#PepperDemMinistries is the Movement We Need For This Hour

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.

The women of Pepper Dem Ministries

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.

A simple diagram representing the squishing of patriarchy.

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. 

Fist Bumps to the So-Called Social Media Feminists!

A July article written by Betty Kankam-Boadu and (re)published on Starr FM made the social media rounds yesterday afternoon to the mirth and amusement of all who chimed in to comment on Ms. Kankam-Boadu’s contribution on the conversation surrounding feminism in Ghana. My initial reaction after I read the article entitled “To the so-called feminists on social media; the struggle is real!” was one I struggled to unriddle, until I went to sleep and drifted off into dreams of my children. Betty Kankam-Boadu’s (who shall at some points in this post be referred to as ‘BKB’) written attempt at shaming what she calls “social media feminists” (and it was such an attempt) reminded me of watching a toddler waddling into rush-hour traffic on a long holiday weekend. It left me alarmed and tense. Like, who let you outside of the safety of your crib and into these dangerous streets? You ain’t Barry Allen. You ain’t the Flash! You ain’t equipped to be here! Bless your heart…

In Betty Kankam-Boadu’s somewhat waffling analysis (which you can read here) she takes potshots at the advocacy efforts of feminists like Lydia Forson when she says:

“Let me give this to them, I like the fact that they get people talking about whatever issue is being discussed. But after jumping on Hamamat Montia’s viral red carpet “situation” by telling all women to get naked and do whatever they want with their bodies any day any time anywhere, how do you measure results?”

There were a few other people on Twitter/Facebook to support Ms. Montia’s choice to wear whatever she bought and paid for at a celebrity event – since she IS a sentient being and all – but they are not as visible as Lydia Forson. So yeah…It’s safe to assume that Betty was dissing Lydia specifically for not having measureable results. She then goes on to cite the work of a bunch of people with whom she has no social or cultural connection (Brandon from Human’s of New York, a barefoot Julia Roberts at Cannes, etc.) who are doing what she feels is tangible and therefore more admirable activism. It’s really disappointing (and telling) that Betty couldn’t point to a single Ghanaian/African feminist activist to drive home her argument. Perhaps our local champions are not good enough, eh? Kinna Likimani, Dorcas Coker-Appiah and Jessica Horn are all women doing the work on and offline…and more importantly, doing it with respect to our cultural context.

Which brings me to my next point.

becca1Maddddaaaaaam. Come ON! How much does Accra have in common with New York? How does Cannes even compare to the VGMAs? Sister…please. You say Julia Roberts showed up barefoot at an event in silent protest to women who were previously turned away for not wearing heels. Just this weekend, Becca showed up on the Glitz red carpet preening in a plunging neckline, greedily posing for pictures next to a grand piano until the morality police swooped in and demanded both an explanation and an apology for her attire. It could have been her moment as an African woman to reclaim agency not over just her body, but stand for women whose bodies are routinely poked, commented on and commodified all over the nation. Instead, Becca threw her stylist under the bus, blaming her for the now-deemed fashion faux pas all while playing the victim. You know who came to her defense? Those ‘social media feminists’ you so clearly disdain. Don’t try to deny your revulsion for this group. Obviously, the term – like ‘armchair researcher ‘and ‘Instagram model’ – is used as a pejorative and not meant to be complimentary… shaming people into ceasing behavior that you take umbrage with.

Here’s the reality we live in today: Our veritable lives are lived out online and often through and/or social media. Heck, it took the creation of Pokemon Go just to get droves of millennials – who spend the better portion of their day online – just to go outside for a few minutes. Brick and mortar businesses are closing shop all over the world and focusing their retail sales efforts to online channels. Whether you want to believe it or not, a hashtag CAN bring an organization to its knees. Reputations are won and lost online. For the first time in history, people can participate in the political process in real time thanks to social media. So it would ONLY make sense that there would be social media feminists who concentrate their advocacy efforts to online spaces. It’s often the only spaces that these voices are ever heard. Right now, a hoard of feminists are in Bahia plotting ways to create a feminist internet, so BKB and any other like-minded individuals had better get their minds right and their hearts ready.

The idea that these women (and men) speak up are “just in for the cheap popularity” is absolutely laughable. The sought popularity Betty Kankam-Boadu so glibly assigns to these women often comes in the form of online and threats of physical abuse. There is a very good reason that very few of Ghana’s celebrity or civilian core speaks up publicly about hot button issues in this patriarchal society. It’s more beneficial to stand with the oppressor than to number yourself with the oppressed. Wanlov the Kubolor is only one of the few names in entertainment I can think of to take such a stand repeatedly, and we’ve seen how Ghana’s music industry has treated him and the FOKN Bois duo over the years. So no: I very much doubt anyone does their social media activism for the benefit of cheap fans. If anything, it comes at a great cost. That’s why Becca and Hamamat chose to cower and cast blame on stylists and photographers: they’ve deemed the cost of seeking self-actualization as too high and therefore sought real cheap popularity by kowtowing to the whims of a fickle public..

Since Ms. Kankam-Boadu spoke so boldly about her objection to social media feminism, I expected to Google her name and find a list of great activist exploits revealed to me. You know what I saw? Some social media activism. One thing on #MarchAgainstMisogyny (a hashtag and online movement created by Philip Ashon) and…nothing. Even her LinkedIn profile is devoid of any tangible work she’s doing as a self-proclaimed feminist. She’s a journalist…period. But she admonishes others “You better get on your feet and do the hard and uncomfortable stuff.” Does SHE have a cause she’s leading and she can rally feminists to? I’m sure everyone would love to hear it. Because if BKB were to be judged by the same standard she’s upholding others to, there’s going to be Big Trouble in Little China.

To conclude, I’ll leave you all with quotes from these three brilliant women whose reactions sum up the matter succinctly. Listen, all ye who have ears, and perhaps learn.

 

Ask again oooo...
Ask again oooo…
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Prrrrreeeeaaaccchh!!!
We are all grateful!
We are all grateful!