Some great women and the issue of empowerment in Africa



Reading can be described as many things, but one of the most important and ever-apt descriptions is that it is “empowering”. Yes, reading is very empowering. The fact is that reading gives you knowledge. And knowledge, as they always say, is power. Reading cures ignorance and enlightens an individual.

An enlightened group of people is most definitely an empowered group.

Reading enlarges the lens of your mind and makes you view the world differently. It broadens your horizons and gives you unimaginable pleasures and the ability to think critically.  Reading-minds can contribute better in national discourse than non-reading minds.

A former president of the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), Ajoa Yeboah-Afari, once wrote: This is not to imply that one is less a human being for being unlettered; neither is it to say that the unlettered have no wisdom.  But there is such a wealth of knowledge that is denied the unlettered; so much hidden from them; so many doors closed to them”.   Think about that.

In my daily reading, I come across great individuals whose lives generate an inferno in me to do more, achieve more in life, exert more influences – and in the words of Thoreau “live deep and suck the marrow out of life”. I come across great stories that affect (as I wrote somewhere) the life of my body, the beat of my heart, the illumination of my soul, the enlightenment of my consciousness and my vibration with energy and life. I read about great lives and I feel a path of my life has been eased for me. Over the years I have spoken copiously about the men I read about. Today, I want to touch on a few of the women I have read about who fascinated me with their lives or certain aspects of it, and a related issue that bothers me about the achievement of women in our part of the world.

In the book I Know Why the Caged Birds Sing, I read about the ever-lovely Maya Angelou and how she became so taciturn for a number of years in her life.  The eight-year-old Maya was raped by her mum’s boyfriend.  She related the issue to her brother who also told her family. The man, after been found guilty was released a day later and four days later was killed by Maya’s uncles.   For almost five years, she remained mute. She stated: “I thought my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice could kill anyone.”   Interesting.

In the same autobiography, I read about one Mrs. Flowers who influenced Maya so much that she was the one who brought her out from her silence.  She gave her wonderful advice that has always been my mantra.   She told Maya to read voraciously and stated: “My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, are more educated and more intelligent than college professors”. 

In the autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah, he recounts a story. He wrote: “Much of the success of the Convention People’s Party has been due to the efforts of women members. From the very beginning, women have been the chief field-organisers. They have travelled through innumerable towns and villages in the role of propaganda secretaries, and have been responsible for the most part in bringing about the solidarity and cohesion of the Party.

“So fervent were these women, in fact, that while I was in gaol and the party organisation was at its most critical period, I learned that at a rally in Kumasi a woman party member who adopted the name of Ama Nkrumah (‘Ama’ being the female equivalent of ‘Kwame’) got up on the platform and ended a fiery speech by getting hold of a blade and slashing her face. Then, smearing the blood over her body, she challenged the men present to do likewise in order to show that no sacrifice was too great in their united struggle for freedom and independence.” This epitomises the valour and spirit of loyalty which the youth need profoundly in these times.

In one Prentice Hall Literature book that I bought at Makola Market, I read about how Susan B. Anthony led the campaign on woman’s right to suffrage when it was a crime for a woman to give her conviction in choosing of leaders through the ballot.  She presented an argument that shook the very foundation of the system and granted women the opportunity to also choose the leaders they want.

Now, my issue…

I read with profound interest and fervid admiration the piece published in the Daily Graphic of Wednesday 11th March 2015, under the caption ‘With women, we flatter to deceive’, written by Elizabeth Ohene – a woman that has marvelled this country with the heights she has risen to. My understanding of the piece is that our setting of the world is designed in such a way that a woman rising to a position of repute is treated as one of the rarities and oddities of life.  The piece struck a chord within me, because of all the descriptions given women – who brave all odds to ‘make a dent’ in the universe in our part of the world, and despite their hard work and diligence – “adultery and favour from pleasures of the flesh” is the most used.

In the early nineties, we saw how a woman who fought hard for the liberation of Mandela and an end to the ignoble Apartheid system, Winnie Mandela, was vilified and accused of going out with men younger than her age.   This scathing accusation made her marriage fall like a pack of cards, despite the travails she went through while waiting a score and seven years for an incarcerated Nelson Mandela.
In a like manner, a spurious and complete falsehood was canalised through the media that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman President in Africa, was being laid by her young ministers.

On our local scene, this phenomenon showed its ugly face in a significant style and fashion. It was significant because it proved that “the only way to silence your critic is through your performance”.

Madam Patricia Appiagyei was appointed by President Kufuor to replace Maxwell Kofi Jumah as the mayor of Kumasi. He later became the Member of Parliament for Asokwa Constituency in the Ashanti Region. In 2012, Madam Appiagyei expressed her desire to contest him in the primaries. When he was interviewed on this, he made a statement that not only put the woman in a bad light but ignited the flame in women of the region – to the extent that they threatened a naked demonstration if he did not retract and apologise. He stated that if she got the position of Mayor from sexual favours, she should not think she could unseat him now. That was indeed an extreme form of verbal barbarity. Madam Appiagyei beat him, and further sank his name into the darkest bowels of history.

Women therefore should take a cue from Madam Patricia.
No one can empower you more than your very self. All over the world, women have proven times without number that when given a ground devoid of any prejudice, they can also change the course of history just as much as men.

It was a woman who braved all the odds and started preparing the ground for liberating Black people from the clutches and manacles of slavery in the USA. Harriet Tubman, as she was called, later came to be known as the ‘Moses of slavery’ due to the significant strides she made in the emancipation of a considerable number of slaves.
No one can talk about the civil rights struggle of America without mentioning Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks defied the odious order to vacate her seat for a white person on a bus just because she was Black.

This singular act culminated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott – which set off a chain-reaction that led to the current level of racial equity in the United States of America…imperfect and insufficient as it is.  The subjugation of women must stop. And this stoppage must begin from women themselves. Self-empowerment is key and vital to the survival of womanhood, one of the finest creations of God.

A woman that is shaking the foundations of democracy in Africa is the former South African Speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete. She really brought an aura of tranquility to a chaotic parliament like that of South Africa. Women have the knack of seeing where trouble looms and how to curb it. It was therefore not surprising when she stated: “There’s a list that ought to be going to the Pan-African Parliament, so that the leaders of our continent can see the issues which continue to be a big blot on progress.  We shouldn’t fool ourselves, because many of the leaders don’t want that. They are about having an easy ride and continuing to enjoy themselves.”
Up you women, you can achieve what you will!

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NB: The writer is a Youth-Activist and the Executive Secretary of Success Book Club.

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