smart IS sexy …understand your best asset

June 14, 2017
Source: Esther A. Armah/
smart IS sexy …understand your best asset

It’s a girl!

Let the celebration begin. And for some in Africa that might mean commiseration.  Being born a girl globally means having a particular currency. Girls and women are taught their bodies can be currency and commodity. That currency is in your body, your beauty and it is sometimes your burden.

Currency is part of a market. And all markets fluctuate. The currency of a body is a depreciating one. And we need to confront this.  

In Ghana, the term women’s empowerment is a buzz word. It is often heard, used and engaged when addressing issues of disparity, inequality and access to opportunity. That matters. Equally crucial are the unhad, untold, unheard tough conversations where girls are groomed within what we call culture to believe their primary worth is in their body.  That nurturing and grooming comes from family, religion, media, culture, film, politics, and school. It comes from men and women. It is pervasive.  And it begins with little girls being rewarded for their cuteness in a way that boys are not.

It sometimes manifests in girls using their bodies to further themselves and their lives.

There are many who condemn such action, who want to ‘empower’ these girls and women to understand that they need not use their bodies – that they can be anything they want.

The truth is more complex. And it is messy.

Girls and women are taught that their bodies are for service to society – specifically men. Service is not the enemy here. For citizens to be in service to strengthen society is a good thing.  This is not about that. This about a teaching that creates a wealth of opportunity for abuse of power. 

Transactional sex is a part of the workplace, it is in school and it is in university. Globally, that is true too. Sometimes what we call ‘transactional’ sex, is an abuse of power. In Ghana, there is little implemented regulation about such issues – and while there is the Labour Act and the Criminal Code, there is little actual real protection for women from sexual harassment. And too few cases ever reach the courts.

In July, I will be a panelist at the Young African Women’s Congress panel on sexual violence in the workplace. When bodies are perpetually in danger, that makes for a more fragile nation.

The lack of data in Ghana does not negate the wealth of anecdotal evidence, nor the very real impact on women and men. Men are too rarely punished for that kind of coercion and harassment; but girls and women are. They may move or lose jobs they love, their education is impacted and their reputation may be at stake.

There can be economic reasons for such transactions. And of course, there are women who use their bodies in transaction as a stepping stone for position. As a journalist, I saw women use their bodies to acquire position. I watched them gain that position. And I watched them earn more money as a result of that position. I also saw them lose that position, lose respect and lose their way. Not all did. Some continued to climb ladders through transactional sex.

Girls and women are taught that sex is power.

The more painful truth is the subtle teaching that sex is really their only power. It is that teaching that reduces a girl or woman’s worth to the beauty of her body, the measurement of her waist and the bounce in her booty. It is simply not true that sex is not power. It is. The issue is the kind of power that it is, who a woman becomes if this is your single route to success, and who boys and men become due to such teaching.

Society places the burden of changing that on women. If women stopped using their bodies, then this would not be an issue. The tougher truth is men and boys must be taught that women’s bodies are not a bargaining tool, nor are they are a yardstick by which their power can be measured, nor are they pawns to be moved around, used, abused and discarded at will. That is about patriarchy. And patriarchy is a global beast.

But we cannot confront what we are unwilling to acknowledge. This change requires both men and women.

Part of that change can be to reimagine this idea of ‘assets’ when it comes to society and women. What if we explored the wealth of a much stronger asset?

Society could decide that smart is sexy. Because it is. What if we solely engaged the service of sharp minds, nurtured by exposure to information and knowledge? What if we celebrated and promoted those women instead of marginalizing their success by judging their marital status?

Women are citizens. In Ghana, they are 51% of the population. Not engaging the brilliance of their minds and the potential power of their contribution is bad economics. 

This is not an argument for the elimination of women’s bodies as bodies, nor do I seek to dispense with the reality of beauty.  It is a recognition that we all participate in a culture that minimizes the mind when it comes to our view of women. While society punishes women for expanding waistlines, an expanding mind will always serve your future, your success and your progress.

The challenge of this balance is that sex sells, sex is power, sex is currency. Across different nations in Africa, we engage in cultural practices focused on girls and women’s bodies in the name of tradition.  Such focus is a manifestation of this idea that currency primarily values bodies and beauty in women.

This dangerous teaching is too common a practice across some Churches in Ghana.  When your body is currency, society encourages women to compete – not as Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in her TedTalk – for accomplishments and knowledge which can be a great thing – but instead girls and women are taught to compete for the attention of men.

This reality occurs against the backdrop of global trends that show women leading and elevating their positions across multiple sectors of business. Forbes, the global business magazine, has highlighted a 206 report where the emerging trend in leadership is Black women.  They lead across sectors of academia, technology, media, governance, NGOs and the corporate world.

In Ghana, we need to grapple with the celebration of the elevated few versus the predicament of the many. A society that teaches girls and women that their worth lies between their legs also teaches men that this is a legitimate use of their power. Such teaching enables men’s abuse of women and disables women’s effectiveness within a nation.

This business of assets, asset management and recognition is an important one. Throughout June Citi FM holds the Citi Biz Festival. Important conversations regarding leadership, marketing, sales, personal finance, entrepreneurship and innovation will all take place. Such an insightful and important event should also include this issue that is peculiar to women in the workplace, on the rise, in university and dealing with this complex world of business.

It is time for society to reimagine this notion of assets, and understand our best assets.  Those assets are a currency that will never depreciate. For a woman, it is the mind.

smart IS sexy.