Insults and Degrading Comments Must Not Stop Women
One of the major obstacles to women’s political participation in Ghana is the culture of contempt, insults and passing of degrading comments against female political aspirants and politicians.
It’s a culture that has for long sought to downgrade women’s worth and dignity so as to keep them perpetually marginalized and subordinated in society.
The recent, cruel verbal attacks on the Electoral Commissioner of Ghana (Mrs Charlot Osei) purely because she is a woman is not only shameful, distasteful, repulsive, objectionable and offensive; it is sheer abuse of the woman’s fundamental human right and a desperate attack meant to derail women’s effort to eliminate gender inequality in politics and our society in general.
What the “abuser” (A Member of Parliament, Mr Kennedy Agyepong) seems to be telling the whole world by saying the lady got her position through “sexual favours” is that a woman is not fit to occupy any high position in Ghana – but that can never be true.
It looks like the roles decreed for women in society by the sexual division of labour are simply not meant to be violated as far as people like him are concerned. As a result, women who violate this societal decree are often attacked and treated with absolute contempt.
It’s worrying that in this day and age the show of contempt against women and girls who are high achievers seems to be gaining grounds rather than fading away.
For long many women and girls in Ghana have suffered discrimination, abuse and violence despite the fact that the constitution calls for gender equality and no discrimination.
It is particularly disappointing that the negative culture of uncalled-for attacks against girls and women in society is not being tackled the way it should.
Today, people still believe that there are certain positions women cannot attain and if they do they are called degrading names – people still enslave girls in the name of cultural practices and go unpunished
Permit me to say, but the situation of verbal attacks against women and girls is nothing new. Indeed, the act of passing degrading comments against women achievers has always been with us; and it‘s just an act aimed at perpetuating the Gender/Sexual Division of Labour in the Ghanaian Society.
Go to our universities and you will hear male students complain and cast insinuations against young women who excel or attain first class or distinction. Its either they slept with lecturers or they are witches!
One will think that God has not given women any intelligence or talents at all. But my question is how many lecturers can one female student sleep with in order to get a first class or distinction knowing that a student passes through the hands of so many lecturers before completing her course?
We are reliably informed that several brilliant girls are among the top performers in our basic schools. But then we are often asked to accept that when they reach tertiary levels they can only top the class by sleeping with male lecturers! How unbelievable!!
Similarly, women who dare to aspire to political office or any high position are branded prostitutes claiming that they slept with men for the position.
Nonetheless, if a man with the same or less qualifications gets that same position they are lauded and extolled for doing well! So it’s just like these positions “naturally” belong to men thus women have no business getting close to them.
But for a member of parliament to openly accuse The Electoral Commissioner of getting the position through sexual favours, even though this woman has all the qualifications and experience required for the position, is simply to have the mistaken belief that women no matter their qualifications cannot occupy any high position in society.
It also means that this man and those who have the same belief like him think that all appointed political positions must be occupied by men because women are not suitable for such positions?
This is sort of thinking is flawed and unacceptable – it is not good for our development and progress as a people.
It must be noted that these kinds of insults and degrading comments are clearly human rights abuses and must be treated as such.
John Stuart Mill said something in his book, Consideration on Representative Government that is instructive. According to him, “In a really equal democracy, every, or any section would be represented, not disproportionately but proportionately…. Unless they are represented, there is no equal government but a government of inequality and privilege: one part of the people rule over the rest: there is a part whose fair and equal share of influence in the representation is withheld from them, contrary to all just government.” (John Stuart Mill, (1991) p.146)
Women are human beings no more – no less, and have equal rights as men to equal participation in decision making concerning issues that affect their lives
Moreover, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (signed by Ghana in 1995 ) in article 7 called on states that have ratified it to remove obstacles to the achievement of women’s decision making rights in society
Clearly, passing of degrading comments against women is one of the obstacles to the achievement of women’s decision making rights in society and needs to be removed as quickly as possible.
THE SEXUAL DIVISION OF LABOUR MENTALITY
It is not enough that people condemn the attack on this Lady Electoral Commissioner when many many other women go through similar humiliating experiences without any remedy.
In our view, it is high time a lasting solution to this sort of degrading attacks against women in society is found because this attack is not just against the electoral commissioner alone, but women in general, and it is a disguised ploy to make women coil into their shells in order to maintain the SEXUAL DIVISION OF LABOUR which severely disadvantages women and privileges men in society.
Basically, the sexual division of labour determines the kind of work women can do and the sort men can. According to this unwritten constitution for men and women, child care and domestic activities are regarded exclusively as women’s responsibilities
It is this division of labour that has created unequal gender practices and stereotypes within the household, and inequality in the public domain especially within political life.
Sadly, the design has placed the heavy burden of house work and child care on women, particularly those employed outside the home. This is a major reason why many women are unable to participate effectively in politics.
Indeed, because of the impact of the sexual division of labour, a greater proportion of the work performed by women outside the home are under –valued often characterized by low pay, little training and lack of job security; but tasks performed by men in the public arena are considered valuable and prestigious.
Thus, it looks like some men are not enthused at all about losing their valuable and prestigious roles to women regardless of their level of qualifications
According to the sexual division of labour, politics is an improper place for women because it’s not directly connected with domestic duties. Anything not directly connected with the house hold becomes a major struggle for women because of the roles society designed for them.
We all know that in most African societies including Ghana, cooking, washing, cleaning, fetching of water from the river side and other domestic tasks have long been considered women’s work. They are seen as the sole preserve of women, men who perform these tasks are considered less of a man.
But unfairly, these domestic chores are done unremunerated and so not in the best interest of women.
Unfortunately, some men do not want this unfair arrangement to change that is why they attack women who dare to break the boundaries set for them by society.
It is interesting to note that those same activities, the so called “women’s work” if performed outside the confines of the family will be regarded as work and remunerated, although less valuable in comparison to tasks considered as men’s work.
Yet women are no longer content with sticking solely to the less valuable jobs as they too have responsibilities to fulfil in life.
One thing is certain – things have to change. May be society will have to redesign the sexual division of labour making all the roles valuable, prestigious and highly paid, perhaps women may be tempted to stick to their roles and leave the so called male jobs for the men. Till then, women will continue to aspire to and occupy any position they are qualified for because it is their right to do so, and no insults or degrading comments can stop them.
I call on women and girls not be moved by the name callings and insults but to focus on the task at hand. The struggle for women’s emancipation must continue unabated for the sake of societal progress and interests of future generations.
Meanwhile we at Stand Ghana condemn in no uncertain terms the repulsive statement made against the Electoral Commissioner of Ghana purely on grounds of her gender. To say that the woman got the position through sexual favours, is to imply that women can and have only excelled through favours done them by men which is unacceptable.
We maintain that the statement by the Member of Parliament against the female Electoral Commissioner is unfortunate and highly offensive to all women in Ghana and meant to discredit them.
Let it be known to all that women have the fundamental human right to participate in politics and in other decision making institutions that deal with issues that affect their lives. It is never a favour to be appointed to any political office in Ghana; it’s simply a respect for women’s basic human right as enshrined in chapter five of our constitution.
The fact that people continue to pass degrading comments against women who excel in society, especially in education and politics, is because we have consistently allowed the trend to persist for so long.
Enough is enough; the culture of degrading women in politics must stop now!! We need to build a society based on Equality and Justice, instead of inequality and Injustice.
By Rose-Mary Kayi
(Executive Director – Stand Ghana Inc.)