Open Letter To Otiko Djaba: On Short Skirts, Rape and Men

Open Letter To Otiko Djaba: On Short Skirts, Rape and Men

It is with a deeply saddened heart I write to you these “few” words of mine. In this letter, I write directly to you and your staff at the Gender, Chi

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It is with a deeply saddened heart I write to you these “few” words of mine. In this letter, I write directly to you and your staff at the Gender, Children and Social Protection ministry, and indirectly to anyone else interested in the affairs of women, gender and the underprivileged. 

I went to see the new “Beauty and the Beast” movie at the theater with my 6 year old niece last night. And out of excitement, I immediately put together my notes from the movie for an article/review I would be writing on later this week. However, my excitement was rather short-lived when I received a notification to a news report I had been tagged in on my timeline.

The caption to the article didn’t quite “shake me,” as I’ve learned in this era of “Nana Kwame,” to always read beyond the caption, and only comment when I have proof of a matter. So I did the wise thing and clicked to read the full piece. In the said article, you went to address girls of Krobo Girl’s Senior High school and were reported to have said, among other things, this: “If you wear a short dress, it’s fashionable but know that it can attract somebody who would want to rape or defile you. You must be responsible for the choices you make.”

Mummy, see, I have met you in person on more than one or two occasions. You may not remember me, but I worked with you during the 2012 elections on the “Girls Girls for Nana Addo” campaign platform during my days in KNUST. Among the many things that drew me to that campaign, it was your persona! Mummy dearest, it wasn’t just the “uniqueness” of your name, it was the pride and fear with which people mentioned it and spoke about you.

Therefore, while I find your entire speech unfortunate and disappointing, I wouldn’t so much as let it affect my deep affection for you, what you stand for, and what your very existence does for women and girls in this country. From this point on, I would address my concerns…

There is a reason myself, and many researchers in our field are beginning to believe that the women’s wings of our major political parties have not only failed the women’s empowerment agenda, but it is almost becoming irrelevant to our ultimate goal, which is to see women in crucial decision-making positions to relay women’s perspective on not just women and girls and children’s issues, but also on other key national issues.

I elaborated a few of these issues in my masters project but I’d quickly brush through a few for the purpose of this piece:

These women’s wings have gradually become some sort of “compensation” for women like you who want to try to go into political leadership not just to defy traditional norms about womanhood, but for the very simple reasons that men also go into such feats: to serve their nation with knowledge and experience gathered in their fields of studies and in life in general. The “compensating” agenda comes when they welcome you with “open arms” into their parties but simultaneously keep you in these secluded women’s group to make you “believe” and “think” you are in politics but really, you and I both know where the “real” politics happen. Therefore, these women’s groups tend to limit the participation and representation of women in other key policy-making positions, and in effect, other key national concerns and decision-making processes.

Secondly, the relegation of women to women-centered issues does not situate women’s issues as “National” issues. That’s why I wasn’t quite surprised the brain behind the #NextToDie feature on the neglected maternity ward of KATH wrote in a post, first showing his disappointment with “women’s groups”. As if women’s group weren’t already speaking about maternal health or that the other issues we speak about are not equally important. And also as if men would be going out of their way if they took up this issue too, to pursue it.

Finally, the real danger with the relegation of female politicians to separate minority wings of a party lies in the fact that these women’s wings are never solely autonomous.

A clear example is the 31st December Women’s Movement which was formed by Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings. She was and is the wife of the then ruling President Jerry John Rawlings under the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) and later the National Democratic Congress (NDC) party.

This movement, spearheaded by the then First Lady, saw huge economic, political and social respite for women in rural Ghana. These women were trained in small businesses and their children even received free primary education under the movement. While the activities and achievements of the movement have been lauded, the 31st December Women’s Movement has never received full legitimate recognition as it has been heavily critiqued to have been too political and not-inclusive of all Ghanaian women. A critical causal factor would be the heavy reliance of these women’s groups on their mother parties largely for funding and legitimacy. As a result, scholars believe these women’s group are usually forced to attain “manageable” goals and rights and not entirely the full rights of women, and in essence, all women in the country.

In simple plain terms as well, when these women’s groups are not brainstorming on issues that affect them directly as women/mothers, they are made to play dual roles as cooks, caterers, entertainers and mobilizers for the grassroots support for their “mother” parties. Hence, we still have, to an extent,  traditional gender norms exported to the political setting and in the field of leadership.

Due to the heavily patriarchal structure of these women’s wings then, I, in particular, was a little concerned about Nana Addo’s choice of you as the gender minster. Simply because you are coming from the background of a kind of women’s activism that still answers to the patriarchy. Not to say that you were “unqualified” for the position, but to point out a very important fact about gender advocacy.

Gender advocacy is a very serious and strictly technical agenda. It knows no “rules” or “doctrines.” It f**ks the patriarchy right in the a** and pokes fingers at religion. It could even mess with morality at some points. That is how far one has to be prepared to go in this agenda because you know what, women’s rights are “human rights.”

If you think I’m lying, ask Malaka Grant, a Ghanaian author, gender activist, and pastor’s wife who also happens to be the most hardcore feminist and gender advocate I have met. She is one person, who despite her religious inclinations would go all out on gender advocacy. Read for example, her “defense” of the infamous “Rashida Malafaka” or on “The Idiocy of Declaring a Woman a Whore Based on the Hemline of Her Dress” where she discussed from a historical perspective, the problem of linking women’s nudity to sexual immorality.

