In the movie Selma, there is a scene during which the members of the SCLC couldn’t agree on which obstacle to voting rights (and all civil rights, by extension) to tackle first. They deliberated hotly among themselves.
“It has to be the poll tax,” said one.
“No. It’s education,” said another, citing the literacy tests the precluded many black, brown and poor whites from exercising their franchise.
They listed the various techniques employed by a society governed and created to protect white supremacy and capitalism, to the exclusion of everyone else, giving reasons for why each man felt his agenda ought to take priority. In the end, it was Dr. King who decided how they ought to proceed.
This is the way it is with all movements with the aim of disrupting the status quo. There is disagreement and then there is consensus. Booker T. Washington, WEB DuBois and Marcus Garvey each felt they had the ‘right’ solution to lifting Black people out of poverty and despair. Use the technical/practical skills you acquired during slavery to feed and house yourselves adequately. Demand full integration into white/mainstream society and the benefits therein. Screw it all and move back to Africa. Though these men (and their supporters) could not agree on a definitive solution, they each strove for the same thing: the uplifting of their people and a flinging away of the boot that had kept them down for centuries. Whether you ascribe to socialist/self-help beliefs of Washington or the more bourgeois leanings of DuBois, you are right. There is no ONE way to achieve an aim.
And so it is with the African woman’s liberation.
Over the previous two weeks, you may have noticed an uptick in the conversation around feminism and the struggles that Ghanaian women face. You will probably noted that that conversation has been punctuated with the hashtag #PepperDemMinistries. In the coming days, you will see comments seasoned with emojis of red jalapenos. Depending on your politics, this will annoy or delight you. It’s all good, but you have an obligation to interrogate within yourself why.
There are many, many indignities and ills that plague the African woman. But for the purposes of this blog and this movement, we’ll narrow our focus on Ghana. It is true that Ghanaian women do not suffer the same type of top down restrictions that mark women’s experience in certain Arab countries, but that is not to say that we are free from the same consequences. That the methods of subjugation differ from one society to the next does not eliminate the existence of that subjugation. Portia Asantewaa Duah was a paying customer at Kona Café in Accra.The establishment’s bouncer demanded that she and her friends vacate their table, and naturally, she refused. For her “impudence”, he slapped her so viciously that her eye was left reddened.
Rita Nketiah ventured out alone to Badu Lounge (ironically named in honor of Erykah Badu) in order to meet her date for the evening. After scanning her clothing, the bouncers at the club decided that she was there to “sell pussy” and told her she could not enter the establishment.
It really wouldn’t have mattered what she was wearing, because Ghanaian women live always under suspicion of peddling vagina. (Or the assumption from men that they are owed unfettered access to it.) In 2015, 5 female doctors sued Movenpick hotel for violating their rights. Movenpick has a documented (and well enforced) policy of refusing access to any women who come to their bars and restaurants unescorted by men. The only reason we are privy to these stories is due to the privileged positions that these women hold. They have access to blogs, media outlets and powerful friends that allows their stories to be told and received with some level of seriousness. This is not a privilege that is extended to the poor, unconnected Ghanaian woman who has no recourse but to give her problems to God or hope that someone will one day take interest in her plight. Barred entry to entertainment establishments ranks very low on the problems Ghanaian women face, but it is a valid one nevertheless. At some point – if unchecked – this mindset of barring women from any public space that is deemed ‘unsuitable’ without a male escort will take root in other areas. Again, ask the women of Afghanistan if that’s an impossible possibility.
This is why the work of #PepperDemMinistries is so important. What these women do is take toxic, ridiculous narratives that been applied to women and turned them on their heads. Imagine in Rita’s incident, if the club owners and bouncers refused unescorted men entry to their establishment because ‘a man out at that hour of the night with his shirt unbuttoned MUST be there to sell his penis’. You’d laugh. But replace ‘man’ with ‘woman’ and somehow the idea gains credence. It makes no sense. The work and aim of this group is to change mindsets by changing the narrative and flipping the script. They haven’t gone out with placards, rushed into parliament, bombed their opponents or employed any of the violent measures men have used to stage coups or gain power, and yet they are met with derision. All they have said is “think about what you are saying this way”, and people are shook. They’ve been called bourgeois and had their campaign reduced to a cry for attention.
Well…DUH. Of course you want attention drawn to your cause. When has a closed mouth ever gotten fed? When you need paper for the copy machine at your office, don’t you seek attention? Or you sit there and hope the paper dwarfs show up and fill the machine for you? So be it, if you believe tarrying for dwarf’s is the most effective approach to getting the job done.
The Pepper Women may be ‘middle class’, but that doesn’t make their contribution to equality and liberty any less valid or important. Feminism, like all social movements, requires a multi-pronged, multi-layered approach. Ghanaian women (even the patriarchal princesses) need #PepperDemMinistries in the same way we need Gifty Anti, Lydia Forson, Sionne Neely, Esther Ocloo and the many women and men who worked for equality across various sectors in our society. No movement was ever sustained by keeping all its efforts concerted at the grassroots or at one level. For those whose work is to abolish witch camps, let them do their work. For those whose work is to abolish the mind set that led to the creation, sanctioning and acceptance of witch camps, let them do their work too.
Eventually, the two will meet in the middle and the patriarchy WILL be crushed.
You can learn more about Pepper Dem Ministries wherever there is Internet.