Savannah View: The Curse Of Being A Female – By Manasseh Azuri Awuni
A few months ago my twin sister visited me. The following morning, which was a Saturday, she said I should give her my clothes to wash. I felt reluctant because the past still haunted me, it made me feel guilty.
But she insisted. And I obliged.
While she washed, I prepared some rice. So by the time she finished, the rice was ready and we ate together and chatted like real twins. We didn’t behave like twins when we were young. We quarrelled a lot and since I was the stronger, I always had the upper hand. Our quarrels were, however, difficult to separate; we judged the loser by who received the last blow.
But age has changed everything. Today we sat and talked like mature siblings. We talked about the family and then zeroed in on our lives.
“So when are you getting married,” I asked her.
She told me she would get married when she got a husband. But before I had time to accost her about the young man I thought I knew, she indicated that marriage was not her priority.
“I want to pursue my degree before I settle down,” she said. She had been teaching for two years after completing the teacher training college, or college of education, as teacher trainees would want to refer to their institution. Ghanaians and names!
We discussed at length and the conversation shifted in my direction. “I will also apply for my masters,” I told her. “Now a degree is becoming like a BECE certificate. I have to upgrade myself.” She wished me well, and an awkward silence reigned.
It was when I was reflecting on our conversation after she had left that I realised how insensitive I had been with the remark about a degree. I don’t know the degree to which she took it, but I still feel bad about that thoughtless remark. But it made me reflect, for the first time, on how we came to be wide apart in our education.
I went to the same school on the same day and sat in the same class with my twin sister. We were together in P1 Madam’s class. Madam Grace Owusua, the great educationist whose remains lie in the bowls Mother Earth at Worawora, was a wonderful teacher. So good was she at handling beginners that for so many years, she taught in the Primary 1 classroom. With time, many people in Krachi forgot her real name and joined the pupils in calling her P1 Madam.
Today if I’m able to swing sentences together to express a meaningful thought, I owe my beginning to the late Madam Grace Owusua of Kete Local Authority Primary School. May her soul rest in peace.
My sister and I stepped into the classroom empty-headed, knowing nothing about what awaited us in life. If any pupil was able to recite ABCD or count numbers from 1 to 10, my sister and I saw that pupil as magician. But that was period would not outlast eternity. My twin sister, as Madam Grace Owusua would later put it, was smarter and naturally more intelligent that I was. All pupils started off by writing on wooden slates and as they improved, they were allowed to write in exercise books. So my twin sister started writing in an exercise book while I still struggled with much difficulty to draw the numbers and letters on the wooden slate. Even when I joined her later in writing in exercise books, I was still many miles behind her.
This didn’t go down well with my father. Why should a boy allow a girl to outperform him? Boys, he emphasised, were more useful to the family than girls. Girls would one day get married and fly out of the family nest. But boys would be the ones who would one day sustain the family’s name, its lineage, its heritage. It was unheard of, therefore, that my sister should be better than I academically. He didn’t say it once. He didn’t say it twice. He often repeated it, mostly in the presence of my sister.
So I learnt hard and somewhat caught up with my sister. At primary three, we were the star pupils of Madam Agartha, our class teacher. When it happened that the school was overpopulated and the only way out was to introduced the shift system, in which one group would come in the morning and the other in the afternoon, my twin sister and I got the same shift. But Madam Agartha would not tolerate that when she realised that neither of us would be in her class. “The two Awunis cannot be in the same class,” she protested and explained with reasons.
But as we progressed up the academic ladder up to upper primary my sister’s performance retrogressed. I saw it. She realised it. And the whole family noticed it. It was a great concern to everybody. So one day, my father took a calabash of water and said he was reversing the “curse” that might have been associated with his utterances. He and my mother had agreed that as a father, whatever negative thing he said had some spiritual repercussion on her children, hence my sister’s declining performance.
But my sister’s performance did not improve and it showed in her BECE and SSSCE results, in which I outperformed her. We wrote the BECE in the same class and at Krachi Senior High School we read Business Accounting together and sat the same examination.
As I later thought about the possible causes of my sister’s retrogression, two factors stood tall. One was the psychological demoralisation she suffered. Our father, instead of encouraging his brilliant daughter, openly said the education of a girl was not of paramount importance to the family. Psychologically, my twin sister had no motivation to learn.
The second, and perhaps worse, reason was my sister’s numerous chores as a girl. Her responsibilities were far greater than mine. We fetched water together, but she was also responsible for washing the dishes and sweeping the compound. I never washed. I never swept. And until the senior high school, she washed our school uniforms, sometimes before or after farm.
Back from farm, her load was always heavier than mine. Whether we were carrying konkonte, yam, cassava or firewood, she carried heavier load than I. In our part of the country, it is assumed that women have stronger necks than their male counterparts. And in a family whose income was barely enough to feed us, my sister had to carry the firewood to sell after walking several kilometres from the farm. She also sold the vegetables we harvested from farm.
So it will be cruel to imagine that the gaping margin between us was created by her. It was not created by my father either. It was created by discriminatory and anti-feminist beliefs that are steeped in the culture of our country.
In northern Ghana, for instance, if a family is to choose between educating a boy and girl, one can be sure as night after day that the lot will fall on the boy, no matter how intelligent and promising the girl might be. So it is with many parts of the country. My sister is not alone in this. And northern Ghana is not alone in our underestimation of the female gender. Many girls have suffered and continue to suffer this subtle but deadly violence against females.
A few weeks after I gained admission to read my masters, my twin sister also gained admission to the University of Education, Winneba (EUW), to read her degree. With hard work, I know she will surely rise. She has the resilience of a long distance runner, which is actually her other talent. Between 2002 and 2004, she and one Evelyn Anku of Kadjebi Asato SHS ruled Northern Volta, and performed creditably in the region’s SHS sports festivals. My sister gained admission into UEW at a time the university was having its inter-hall sporting activities. Even without training, she was instrumental in the Kwagyir Aggrey Hall team. I’m just imagining where she would have been if she had been given the needed support to continue explore her God-given potential.
My father cannot recite beyond the first four letters of the English alphabets, so he might never have heard about Dr. Kwagyir Aggrey’s extremely overused but potent cliché: “If you educate a boy you educate an individual, but if you educate a girl, you educate a nation.” But not long ago, a member of parliament in Ghana went on air unprovoked and accused respected woman of using sexual favours to get an appointment. The woman’s only crime was that she expressed her intention to contest the MP in political party primaries. This explains why the Affirmative Action, as well as many other attempts to get some quota systems to aid women representation in parliament and decision making, has faced stiff opposition.
But the advocacy must continue. It’s not all doom and gloom. Even if every feminine sermon wins just one soul, it’s enough. My consciousness on gender issues was awakened by the Gender and Development Dialogue Series organised by the Institute of Economic Affairs in partnership with UN Women. I have since decided to use the stroke of my pen to help correct this social evil. And as Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “I know deep down in my heart that We shall overcome”.