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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Let's talk about sex...

Over a bowl of T.Z and shouting to hear ourselves over the rain on the tin roof, myself and the Honourable Grace had some Girl Talk. Grace, a straight taking feminist grandmother, is the Girls Education officer for Sandema and is passionate about educating young women about sexual and reproductive health and empowering them to be active members of their communities. 

We are going on the radio together this week to have some discussions around women's rights in Ghana and to recruit a group of women to set up a Girls Club in Sandema. The club will be run by local women and aimed at girls aged 12-18. We want it to be a safe and empowering space where girls can learn about sexual and reproductive health and where they can hold discussions about their rights and roles in Ghanaian society. I am conscious of my position as a foreigner which is why instead of planning and running sessions myself I want to encourage and facilitate local women to do it instead. They could run the club with the knowledge and sensitivity of a local who has seen the way their culture treats women and is passionate about making some positive changes. We are hoping that our radio show will inspire some women to step up to the challenge.

My chat with Grace was both inspiring but also desperately sad. She told me that although there are girls clubs set up in school, aimed at educating them about sexual and reproductive health, many of these sessions are inadequate. The teachers read from a text book and there is little room or too much embarrassment for discussions and questions. Parents do not teach their girls about sex or periods and Grace explained that young people are practising what they see on TV without knowing the consequences of their actions. Teenage pregnancy leads to school drop outs and in turn lower paid job and less powerful positions in society. As well as this, social roles placed on local girls and women can deprive them of opportunities and rights. 

At home, girls are expected to help their mother. This means girls come home from school and work in the fields, fetch water, clean and cook and are exhausted for school. No wonder parents often prioritise their sons’ education over the daughters. These patterns mean that a patriarchal society seems inevitable but I don't believe it should be shrugged off as 'just the way it goes here'. However, the problem is so deep rooted in Ghanaian culture and the way it views and educates its women that there is no way that I can change it in my time here as an international volunteer. I am very aware of my position as a westerner and of projecting my own ideas onto a culture so different from my own. 

Many women in Ghana, Grace explained, simply accept their position so who am I to barge in and tell them to shake things up? But it seems that is because many have never known anything different or ever thought it would be possible to be equal to a man in their society. It seems then, and Grace agrees, that the key is education. Informing these women and girls that they are in fact equal, that they too have rights and they can take control of their lives. The Girls Club will not aim to change an entire culture but hopefully it will inspire women to strive for equality, challenge oppressive perceptions of gender roles which penalise women and increase their knowledge of sexual and reproductive health so they can stay in school and be active members of their community.

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