Although I have enjoyed every moment of my time in Ghana, I have avoided discussing one major issue that pulls at my morality every day here: the enormous gap in gender equality. I may have been avoiding the subject out of disbelief or inability to accept the cultural norm here, but I’ve witnessed too many events to ignore it any longer.
Perhaps the easiest way to dive into this topic is to show you this advertisement:
This is an ad hanging up on a wall in one of our clients’ offices. Let me add that this client advocates for gender equality and fair treatment of women in reproductive health.
The man in this advertisement is told to “avoid unprotected sex,” while the woman is told to “abstain from sex.” Obviously, these two messages are completely different. Here, women are restricted from showing any sort of sexuality, whereas men are simply told to be safe with their own sexuality.
This simple poster translates to the overall culture in Ghana. During my time in Ghana, I attended a traditional Ghanaian wedding. At the point of the ceremony where the couple says “I do,” they both stood up and walked to the front of the altar.
The groom then proceeded to walk around his bride and look her up and down, making sure she was properly suited for him and their marriage.
Everyone around me chuckled, but I was internally appalled. I’m sure the bride felt some level of embarrassment; she was made to look like an object of her groom’s possession in front of 300 people. On top of that, the preacher made a joke about the bride staying in the kitchen if the couple is to have an argument in the future.
Seriously, if this were my wedding, I’d be rethinking the whole thing.
The high level of inequality even makes itself apparent on a quick walk down the street. About five minutes past our house, I came across a food stand named “Don’t Mind Your Wife Food Stand.” Although I have become accustomed to the bizarre names of shops and restaurants here, this one still stands out in my mind.
I will admit that this sign gives me a good laugh every time I walk by it because the name is just completely ridiculous. A man is advertising to other men, making the food cart somewhat unwelcoming to women, even at first glance. Behind the laughter that bubbles out of my mouth when I see the stand is my knowledge that sexism isn’t always a joke here.
Men walk by on the street and “claim” you as their wife. Obviously these men are not seriously asking for your hand in marriage (most of the time), but the way they joke makes women appear submissive. Condescending hisses and kissy sounds echo everywhere we walk, and I try desperately to hold back my bitingly sarcastic comments.
I know all of these things are simply part of the culture, but I wish these cultural norms could change. Even organizations advocating for women’s rights and gender equality have moments of sexism that go unrecognized.
My boss, for example, the editor of a newspaper that advocates for equality and women empowerment among other things, was appalled when I told him I don’t cook for my brother and father. (Dad and Ian: don’t get any ideas.)
I tried to explain that we cook for ourselves and my cooking is terrible anyway, but he still did not fully accept our way of living, just as I haven’t fully accepted theirs.
As a female visitor to Ghana, I can say women have an entirely different experience in daily life than men. Like it or not, men have blatantly more freedom here than women, one of the most difficult things I have had to accept during my stay.