Stop Abusing Women in the Name of Ghanaian Traditions!

Sun, 4 Jan 2009 Source: Pryce, Daniel K.

A December 22, 2008, Ghana News Agency (GNA) news item that appeared on ghanaweb.com, headlined “Divorce cases among young couples on the increase,” stoked in me embers of contradictory passions, even as I made an unambiguous decision to send in a rejoinder, albeit under a different caption. Cultural beliefs and mores remain ? and will continue to be ? an integral part of every society under the sun, but just as societies evolve and certain traditions are jettisoned in favor of more progressive ones, Ghanaians must also join the fray to help transform those indigenous cultural beliefs and mores that have, for far too long, denied some members of our society broad swaths of freedom; negated efforts at national development and social growth; and stultified social equality.

According to the aforesaid GNA article, Mr. Samuel Francis Adjei, the Ashanti Regional Director of the Center for National Culture (CNC), via a convoluted peroration, bemoaned the “increasing rate of divorce cases among married young couples” (GNA, 2008), which Mr. Samuel Adjei blamed on “the low knowledge of customs and traditions as well as the abolition of some [customs], especially puberty rites” (GNA, 2008). This writer, without a doubt, rejects Mr. Adjei’s assertions and analyses, for there are glaring paradoxes in our traditions: puberty rites both promote chastity and immorality; awareness of customs and mores does not automatically lead to acquiescence; and insistence on, or “extortion” of, respect from wives by husbands tends to eventually result in rebellion, for the human spirit was created to thrive without restraint, which is why tyranny in a society cannot last forever. People freely choose to honor others, based on some sort of civil reciprocity; but once a “superior” attempts to “extort” respect from a “subordinate,” there will eventually be an irremediable damage to the relationship.

Puberty rites, as observed in some parts of Ghana, have their virtues, but this writer sincerely doubts if those customs actually increase chastity among the youth. Imagine this scenario: 200 hundred men and women attend a ceremony where girls as young as 13 are made to expose their breasts in the name of tradition. Even as the implicit message to the crowd is that the girls in question have decided to remain virgins until they reach adulthood or get married, there are some men in the crowd whose perverted, yet dormant, emotions become readily agitated by what they see: beautiful, highly desirable, “untainted,” right-angled, wrinkle-free breasts! No wonder we have a society where grown men are constantly defiling pre-pubescent and pubescent girls, more so because many of these girls face the twin drawbacks of impressionability and impecuniousness. Thus, the sexual abuse of some young girls is somewhat attributable to these puberty rites, an unintended consequence of an otherwise seemingly noble belief.

Mr. Samuel Adjei’s assertion that the lack of knowledge of customs could be a reason for the high divorce rate is logically flawed, for even children observe how their parents and other family members behave civilly outside of the home. Customs and traditions are essentially handed down to us orally by our progenitors, whether we are conscious of these things or not, so almost all young people in Ghana know the basic rules and customs of a civil society. As such, we may know the rules of chastity alright, and we may actually acquiesce to community-enforced puberty rites at some stage in our lives, but such life-transforming rites of passage do not ensure, in any way whatsoever, that we will remain virgins until we marry! There are several factors that control how a person may act in any situation, sexual temptation being one of them, but enumerating these factors is beyond the scope of the present discussion.

Knowledge of customs and mores in a society and a willingness to honor any such comprehension in a pragmatic, day-to-day fashion are two different issues: Marrying a woman and assuming that she is now personal property and subjecting her to all kinds of dehumanizing situations will eventually lead to a revolt, no matter how cunning the oppressor might be. Growing up in Ghana, I used to be fascinated by what permeated a typical household in our villages: a man goes to the farm with his wife, he carries nothing but a cutlass; the man’s wife carries water and food, straddles a baby and holds another child with one hand, even while she occasionally supports the aforementioned items on her head with the other hand. And then at the end of the day, while on their way back from the farm, the man still carries nothing more than his cutlass; conversely, his wife, in addition to the empty bowls and pitcher in one hand, straddles the baby and leads the other child by the other hand, even while there is an outsized bundle of firewood on her head! Is this scenario what Mr. Samuel Adjei calls adherence to local traditions? The interminable and blatant abuse of our mothers and sisters? Please give me a break!

