Akumaa Mama Zimbi describes herself as a women’s rights leader, an actress and radio and TV show host. She is a prolific tweeter with over 11K followers who hang on to her every word…words that generally admonish (and shame) women for having sex outside of marriage. And I look forward to her tweets.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t follow Akumaa because I agree with half of what she says. I follow her because I find her fascinating… i.e. fascinating in the way one finds wonder in the mechanics of a woodland flea. How can something so small manage to suck that much blood and not explode? How could a creature this tiny bring an entire continent to its knees? Such is the power of Akumaa Mama Zimbi’s 140 character proclamations. Just as the debates about the pros and cons about the bubonic plague that thinned out Europe’s human population rages on, so do Mama Zimbi’s views on pre-marital sex cause us to ask some very important questions about the dangers these pose to Ghanaian society.
Opinions about the importance and impact of Mama Zimbi’s voice largely depends on who you ask. Whether you take her seriously or not, there is no ignoring her. Everything about her is outlandish – from the prophetic intonation she uses to command women to get up from their post-coital positions, to the massive head wrap she crowns herself with for every public appearance. A self-aggrandizing woman, she approaches her quarry with a slew of humblebrag hashtags that include #IAmTheSexDoctor #IAmTheBestEver #Medaase (Twi for ‘thank you’). You look at her smiling face and brightly colored clothing and you see your mother or auntie. Your instinct is to trust her. You do so at your own peril.
People like Akumaa Mama Zimbi are the reason that Nana Darkoa and I started Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women. Her brand of sexual advice is by no means new. The “no sex before marriage” mantra is a throwback to the 17th century missionary era and imposed biblical standards that Ghanaians are expected to adhere to today…even if they are not Christians. For the record, I agree that people (meaning men and women) ought to wait until marriage to have sex and definitely before they have kids. In hindsight, it might have made things in my life less complicated. However, I respect other people’s choices not to do so. Not everyone can/does live their lives by biblical standards…not even Christians themselves. Every pastor has some view about what constitutes “holy sexual behavior” in the marriage bed, and most of it is pretty dull. I do my best to avoid sexual advice from my bishop when he distributes it. I enjoy my orgasms, and his oatmeal brand of sexual advice can only lead to slumber.
There are different ways and situations in which people – and women in particular since that’s Zimbi’s target audience – enjoy sex and that should be respected. Fact is, there are some people who want to enjoy the pleasure of sex without the politics and vexations of marriage. In Ghana (and in many other parts of Africa), we behave as if marriage is the last piece of the puzzle to complete a woman’s existence. But what can a woman really expect to look forward to in the typical Ghanaian marriage?
- A man who will eventually and inevitably cheat on her because ‘it’s just the nature of men’.
- To be prevented from striving to be her very personal best because she must never out-earn or outshine her husband.
- Financial dependence and total deference to the whims of her spouse.
- The (un)expected appearance of the 4-9 children he’s fathered out of wedlock at his funeral.
No one is happy in their marriage in Ghana. But THIS brand of paradise is what Ghanaian women are to sexually preserve themselves for.
I personally believe that Akumaa Zimbi’s approach to sexual purity is particularly dangerous to Ghanaian women, despite her mission to make them safe. For one, it reinforces the notion that a woman’s sexual purity is something that is for purchase (i.e. with the bride price or at the altar with a ring), and not a gift that she is free to give at the time of her choosing. It reinforces the idea that women are objects during the act of sex, and not willing participants in the encounter – again – at the time of a mutual encounter. And by targeting women as the singular gatekeepers for mattress morality, it leaves men to be as promiscuous as their gonads would allow them to be. This does nothing to keep women safe.
According to sociologists Betty Akumatey and Akosua Adarkwah who conducted a study commissioned by the Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre (GSHRDC), marriage is actually a breeding ground for HIV/AIDS transmission, with married women being at greatest risk. Because women are expected to stay faithful in their marriages and men are not, men feel less inhibited to explore sex outside of the home with numerous sexual partners, who of course have numerous sexual partners themselves. Instead of women’s advocates like Zimbi to preach about safe sex in general, they chose to circle around women’s rights and dispositions and peck away at them like vultures. Let’s never forget Dag Heward-Mills sermon wherein he compared women who have had several sexual partners as half-eaten, rotten apples. These philosophies paint women’s bodies as something to be used by men, and strip women of their agency. It’s repugnant and disrespectful.
I think Akumaa Mama Zimbi’s heart is in the right place, but her logic (and I’m being generous here) leaves much to be desired. It’s not well thought out in the least. And of course many men love it, because it absolves them of all responsibility as long as she targets women as being the ultimate and singular responsible party. There are several men who have already come out en force to support her proclamations because they believe that because the burden of pregnancy falls on women, she and she alone must carry the burden of morality, conveniently forgetting that a girl/woman cannot get pregnant on her own.
And of course, nothing in Zimbi’s doctrine makes room for lesbian women who cannot legally marry in Ghana anyway. Are they not also women? Is their pursuit of sexual pleasure invalid because it does not fall under hetero-normative Judeo-Christian practices?
Look, the fact is “no sex before marriage” isn’t even ‘African’ in the Ghanaian context. In many of our cultures, as long as a maiden had gone through dipo/initiation rights, she could have a lover. If she had not undergone rights and it was discovered she had engaged in sex with a man both of them would be excommunicated from the village/town. I’m not making this up. Ask your great-grandmother, and tell her to be honest.
Ghanaians are largely ignorant where sex is concerned, even in the city. We have dudes that think they are supposed to masturbate with liquid soap. There have been condom drives in certain areas of the country that have resulted in an increase in the spread of STDs because the natives believe the seed of a man belongs in a woman, not in a bag, so they remove the condom mid-coitus. There are people who think they can divine the HIV/AIDS status of another person merely by looking at them. When you add the opinions of Mama Zimbi and your friendly neighborhood trotro preacher to this powder keg, an explosion is bound to happen and it is women who will inevitably bear the brunt of its force. People need educating, not fertilizer for their warped views on the way women – exclusively -ought to conduct themselves.
I think Akumaa Zimbi truly cares about the welfare of women, and I’m certain her personal experiences have colored her view. The problem is that these views are imbalanced and she is perpetuating an already pervasive attitude that is fiercely anti-woman and anti-choice… and she’s doing it in kaba and slit! There is neither enough information, nor willingness to receive any concept that flies in direct opposition to the privileges that patriarchy brings in our society in general to check this manner of thinking…and that makes it dangerous.