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Free Ghanaian Women from Cultural Slavery

Fri, 3 May 2013 Source: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

: Unleash Development!!!

I am writing this piece in reaction to a news item titled “Naadu Mills Resurfaces”. This piece was published by Ghanaweb on the 26th of April. The first paragraph of the news item reiterated that Naadu Mills was required by custom to hibernate after the demise of her husband. A woman of Naadu’s stature was forced to hibernate? For what? Invariably, the assertion in the news item pricked my mind about how my mother was pressured into being holed up in isolation for forty days after my dad passed away. This, my friends, is a custom that continues to be practiced in some sub cultures in modern day Ghana. Indeed, we had to step in and ask that the outdated custom be waived. In the end, a goat or two were slaughtered to pacify the men in charge of upholding the custom and we called it even. Now, where the meat of the slaughtered goat ended is as mysterious as the custom itself.

Today, my brothers and sisters, I am writing to crave your indulgence is a dialogue about how to retire some of these unproductive, irritating and backward looking traditions that antagonize women in particular, impact productivity, remains callous and are absolutely irrelevant. Ask yourself this: Why in this day and age, must an able bodied woman be confined to a dark for weeks because her husband died? Why must she be further punished at a time when she needs unflinching support? What really is the purpose of this tradition? Is it to give the woman rest? Is it to give her time to contemplate whether she will fight for her husband’s property or leave it to the family? Is it to give her time to mourn? Is it designed to cleanse her? What is the import of this cultural practice? Can whatever good intentions that gave birth to this insidious cultural practice be attained in a better way? What is the relevance of this practice in our present day context?

First let me make this observation. This practice is certainly male inspired. Notice that husbands are not required to undergo such drudgery when they lose a wife. I am not certain if there is a male equivalent of this heinous cultural engagement. Why is that so? If husbands don’t have to be secluded or quarantined for loss of a wife, why must a wife be quarantined for the loss of a husband? Is fairness not missing in this matter?

Mankind is living in what is known as the jet age. The concept of having one breadwinner in a home is fast dissipating. If a mom and dad have to remain productive to raise a family, both nuclear and extended, how can we carve out forty precious days of a woman’s life in one instance and chalk it to custom? Who picked the number 40 by the way? Hibernation because a husband is dead? Since when did women become bears? Time is fast approaching when one may need to go to work immediately after burying a loved one. I agree that people should be allowed to mourn their dead as they see fit. I also agree that we all grief differently. However, those days of endless mourning at the expense of economic decay and turmoil are nearly over. Economic necessity and commonsense requires that we engage in what is needed before we frolic in what is fitting. Let us keep in mind that most well to do folks are not impacted by such overbearing customs. Instead, it is the poor and needy that continues to suffer needlessly under such wasteful, onerous and contextually irrelevant customs.

This is one of those cultural impositions that make you want to invoke human rights as excuse to overthrow this boondoggle. A woman has the right to decide how to mourn her husband. She should not be forced by custom to hibernate. Some cope with a loss by engaging in activity that takes their mind of the loss. This means that, they either continue working or engage in whatever tickles their fancy if not fanny. So, where do we get off as men, telling a woman that she has to be imprisoned for a stated period of time because her husband passed? What if the woman is the sole bread winner of the house? We must mature into a place and time where women are respected as equal partners and free to decide what they do at a time when their hearts is heavy with gripping sorrow. I have no doubt that caging a woman because her husband passed could be a traumatic experience for some. I am not certain what benefit the woman, her family or society, stand to gain, by engaging in this misguided cultural practice.

In case Ghanaian men have not noticed, a free and empowered woman is the key to progress and development. Until men get grip and understand that women deserve better, our arrested development will persist interminably. If we want to unleash progress and development, our first stop should be making sure that women are truly free and respected to the fullest in our society. A well grounded woman is the key to a successful family, clan, tribe and country. We must strive to remove all the tethers that continue to belittle and subjugate women in our society. We must stand by our women and make them feel tall just as they raised and stood by us. After all, when the philandering men take off and leave the kids behind, who stays to raise them? Is it not our strong women? Society stands to benefit immeasurably if and when our women come into their own. We cannot continue to engage in callous cultural practices that end up scalding the psyche of our women and destroys, in some cases permanently and irreparably, their self confidence.

This write up will not be complete if I don’t end it by suggesting workable solutions to this despicable cultural practice. We can begin to eradicate this problem, by standing up and speaking out, against this norm in any family situation, where a woman has lost a husband and is being asked to undergo such mindless torture. The first act any man and for that matter woman can do, is to raise objection to the practice. Question the sense in the practice and discuss the demerit of the practice through a cost-benefit analysis. I know very well that logic, in some instances, does not always prevail with our people. As a result, I ask that you find willing partners among the elders and influential players, who are able to speak against this practice. And if it even means slaughtering a goat or two temporarily to stop the practice, it should be a good start. The goal here is to break the back of this practice until its protagonist cease and desist from invoking it. Even if you are overridden and the practice is adhered to, just raising objection serves notice. It may not register immediately but may sink in later. The only option that is not acceptable is not to say anything. Staying quiet is just as good as endorsing tacitly, this irrelevant cultural practice.

At the national level, it will be helpful if these so called leaders lean upon their friends in the chieftaincy industry to bring about rapid cultural progress in our society. Ghana must engage in a deliberate effort, aimed weeding out all cultural practices that stymie development and unnecessarily punish people. We must not bottle up the potential of our people. We must not leave our progress to sheer evolutionary change. Planned and deliberate change is as much a part of development and progress. Indeed, leaving our development to evolution is an insult to the God given talents that abound in Ghana. We must make things happen instead waiting for happenings to impact us.

Let us all begin to question authority, challenge our customs and cultural practices and surely fight for the right of our mothers, sisters and aunts to sit at the table. A civilized society is one that treats it women with dignity, grace, respect and fairly. Until Ghanaian women become truly free in their own country, not much will change. Our march to development is inextricably linked to the total liberation of our woman. To liberate our women, our culture must radically change. This means that, the mindset of men must change. The world view of men must be liberated from slavery to overbearing and outmoded cultural practices which continue to shore up their dominance and ego but have no practical use or relevance. Ghanaian women must also kick and scream whenever they are required to engage in useless and backward cultural endeavors. Fight on!! Viva Ghanaian women!!

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman (Affectionately dubbed the double edge sword and now mobbed as Santrofi Anomaa) I can be reached at Akyere@aol.com I don’t give them hell, I just tell the truth and they think it is hell---Harry Truman

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka