“L”: challenging the nature of gender relations in Ghana

Note: This is a little out of place, but I wanted to write a little more in depth on one of my encounters in Ghana. Refer back to the Ada-foah post for context.

Her name was Lilly, or Leila, or Le-ann, or something like that. The fact of the matter is that it didn’t really matter. Name meant nothing for her, especially one that would tie her back to her gender. This is because gender meant nothing for her. It wasn’t the limitation that most of her compatriots would see it as. Gender did not define her intelligence, confidence, or self-esteem.

It was truly a relief. Finally a Ghanaian woman with the spirit to become a doctor.

My stay as a volunteer with Village Exchange Ghana was only a week long at that point, but even in that short amount of time, one issue had become deafeningly clear: women were not equal in society.

This fact tore at my heart.

While walking the streets of Ho, the city in the Volta Region of Ghana where I was volunteering, it was easy to observe the sharp divide between the jobs of females and those of males. The women were models of beauty and strength, carefully molded together to create a graceful machine. Skull crushing amounts of materials and goods to sell at the market laid in a magical teetering balancing act upon their heads. Meanwhile, the men lounged lazily on benches in their roadside shops, drifting in and out of slumber. The entire time I was in Ho, no man ever hawked a single item to me or invited me into his store. That was pleasant for me, but the underlying meaning of this comfort was unsettling. I knew my pleasure was derived from the Ghanaian man’s lack of effort. It was an attitude problem. The men gave minimal energy to their jobs because they knew the women would clean, cook, and support the family from sales of goods at the market.

The worst part was that most women accepted the divide as a fact of life. The little Ghanaian girls that often stopped by the office to use the free library were an example of how this acceptance was ingrained in their minds early on. If you asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, they would exclaim, “a seamstress!” or “a teacher!”

That is why I was so surprised to hear “L”, as I now affectionately call her, tell me her dream to attend medical school. We had met merely by chance while I was walking along a beach in Ada-foah, enjoying some rays during a weekend trip to the coast. But she joyously started up a conversation. When she began to talk about her career aspirations, I fully expected her to cry out, “a nurse!”, if she was interested in medicine. That was the Ghanaian way, or so I thought.

No.

Instead, “L” envisioned a much better life for herself. She was not going to be subordinate to any man. “L” was going to work hard at her secondary school in Accra (the capital of Ghana), attend a top Ghanaian university, graduate at the top of her class, and go to medical school. She wanted to be the best. “L” realized how much Ghana needed trained doctors. Thousands die every year because they lack access to quality healthcare. More doctors like “L” will mean a stronger Ghana for all.

The confidence that “L” exuded was contagious. As she learns to become a doctor, I am certain that she will be a revolutionary in her field and in her country. “L” is just a girl now, but she is breaking gender barriers in Ghana. I know her passion will mend my torn heart.

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