Monday, June 19, 2006

Produce your boyfriend - or else...

The title reminds me of the punchline to a bad joke, but unfortunately this is not a joke.
I was listening to a Ghanaian radio programme [as an aside.. more and more of my posts seem to include things I hear on this infamous radio programme], and there was commentary on the police commitment to clamp down on crime. Specifically there was a focus on prostitution, and the arrest and prosecution of prostitutes.

I heard a statement which almost had me checking if it was indeed the year 2006 ( and not perhaps 1906). I would have not have believed that a public official could have uttered such statements if I had not heard him myself. According to the Greater Accra regional police chief, women going to bars and hotels etc. by themselves at night may be asked to produce their husbands or boyfriends who they are there with, to prove that they are not prostitutes soliciting customers. ( as these alleged prostitutes would then face arrest). In Ghana??? A country with 'freedom and justice' as its motto, and a place where citizens supposedly have freedom of movement?? This is obviously not something that is being enforced, but I find the fact that the police chief in the capital city could say this scary, and scarier still the fact that he considers it perfectly legitimate to target any woman by herself at a bar or restaurant by herself as a prostitute.

The presenter went on to ask him whether there might not perhaps be single women who could be out for a drink with friends, or even by themselves, an innocent enough situation. His response?? "the timing is very important...if you are a decent woman, you should be able to go there early and move out. If you stay there till 1am, you know it is dangerous" At 1am?? Without a man to show I cannot be out by myself in Accra?

I comment less frequently than I used to on issues related to women's rights, and certainly never have on this blog. It is not to say that I don't have opinions, but I find that too often statements are taken out of context and taken as representative of all the other actions or positions a person takes. It is also possibly as Sefi Atta might say for fear of being labelled a feminist. This time though, I had to say something. What is it about our society that is so skewed towards certain 'traditional' roles for women, and the quick labelling of women as 'good' or 'bad' based on a set of criteria in which they have no say. It comes out in this issue, but also goes back to the now oft-heard argument over how much a woman might be to blame for a situation in which she is raped. And whether perhaps what she was wearing had anything to do with it, or where she was at the time. I'm all for people taking responsibility for their actions,but really should a man's lack of self control be overlooked at the expense of a woman's ability to dress as she pleases?

Then there's the issue of the Ghanaian domestic violence bill, which has been welcomed by both men and women all over the country. Oh - apart from the clause about marital rape that is. For most men ( and some women) there should be no mention of rape in a marriage. When a woman agrees to marry a man, she gives up her right to say no to him.

How can people be so gifted in so many different areas, make extraordinary strides in science, politics, business, sports - be capable of sophisticated analysis on a range of issues, and yet still be stuck in the stone ages on certain issues?

When will a single woman be able to hold her place in society, without needing a man as some sort of validation?

Black Stars - shining on and off the field

My post yesterday about the euphoria over the Black Stars' victory, and the unifying effects of football reminded me of something else I've been meaning to post about.My post yesterday about the euphoria over the Black Stars' victory, and the unifying effects of football reminded me of something else I've been meaning to post about, The 'I am a Black Star Campaign', an initiative of the NeoAfrica Foundation. The campaign website has an explanation of their project:
Every Ghanaian must strive to be a "Black Star," an individual who embodies excellence, integrity and sacrifice beyond personal gain, for the greater good of our country and our continent.

The premise is that the Black Stars' commitment to excellence has earned them a place in the World Cup, and has the whole country rallied around them. What excited me about the project is not just the commitment to excellence, but the aim of recognizing people who are living that excellence. I was talking to a Zimbabwean friend of mine a couple of years ago ( how time flies!), and we had a long conversation about role models, and which people were celebrated as we grew up. He spoke of Strive Masiyiwa of Econet Wireless, and although we went off on a tangent, there were several other people he mentioned as well. What struck me though was the fact that growing up in Zimbabwe Masiyiwa's example was one that a lot of people wanted to emulate. He spoke of how he and a lot of his friends wanted to replicate Masiyiwa's phenomenal success in business. I thought of Ghana, and who we saw as examples of success when we were growing up. Sure there was Sam Jonah of Ashanti Goldfields fame, and a few others, but to a large extent the only people who are widely know to young people and celebrated as successes are people with political power.

