I do not know what it’s like in other African countries, but in Ghana on Mother’s Day, there are always a multitude of radio requests dedicated to the special women who gave life. People always call in asking the DJ to play a song for their mother, the person who has forever been the foundation of their existence. The woman who spends time and energy taking care of 6 children after her husband has left her for a younger woman, or working two jobs to provide for her family, or completing the everyday chores and tasks that we often overlook the importance of. We honor our mothers in the best way we can: grateful for their food, appreciative of their discipline, and forever in debt to their never-ending love. A lot of the advertisements that we see are based on the ideal image of a ‘loving mother’. For example:
Geisha soap: ‘Nothing lasts longer than a mother’s love’. Mother bathes her baby and they all sleep well.
Maggi cube: The mother most likely cooks up a tasty meal for the entire family and everyone is happy.
Blue Band Margarine: The mother spreads the butter on the children’s bread and they have the best day at school.
There’s even a tomato puree in Ghana called ‘Obaapa’, translated as ‘Good woman’ from the native language, Twi; a ‘good woman’, being the one who cooks well for her family. I could go on and on about how society seemingly respects the women committed to motherhood and pays homage to the several sacrifices that mothers make. It’s phenomenal that our mothers are respected, but what I want to discuss today is how even this respect is not spread evenly across the whole spectrum of feminine identity. I’ll give a few examples to explain what I mean.
In 2006 Mzbel, a Ghanaian musician, was sexually abused at a concert at which she performed. And while there was in fact talk of punishing the university boys who committed the crimes, there were also indignant comments like:
“She asked for it.”
“She is a slut. It serves her right”.
Mzbel’s lyrics are deemed to be very sexualized, and people attributed her “raunchy” dressing as an excuse to justify her abuse. Similarly in 2010, when a girl in Ghana was caught stealing a phone, she was sexually abused as her “punishment”, and videos of her ordeal posted onto Facebook. It would not be far-fetched to say that some of these boys who “punished” her are the same ones thanking their mothers on “Mother’s Day” and protecting their sisters from the advances of other men. Ghanaians like to say that our respect for women is high and impressive. Mother’s day is one of the most appreciated holidays, and we respect and love our mothers. But what about our girls? What about our young women?For people who love Tiwa Savage of Nigeria, you might notice that a few of the criticisms against her have been that she is too raunchy and racy. However, Davido’s new song “Dami Duro” or Banky W’s “Follow you go”, which also have quite sexualized scenes are barely mentioned or commented on.
Majority of the music we listen to in Africa comes from male artistes who typically promote their hyper-masculinity by having girls in bikinis dancing, twerking, and twisting in almost every video. But the moment a woman attempts to claim her rights to sexuality, not only does she fall out of the ‘good girl’ category but is seem as a worthy victim of abuse. The more extreme she is, the worse the criticism and insults are. Eventually, the public decides that she is not worth even an ounce of respect and subliminally and sometimes even blatantly suggests that her sexual abuse from fans is justifiable.
In many conversations, I hear young men talking about how they are merely ‘playing around’ with ‘loose’ girls, and will get serious to find that ‘good woman’ as they grow older. This may be a universal attitude with certain men, but our societies certainly support the sexual independence for men to a greater extent than they do for women. Now imagine if a woman had that attitude. The highly expressed disapproval against her would definitely be heightened and the shame placed upon her would be acceptable. She’d be deemed “unworthy of marriage,” “slutty” or a “hoe.”
I realize that African cultures generally place a lot of value on ‘self-respect’ and sexual-restraint, and while I am in no way suggesting that we break down our systems entirely, I do ask that we examine our attitudes towards men and women when its comes to sexuality.
If we truly value our women, we will understand motherhood or the ‘typical-good-girl’ behavior is not the only roles deserving of respect. All women, regardless of what they wear, do, or say are valuable. And in order to achieve equality for men and women, these double standards must be broken down and done away with completely. We believe that the African woman is more than an amazing mother. She is an entrepreneur, a leader, a teacher, and a powerhouse of resources. It is about time Africa realized that as women become more self-reliant, so should their independence be recognized and respected. And not just in motherhood, but in several aspects of their lives – sexuality included.