International Women’s Day has been observed since the early 1900’s, and began as a celebration of the strides women were making during the Suffragette Movement. Women were demanding better pay, improved working conditions and the right to vote. It started in New York and fanned out from there. Today, International Women’s Month spends 31 days in March to address all the ills, injustices and scourges that come hand in glove with gender inequality while celebrating those women (and men) who are the champions of those causes. There are dozens of iconic women and girls that come to mind when Women’s Day/Month come to mind, none of whom does not come without a whiff of controversy at the mention of their names: Susan B. Anthony, Gloria Steinem, Malala Yousafzai, Chimamanda Adichie, the list goes on. You get a feel for the ilk of women who are celebrated the world over.
Some of these women set out to plot a course of recognition for both themselves and/or whatever faction of the feminist movement they fall under. Some became reluctant icons and symbols of the global plight of women. Hundreds of thousands of women still who fight for gender equality the world over will never have their names or deeds recorded in history. The acts of resistance against cultures and policies that serve chauvinism – rather than humanity – may seem small in their eyes, but they are part of an eternal chisel that chips away at the petrified cocoon that protects the patriarchy and shuts out the basic rights of women as humans.
For me, Ewuraffe Orleans Thompson represents one of such reluctant symbols of the African woman’s fight for justice and dignity.
But for a chance encounter with another Ghanaian “icon” (and the word is used a bit too liberally in Ghanaian culture), Ewuraffe Thompson could have gone on to live a normal middle class Ghanaian life, graduated university and become someone’s wife/mother or a businesswoman. I don’t know her personally, and in all the media reports that were churned out for 24 hours and three successive months, no journalist ever bothered to find out what her aspirations were as a young woman first. The goal of the Ghanaian media was to paint her as a loose girl who had no one to blame for her assault and victimization but herself. Ms. Thompson was (allegedly) violently raped by KKD – a reported child predator and rapist – late last year.
For the benefit of full disclosure, I also had a run in with KKD when I was a 12 year old girl. I’ve written about how my parents probably saved me from becoming a victim of molestation at his hands. There are some who would say I am biased/uncharitable/lying when I discuss KKD and some of those accusations may be true. I have no words for these people…just a huge, swollen middle finger, brought on by the rigors of my premenstrual flow. I have zero tolerance for folks who support rapists in the name of playing “the devil’s advocate”. Now that my position has been made clear, let’s carry on.
After her attack, Ms. Thompson took the brave step to report the incident immediately to the police. I say she was “brave” for a few reasons. 1) 95% of rapes that are committed in Ghana go unreported. 2) Victims who DO report are often re-victimized by untrained and judgmental police officers (depending on the precinct) who question a girl/woman’s morals by asking her what she did to provoke the attack. 3) KKD is a powerful man in Ghana, with many influential friends in entertainment, the media, the judiciary and business. Plus, as a man, he automatically has the benefit of Ghanaian chauvinist culture to shield him from the perception of wrong-doing. Virtue – as we know in most of Africa – is the province of women…and it is on our shoulders and between our thighs that virtue lives or dies. The morals regarding sex become our burden to bear and protect. It’s nonsense; but as a 19 year old girl, Ewuraffe Thompson forged ahead, lodged her complaint and put her trust in the Ghanaian criminal justice system. And because of that, she has become one of the most polarizing figures of our time.
Battle lines were immediately drawn in the sand once news of KKD’s lurid action became public. It was impossible not to choose a side. The incident made many men and women check their beliefs about gender equality, classism, ageism and views about women. Lawyer Maurice Ampaw even went as far as to say that “there is no need to rape a Ghanaian woman” because we are “easy to get into bed, submissive and give sex freely”. As disgusting and incredulous as this sounds, these are the ideals that too many men operate on in the country. They believe that not only do they have a right to access women’s bodies, but it is for women to make themselves easily and quickly available to service the sexual desires of men. When Ms. Thompson filed this report and refused to go quietly away – as so many other women who had been victimized by KKD and other powerful men have done in the past – it challenged the status quo and people were shaken.
Ms. Thompson would eventually go on to withdraw her complaint after the pressure and the media scrutiny became too much to bear, but in a stunning move that shocked the culture, State prosecutors chose to pursue the case on her behalf. Very few people – myself included – expected this to happen. KKD and his legal team were certainly shocked. In a country where an Member of Parliament can go unchallenged and unchecked by his colleagues or superiors after calling for women to be stoned or hanged to death, hardly anyone could dare to hope that the State would take up the cause of ONE girl who had been violated in the most degrading of ways. For those of us who truly believe that women deserve to exist as whole human beings, it gave us hope and made us proud of our country.
This is why I want to publicly wish Ewuraffe Orleans Thompson happy International Women’s Day. She may not see herself as a champion, but her sacrifice has not gone unnoticed. Her anguish was not for nothing. Though sexist sections of our society tried to (and still do) shut her and other victims down, they have to see now that they will not be met with timidity or with no opposition. We will continue to fight for and celebrate those women who only want the one thing that all living beings want: the right to live with dignity in their own skin.