I've thought about this a lot, and the lack of visible role models for young people. Although I miss every moment I'm away from Ghana and I'm always looking for opportunities to go back, or to work on projects that impact communities at home, I don't for a minute regret having left to go to school. My horizons have been expanded beyond anything that was possible at home. By that, I mean not only the opportunities I have access to, but more importantly what I perceive as 'possible.' There are people at home who I like to call 'professional pessimists' . Quick to deflate people's dreams, doubting that anything other than what they have already seen can be successful. Now on the other hand, I firmly believe that if you can dream it, you can do it. This attitude relates to entrepreneurial culture ( which I will be disciplined enough to leave at that, since that is an entire post on its own), but fundamentally to all aspects of everyday life.

It is partly a culture, but also the ability to see people who have excelled in their fields and conceive of what has not been done before as possible. The really cool part about the 'I am a Black Star' project is that it doesn't celebrate people in business, or politics or other select fields, but celebrates people setting examples in their everyday lives.
The teacher extending education to the most remote villages; the ethical public official upholding integrity in our government; the business owner committed to giving back to his community; these are all Black Stars! Our nationwide campaign will feature inspirational profiles of such exemplary individuals and beseech all Ghanaians to discover and exercise their own power to make a difference in their communities.
This is a great start at developing a culture of role models, and hopefully one of people who have enjoyed more success mentoring others. One feature of the campaign is wrist bands which remind people of their commitment to live out the example of the Black Stars in their everyday lives.

certainly commendable, let's see how it plays out

Sunday, June 18, 2006

How brightly can a *black* star really shine?

Evidently with blinding intensity, when the stars in question are those on the Ghanaian national team. I am still on an undescribable high after the game yesterday. Simply ecstatic after such a masterful display of football :-) I'll let up with the superlatives now, and admittedly there were several chances the team missed, but it was an excellent game, whichever way you look at it.

There was a lot of disappointment after the game on Monday, and I for one was heartbroken. It was an excellent game, but an inability to finish our attack and convert the many chances to goals left us with a 2-0 loss against the Italians. Hence the euphoria in the wake of yesterday's game, and against the Czechs nonetheless. The last *obstacle* is now the U.S. I can't wait till Thursday, and I hope that is a victory, if for nothing at all, to show that we are a country (and continent) to be taken seriously.

I'm always in awe of the phenomenal unifying power of football, and i was reminded of that again yesterday. There's unification on a large scale, such as the stories we hear from the Ivory Coast. The players are acutely aware of these responsibilities, clear from Didier Drogba's statement on behalf of his teammamtes to the country "Ivorians, we ask for your forgiveness...let us come together and put this war behind us."
Yesterday though, I was reminded of how football pulls people together even on an everyday basis. I was in my element after our first goal came so early, and evidently so were a lot of other people. My phone was struggling under the burden of calls, vociemail and text messages from all over the world. My friends who were Zimbabwean, Nigerian, Zambian, Mexican, Ghanaian, American, from St. Thomas - everyone was keenly following the game, and living each tense moment with the Ghanaian fans. In the words of one of my friends "Congrats, every African is happy."
These were sentiments I shared as I watched the other African teams play - praying that Angola could sustain the draw against Mexico or take the lead, wondering if there was any hope for Ivory Coast after they were down 2-0 to Argentina, hoping Togo could sustain their 1-0 lead over South Korea...

Times like these take me back to thoughts of how much of a force Africa could be if this support extended beyond football. We've been disappointed by all the African teams at some stage - none of us won our opening games. That doesn't deter us as fans thoguh, we continue to offer our support, and hope that perhaps the next game will be better, hope that perhaps if Ivory Coast loses, Togo might still have a chnace, or that if Angola is out, Ghana might win and still leave us with an African team in the running. Is it easier because there is so little to lose? Or perhaps because there is little effort expended on our part?

I am still chilled when I recall comments I heard on a Ghanaian radio station about refugees from Darfur in Ghana.. Callers to the programme were largely of the opinion that they should be sent back where they came from, and that they were not welcome in Ghana. I know it is a lot more complex of a situtation than simply having a governemnt take in people from anywhere who seek refuge, but there was complete disregard for their plight, not even a wish to help balanced by a regret that the country only has limited resources.

There was also the day I was listening to the same program, this time with Nigerian friends of mine, as callers discussed a shooting incident that had taken place at a Ghanaian university, ostensibly involving Nigerian students. I could only hang my head in shame at the preposterous generalizations the callers were making - branding all Nigerians as criminals. There was a call for the wholesale expulsion of Nigerian students from our schools, and comments on how they were introducing unheard of criminal elements into our society. Arguably, many parts of Nigeria are more accustomed to violent crime than parts of Ghana, but is that to say that none of the crime in Ghana is attributable to Ghanaians? Or that none of the commendable things in our society are attributable to foreigners?

as we watch the games and revel in the successes of the African teams, I hope we can build a culture that is supportive both in good times and in bad..