Women: Making a difference since time immemorial

Today I want to highlight individual women in Macondo who are super in every sense of the word. They are strong, hardworking, caring, kind and wow have they made all the difference in my service. Without them, I simply would not be anywhere near as content as I am in Macondo. For International Women’s Day, the theme is “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030. That is a lofty goal but one we must attempt every waking day. Ghana is in an interesting place – just two days ago it turned 60 years old. Still in the early days of its history as an independent country. Despite the challenges a country with hundreds of tribes, tens of languages and innumerable cultural differences, Ghana is pretty darn unified. For one, its first 60 years have been relatively peaceful, especially when compared with its fellow West African nations.

Screenshot_2016-02-25-08-43-56But what about Ghana’s current standing when it comes to gender equality? Melinda French Gates posted last year that Ghanaian women spend 22% more time on unpaid work than paid work. It is a woman’s job to fetch water, wash clothes, cook all the meals, clean the house, collect firewood – domestic chores that worldwide, are stereotypically, of women. I wish there were a comparative study done on how men spend their time. Available work is a countrywide problem, regardless of gender. So, what do men do when not doing paid work when it is available? I ask this with curiosity, not rhetorically with judgment.

My opinion comes in here: I suspect they are not doing much because of observations and experiences as a woman in Ghana. For example, a few days ago, I met an elderly man who asked me if I was married (not an uncommon question). I was in a playful mood still wanting to make a point, so I joked that yes, I had three – what can I say, sometimes I like to ruffle feathers. In good humor he asked if he could be my fourth, so I accepted and laughed. I saw him again soon after and greeted him as my 4th husband. He chuckled and running with the joke, asked me why I had four husbands. I simply said, men are allowed multiple wives, so I too am allowed many husbands. To this, he shook his head and said it was not good. I asked why and he said that women cannot control men but that men can control women. I disagreed and ended the conversation by stating that I would be more than enough woman for any man to handle. Oh and my 4th husband is also chief. If this is the belief of a community leader, does it not affect the collective mindset of a people who must turn to him to resolve local disputes? Will not his examples of leadership be taken as precedent for how one should behave?  I share this story to illustrate the general view that Ghanaian men have of women. Perhaps this is more so in northern Ghana. Perhaps this is more so with older generations. By no means is this to be taken as a blanket statement for all Ghanaians. And I also share this story to give a glimpse into the hardships many Ghanaian women endure simply because of traditional gender roles. Bearing all this in mind, I have no doubt you will understand why the women I praise here, are super women.

20160127_092539Fatimata

I actually already have a post dedicated to this woman. I call her my community mom. Late last year I got to take her as one of my counterparts to an IST  on nutrition. I selected her because she is a trusted woman in Macondo who can mobilize and motivate people to try new things. She is one of the few women who when I show different or new things, she is so up for trying. As the female head of the household, she runs her home with grace and ease. Regularly the kids who stay with her are two of her daughters, a son, a nephew and grandson. There is almost always another kid or two she baby sits. I rarely see her  doing nothing. If she is, it is because she is not feeling well (and even then, she often pushes through and gets on with work). She is up hours before sunrise to finish preparing coco (a type of local porridge) to sell for breakfast and she goes to sleep long after sunset preparing small portions of oil, peanuts, kulikuli (fried peanut powder snack), groundnut paste or parboiling rice or shea nuts – all for sale. She’s unstoppable.

gloGloria

I do not think I know a more jolly Ghanaian. This lady has the right attitude towards everything, despite so much personal hardship. I met her during site integration (first three months of service) and we bonded over food, specifically banku. Her supportive husband is an Asante man who stays in Macondo while she attends teaching college in Upper East. During breaks she comes home and the house comes alive: people visit, food is always available and the little store they have is open for business. Gloria is a great friend who always helps me out in cultural situations, explains local mentality to me and offers realistic solutions to problems I may be having. Not to mention, whenever we get to hang out, we are in stitches for making fun of each other. Her husband and I cannot wait for her to graduate and be permanently back in Macondo.

20160511_112853Helen

By chance I met Helen at a meeting on shea butter production. Shea was something I wanted to work more in and when I met Helen, a young, approachable and helpful person, I knew she was the one I wanted to take to an IST on all things shea. In the end not much happened with shea in 2016 but we became fast friends. She started coming to the Tisuŋ ni Taba girls club meetings and I would hang out at her house some afternoons. I learned how driven and determined she is to continue learning and find decent work. This woman is willing to go the distance. She was able to secure a job as a teacher at a nearby primary school and for the rest of the day and evenings she is the primary person in her household to wash clothes, cook food and tend the garden. She is 23 and her family – grandmother, father, older sister, two younger sisters and nephew – depend on her to keep the household running smooth. Her mother resides mainly in the south to work.

20161015_172523Mekashira

She’s about 18 and dropped out of high school. When I asked her why, she refused to answer. I chose not to pressure her for an answer. I am sure she had her reasons. This year she started to attend a vocational school. She is also one of Fatimata’s daughters and helps in the preparation of meals, going to farm and garden, selling produce at market and taking care of the younger kids. She is a regular participant of Tisuŋ ni Taba and lately has been acting as translator. She is a silent leader among the girls and I think of her as a dormant volcano:  slowly building up strength and power. One day, she will make her force felt and it will change all around her.

ajaraAjara

A 13 year old girl, far more mature than I am at 29.  She is bright and loves to go to school. She is an eager learner, who wants to become a doctor and I so hope things work in her favor (If attending public high school, students somehow get placed in schools. They can only give preferences but desires are not always met) to make this as easy and likely as possible. Her older sister, who is in a wheelchair, has a shop and Ajara is the one who restocks by cycling to our market town and strapping supplies on the back rack and often manages the store on the weekends. Lately when I go greet her family, Ajara has not been there as she is busy tending the family’s dry season garden.

 

sophiaSophiapronounced Sofaya

Also 13 years old, Sophia is bubbly and always has a smile on her face. When she is not at school, she sells bread from the top of her and goes to market to sell fresh greens from the family garden – often times after school too. Like Ajara, she is an eager learner and always asks me to ‘teach her everything.’ Needless to say, I am massively failing at that. Her enthusiasm is infectious and one can tell her mind is always switched on, thinking of ideas for a side hustle and solutions to current problems. She is not afraid and the rest of the world better watch out. She is going to the GLOW/BRO 2017 camp and I have to say, I am bummed out I will not be there to watch her shine. We see still raising funds for the leadership camp and donations can be made here.

Now imagine these households without these women and girls. How do you think they would fare? Imagine if they all had the same access to resources as their male counterparts. Imagine how they could flourish beyond how they already do.

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