While I am no irrational advocate of feminism ? some things should simply be left to the man and woman to resolve on their own ? I am completely taken aback by Mr. Samuel Adjei’s claim of being disappointed because “today some young educated girls did not know the art of cooking traditional dishes, [which] had affected most marriages” (GNA, 2008). Mr. Samuel Adjei thus advised “mothers to teach their young girls how to cook, manage the home, nurture the children and [learn] how to treat their husbands well” (GNA, 2008). What better way to asphyxiate a society’s vibrancy and keep women from developing their collective potential than to offer such egomaniacal advice? For how long are we going to enforce our androcentric, albeit obsolete, beliefs and mores, even as other nations are developing faster than we are retrogressing? No woman in contemporary Ghana should be made to feel that, no matter what she does or achieves, she will eventually end up on her back in a man’s bedroom or clean his dishes in the kitchen or be laden singularly with the travails of child-rearing, for any such mindset must be zealously rejected by all!

The domestic roles of cooking, cleaning and nurturing children are not the tasks of women alone: these are responsibilities that every man in a relationship must partake of. This writer has garnered so much experience changing diapers ? because he has children ? that he can actually hold a seminar for would-be fathers who wish to master this very rewarding duty! And this writer knows so many men who are such good cooks, they prepare a variety of meals at home, in an effort to reduce their wives’ workloads. Moreover, there are some fathers who spend so much time with their babies, these little ones have a hard time differentiating between mom and dad until the former get a little older, which is the way things should be in the home.

Has Mr. Samuel Adjei considered the case of the educated woman who was pressured by relatives to marry a rich, albeit uneducated, fellow only for the man to, out of jealousy and pettiness, subject his wife to constant tirades and physical abuse? Will such a marriage survive? Has Mr. Adjei pondered the case of the young girl who, because of her family’s poverty, was forced to marry a wealthy, older man (a specter of nihilism, perhaps?), so her family could get “compensated?” In such asymmetrical relationships, where love and equality are lacking, it does not take an alienist to realize that such marriages simply may be akin to tremulous scaffolds that pose great risks to those who use them for support. To surmise that enforcing puberty rites in a town will stop girls and boys from having premarital sex is a gigantic hoax, for abstinence will always be a competing credo vis-à-vis the obvious problems in society: poverty, lack of emulative or exemplary leadership, absence of parental supervision and strict guidance, sexual predation by “marauding” perverts who take pleasure in defiling girls as young as their own daughters! In fact, Ewe-speaking people call this form of sexual abuse (pedophilia) “afe,” a term that connotes filth ? just think of a pigpen and you get the idea!

For the noble message of abstinence ? and its concomitant benefits of avoiding unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases ? to be received wholeheartedly by the young and vulnerable in our society, we must revisit some of our traditions that are so outmoded, they are now simply tools of oppression; iterate the importance of staying in school and obtaining pecuniary independence, irrespective of gender; and strive inexorably to increase per capita income, so that the disadvantaged in our society can have better options of earning money decently, apart from selling their bodies for sex or getting sullied by other vices.

Unless the economic conditions of the majority of Ghanaians improve and unless we do away with some of our androcentric practices that are obviously antithetical ? or antipathetic ? to social and gender equality, marriages will continue to collapse and no amount of civic education regarding Ghanaian mores, traditions or customs, which people, unquestionably, are fully aware of, will mitigate the devastating divorce trend. Puberty rites and other such traditions may only be of value, in terms of abstinence or moral uprightness, if the conditions on the ground promote financial independence and equality in households. And for a man to go into a marriage expecting his wife to be the family’s beast of burden ? that is what mules are for! ? is such an anachronistic belief, I am flabbergasted to learn that lettered men still advocate such.

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, holds a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at dpryce@cox.net.

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.