It is accepted that gender inequality cannot be solved without the participation from the dominant sex: men. For things to change, we should start young. Behaviors and gender roles are learned and learned young. They should also be challenged young.
I am almost one year into service and I know countless volunteers, male or female, who have started girls clubs. I myself, have two girls clubs. Makes sense right? Females are the ones neglected, the ones who don not have access to the opportunities and resources males have. Girls clubs give this part of society a safe space to be, to learn, to become empowered.
But, what is the use of all that if these females cannot exercise those new skills or express their new found power? It would be like the women in Saudi Arabia learning how to drive but being unable to go out and actually drive because it is still illegal and more to the point, not generally accepted by men – the rule makers.
For anything to really change, those who must be challenged are the ones who set and control the status quo – men. So, it is men who need to be made allies. Men who need to be feminists. And remember, feminism is defined as “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes” or is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” Notice, equality of the sexes. Not the theory that women should have more rights than men. Is this not reasonable? I do not know anything about Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who publicly announced it was time for women in his country to drive but we need more men like him or at the very least men speaking up like him, if things are really to change.
In Ghana, we need more boys and men willing to help their mothers and wives fetch water, sweep the compound and not be affected by what other people, especially their fellow male friends think or say. We need men to say that domestic chores are jobs for anyone and everyone. The social repercussions of breaking gender roles in Ghana are real and most people (male or female) dare not risk facing it. It is a hard job, but we must start somewhere. The excuse of ‘this is our culture’ is no longer acceptable in this day and age. I know what I sound like: a foreigner trying to impose my foreign values. But I am speaking as a woman living in Ghana, facing the same challenges Ghanaian women face. No doubt, without realizing it, I get away with more than I would if I were Ghanaian because I am foreign but I try my best not to take advantage of that privilege. For that is what it is and it should not be.
N.B.: Being LGBTQIA – anything outside straight male and female – is illegal in Ghana and even less so socially accepted. I do not mean to exclude them from this conversation, so I acknowledge them now. Talking about LGBTQIA rights is beyond the scope of this blog entry because of how marginalized they are in Ghanaian society and culture. At the very least, a separate entry should be devoted to being LGBTQIA in Ghana. And I refuse to relegate this section to a footnote as that would be too ironic in the face of their marginalization. So instead, I make it stand out.
But here I am, a woman. The example to be an ally, be a feminist, needs to come from a fellow man. So, PCVs to be, current PCVs, RPCVs, men who will never do Peace Corps, start a boys club. Be that example, that role mode, that ally, that feminist we need so badly in this world. Ideas on what I can do are of course welcome!
In South Carolina, USA, a teacher started a ‘gentleman’s club’ for elementary school boys, to teach them life lessons. They are required to dress formally and they learn how to shake hands, make eye contact and address their elders. The motivation for this club is many of these boys do not have male role models at home, are from low income homes and are more prone to joining gangs, getting involved with drugs and violence – all with the false hope of making money and escaping poverty. In Ghana, this is not the general case and certainly not in my village but the same thing could be done here – teaching boys that there is another way to be.
**Disclaimer: The content of this website is mine alone and does not reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Ghana Government.**