By Cleo S. Blacke
Humanist Service Corps Ghana Co-Coordinator
It is 2016. In most parts of the world, people are speaking out more and more about equality and women are standing up and demanding for the respect and equal opportunity that has been denied us for so long.
In Ghana, although we are lagging behind, it is no longer strange to come across Ghanaian written articles and posts discussing the country’s struggle to put women on the same pedestal that its men have stood on for so long. It is a frustrating battle that one might be tempted to give up on if not truly strong willed. My beloved country, with all its rich culture and beauty, has never been one to hide its patriarchal viewpoints or gender-biased societal norms. In fact, the belief that its men are and should be the head of every home, office, and street corner is the very foundation the country is built on.
If you’re born a girl in Ghana, you learn this lesson fast and you learn it hard. From the very moment you’re born, regardless of your family’s own beliefs or social standing, society creates a suitable and acceptable path for you on which you must walk your life until the day you die. Straying is not an option. Straying brings great shame to everyone you love.
A real woman is one who is respectful and hardworking. A real woman is ready to serve and obey without question. A real woman takes care of her home and family’s needs. A real woman bears as many children as her husband wants. A real woman knows her place.
A real woman is not just a teacher, a doctor, an engineer, or an entrepreneur. She is also a mother and a wife. These two things are the true determinants of her value and the true honour she brings her family, her friends, and her society.
I am not a real woman.
I am twenty-seven years old and the co-coordinator of an American NGO based in the Northern Region of Ghana. I co-coordinate a team of four men and together we are doing a lot of good work here in Bimbilla. I love my job very much.
My job is not the only thing that defines me. I am also a sister to three amazing women and one wonderful man. I am an aunt, a closet artist, a music lover, a friend, a daughter. I am all these things and more and I couldn’t be prouder of everything I have achieved so far in my life. But at twenty-seven, I am also single and have no children.
To most Ghanaians, men and women alike, I am a failure. And for that, I have to pay a price every day.
I am certainly not without friends or family who are proud of my achievements. But for every person who is proud of me, there are hundreds of others who are not impressed.
Why are you not married? Why don’t you have children? You must have at least one or two. Your time is running out.
I often wonder how many years I have left before I am a complete failure and an embarrassment to my neighbours, my friends, my country, to complete strangers.
Many women in Ghana and all over the world are faced with these same frustrations every day. So you run your own company, so you’re a firefighter, so you are an international sports champion, so you coordinate an NGO.
You need a man and a couple babies to be the cherry on top of your already impressive cake before you become worthy.
While cherries are an okay thing to have, I certainly do not need one to be great. I may not even want a cherry. But if I change my mind in the future, it shouldn’t be because society pushed me. I am perfectly happy without a cherry. I want my successes and failures to be recognised regardless.
Cherries are not the problem.
Cleo S. Blacke
Cleo is a secular humanist/atheist from the Volta Region of Ghana. From an early age, she was driven to expand her knowledge of the world through music, books, and movies. She is still very passionate about music and credits that love for her humanistic perception of the world. After graduating from high school, Cleo studied graphic design for a year and worked as a secretary for a small company in Accra before taking a short course in child care and working as a nanny in Saudi Arabia. She also spent a year in South Africa working again as a nanny and touring the country. During that time, she joined the Durban Freethinkers of SA, which led naturally to her joining the Humanist Association of Ghana when she moved to Accra a year and a half ago.