National Security: who’s in, who’s out?

Esther A. Armah

Ghana’s national security has taken a beating.

But when it comes to national security – what and who do we mean? Vigilante groups! Militia organizations!

Disband, dismantle, disintegrate these groups! Ghana continues to be on fire post the Ayawaso West Wuogon commission’s final days of testimony. The airwaves are ringing with the sound of outrage, indignation in the wake of the horror from images of masked men beating unarmed civilians, wielding indiscriminate violence during a by-election.

A media house has launched a campaign to disband ‘militias’ after the public hearing and an investigative documentary was released claiming to have uncovered a militia group operating in a State facility.

Our vote was under fire. The security agencies came under fire. Their processes came under scrutiny. Their leadership was left in tatters. And a nation was on its feet demanding action. Their horror turned to anger turned into a national call to action.

In this swirl of public commission, national campaign, calls to action, demands for explanations and anger at the president, it’s worth taking a moment to pause and reflect.

This term ‘national security’. Who does it include? Equally importantly, who does it exclude?

I watched again the video of the violence at Ayawaso West Wuogon. Masked, armed men and unarmed citizens – also men – being beaten mercilessly during a by-election.

We are witnessing violence by men against men within the context of voting. We concluded our democracy is under threat witnessing armed men beat up unarmed men. It is these behaviours within this context that leads us to conclude our national security is suffering a beating. We ignited discussions about national security witnessing these same images. We are horrified and outraged in our thousands upon thousands.

Interestingly, we do not include violence against women or girls when we speak of national security issues and threats to our democracy.

In 2009, when Plan Ghana’s research revealed that the age of vulnerability to sexual violence was 13 and it was in school, that information was not connected to notions of national risk. That statistic, that citizen and that environment did not lead to risk, security and a nation under threat. A 15-year-old girl, vulnerable to sexual harassment in her community, at school, or her place of worship is not considered a risk to democracy, not worthy of national commissions, national funding and coordinated campaigns due to the impact on their young lives and the potential loss of their education to a nation’s future.

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That is not what happens.

Our national security definition excludes 51% of the population. How can women and girls and their safety not be considered, much less included, when we speak of national security?

The fact is that, currently, they are not.

That they are not is symptomatic of a growing issue. We are turning issues of gender into islands; isolated, separated issues. Away from the mainstream, unconnected to this national concern named ‘national security’, and therefore unworthy of national focus, attention and change.

When a 4-year-old girl was raped in Assin in 2017, it ignited national outrage. Her trial did not garner such attention.  In Ejisuman, when a whole group of teenage girl students accused multiple teachers of sexual harassment, sexual assault, there was coverage. There was an investigation.  It revealed that there was indeed such a group and that girls were indeed vulnerable to such violence. There was also the – sadly – standard victim blaming, shaming, stigmatizing, deflecting and distracting that characterizes reporting by too many media on sexual violence.

What we did not do is say that such cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence in our schools are a threat to our national security. If girls do not feel safe in their institutions of education, then our government, our president and our nation should consider this a national security issue.

But we do not say that. We have not said that.

That makes national security a gendered issue that requires addressing, discussing and transforming.

Indeed, the work of mainstreaming gender is crucial. Our fights for gender parity require an overhaul. It is time to ask different questions and engage fresh strategy. What does it mean to insert gender into national conversations and end these islands of isolation where battles for inclusion around gender are relegated to corners of the nation?

Many will scoff at gender and national security being tied together. They will dismissively, rhetorically ask, why make this a gender, or a ‘woman’ thing? That in itself is deeply dismissive. Girls and women are citizens too. Their security matters. Their lack of it should be a national issue, not a women’s circle, a women’s hour or a women’s rights matter.

Women’s rights are human rights, to quote failed presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. In Ghana, that is not true. Not when it comes to national security.

And that is dangerous. It is problematic. Our narratives are isolating gender, making issues like domestic violence or sexual violence an issue to be explored, engaged, resolved by women.

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That is a dangerous misconception. The risk of being 13, a girl, a school pupil must be equally measured, assessed and considered for national action to lessen that risk.

When we think of ‘national security?’ we think of words like ‘terrorism’. We think of vigilantes. We think of militia. When we think of girls and women, we do not think the same things. Too many think side-line, side-step or side chick.

None of those thoughts serves a nation’s progress.

For the media, language is our currency. The words ‘terrorism’, ‘national security’ come with clear connotations. With terrorism we think of men, armed, fanatical, religious – but not Christian, never Christian.

We do not think of ‘emotional terrorism’; that is being terrorized in school due to predatory teachers, or being hounded at home due to a man, a husband or a family member whose balled up fists are weapons aimed at a girl or a woman’s body. We discard such matters as ‘domestic’. We trivialize them. We do not consider them as mattering within a national conversation.

There is a careful teaching that shapes our understanding of issues that primarily impact women and girls as undeserving of the same national outrage, focus, attention, funding, action and legislation as others. We call that teaching ‘culture’. Really, it is discrimination. And it cannot continue to stand, not if we are fighting for a Ghana beyond aid, for national security and for a stronger economy.

National security is about a nation feeling safe in its own land, on its own soil. That should include its homes and its schools. National security is not a zero-sum game. It should not exclude women or girls.

If one of us is unsafe, then none of us should feel safe.

Safety is threatened by unchecked, unchallenged, uninterrogated violence. That is what we heard via the testimony of the various security agencies when it came to the commission proceedings at AWW.

What action will arise due to that investigation? Equally important, when will we include girls and women in our conversation and action about national security?

If women and girls are at risk, if their safety is threatened over and over again, then a nation must understand it too is at risk.

When will we get that?

So, when it comes to National security – we are all in, or we are all out.

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