectly capable of doing so. He takes better care of the children than I do. The reason I am a stay-at-home mom is purely economic…that, and my husband wants smart kids. Although his degree in biology, he taught himself web design. Web design is a skill in high demand, and it pays well. My jobs as an advertising assistant and then a recruiter hardly rivaled his salary, and it made sense for me to stay home. Is this a co-incidence? I hardly think so. Fields that are dominated by men tend to pay more. I have no qualms with that, because I look at someone like my sister who works in a male dominated industry and also by extension earns more money than her live-in boyfriend.
Every Ghanaian man and woman should have this as an option. They should have the opportunity to pursue a quality education and make informed, intelligent decisions about their own lives without the constraints of antiquated colonial impositions and harmful cultural norms. When that day comes, there will be no need for “feminism” as we have come to understand it, for we will all truly be equal.
A version of this article was originally published on the author's blog.