Mama Otiko dearest, this is just the beginning of your journey as a representative for all of us women in Ghana and I still remain ever proud of you! However, let me draw your attention on something you need to know about this journey.

There is “Women’s advocacy” and there is the “Women’s Fellowship/mmaa ekuo” type of women’s advocacy. The former operates on the simple premise that a woman is a human being. Simple. Full stop!

The latter is the kind that still believes that yes, a woman is indeed more than her womb and her ovaries and that she should be allowed to dream as big as she she wants; nonetheless, they believe she should not dream too big! They believe a woman should speak up, but not too loud, or not too straight-forward to a man, or to society. This women’s fellowship kind of advocacy, believes that a woman can lead but first, she should keep her home well. Meaning, the state of a woman’s domestic affairs has a direct bearing on how she would fare in politics. It is the reason many continue to see single, divorced and “born-one” women as unfit for politics. The women’s fellowship kind of advocacy also believe that, by all means women should go to school but should only do women-friendly jobs (teaching, nursing, etc) that still offer them the “time” and “space” to execute their “real” women duties.

Such women are like a Nigerian mother I know, who after successfully raising four strong women still believes a woman who is battered and physically abused by her husband “should not continue to do things that ‘angers’ him.” Such women reflect my female lecturer in college who stood in class and advised the women in my class to stick to teaching and similar jobs after graduating so we could be “better wives and mothers.”

Such women reflect another Nigerian woman I know who automatically sees every “well-endowed” young girl as a potential threat to her marriage. Such women reflect youth mentors who tell young women at church that they are the “neck” and their husbands are the “heads.” In totality, those who ascribe to this kind of gender activism imply that a rape victim’s story has to be “believable” and that there is some kind of a “perfect rape victim”.

I cannot begin to state how disturbing this kind of advocacy is. For me, it even poses even bigger dangers to young girls and women. For instance, in the case of career development, you stifle the real progress of women by urging us to have “manageable” dreams in order to keep our homes when men and boys are pushed all the way up. This narrative continues to place marriage/procreation at the center of a woman’s life when it should, in essence, be just an aspect of our lives.

Secondly, in domestic affairs, it continues to exclude men from partaking in the affairs of the home, leaving working women overly stressed in pursuit of their life goals and in pursuit of their domestic goals.

Mummy dearest, on rape, and on your advice to those young girls, you leaned towards the “Women’s fellowship” kind of advocacy. Rape is rape! Rape is animalistic in nature, and it is the only act that differentiates humans from animals. When I hear of rape/defilement, I’m immediately made to relive haunting images from my childhood during my long-vacations with my grandmother back in Dunkwa-on-offin.

Everyday at sunset, my little cousins and I were made to go chase/lead and direct her chickens back home. Every single time I successfully caught the little ones in my hands, I cringed at their fates as they, soon enough like their mothers, would be chased and mounted on by their males into mating after long periods of protests which always ended futile. The sexual acts between cocks and hens is how best I can describe rape.

The hens (I have seen) are never in favour of the act! They roam about minding their offspring and their usual daily business, then out of no where, they are pursued and pinned down until they gradually succumb, awaiting for the act to be done. And then what’s next, they lay their eggs, their eggs hatch, and the cycle continues…

Is it surprising then, when women are called “chicks” in real life?

Mummy dearest, this is what rape is about. It has got nothing to do with what women wear and until we stop with these narratives, this cancer, which you and I want to see die, would continue to persist. 

Modesty, or what you term “Responsible dressing” is subjective. And that is the main reason some of us broke our backs to defend you when the general population attempted to bully you on your haircut. And due to this reason alone, proponents of modesty as a way to curb rape would have to step aside.

Rape has everything to do with the sexualization of women’s bodies and it is also the reason in a typical patriarchal society, you and I would not be perturbed by men’s exposed arms, legs and necks, but they cannot say same about ours. If men’s bodies have been sexualized the way women’s bodies have, we would not have our men, go about their daily chores shirtless and never fearing for their lives! Rape is a disregard for the “agency” women should be given over their own bodies and a ridiculous entitlement men think they have over women’s bodies. Rape is sexual politics. 

That moment you stood before those girls was a great opportunity for you to reenact the highlights of this election by hallmarking the women-heroes like yourself, who’ve shattered our biggest hurdle yet: What really happens when women are given a chance to lead and stand out!

Moving forward, due to the technicalities of gender advocacy, these are my suggestions:

1. Henceforth, no more “freestyling” in your speeches. Be intentional, succinct, and conscious about your mentoring projects.

2. I know the nature of our politics does not really grant you the liberty to hire “qualified” people over “party faithfuls.” But dearest mummy, if you want to make your mark in this position, I suggest you turn a blind eye and go the opposite direction. Surround yourself with professional writers, researchers, people who are already in the “business” of gender advocacy and hence, have the facts and experience to help you execute your job. If you haven’t yet noticed, most of these party faithfuls are only there for their own gains. Run, run from such people!

3. Finally, gender advocacy is serious business. We keep learning every single day. It doesn’t hurt for all of us to continue learning more and more than we already know.

I will leave you with this video/sketch that excellently exposes how absurd victim blaming sounds. We should never condone it!

 

Efe Plange

Efe Plange

Efe Plange is founder and editor of Sankofa Reviews. She holds a Master's degree in Rhetoric and Technical Communication from Michigan Technological University. She is passionate about the Arts and Cultural industry and her background in the field is fueled by a longstanding dream of seeing theory work together with practice. Connect with Efe on social media.
Efe Plange

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