Posts Tagged With: Gender

Ghana: 1 Year Reflection & New Adventures


This month marks one year since I left for Ghana. I’ve been missing it a lot – the place, the people, the weather. Thinking back and remembering where I was at this time last year, when everything was so new. I’ve sat down a few times to write a retrospective, looking back on my time in Ghana and I can’t seem to find the words. I’m confident that they will come, they’re just not here yet, or at least they aren’t organized. I know that the experience was life changing – as cliché as that sounds. I came home older, more sure of myself and more patient than I was when I left.

It has also opened up many new doors. I started this blog as a way to keep family and friends updated about what and how I was doing in Ghana. But I was absolutely blown away when I realised that people I don’t even know from places I’ve never been were reading. For someone who never liked anyone else reading her writing – this was huge. In a lot of ways, I think that Ghana helped me to find my voice and encouraged me to use it.

Near the end of my internship I heard about a blog called Girls’ Globe through Twitter. Their aim was to raise awareness about issues impacting women and girls across the world and they were looking for bloggers. I contacted Julia the founder and soon joined the team. If you’ve been followed this blog, you know that I’m particularly passionate about gender issues; being the gender advisor for the Ghana YMCA and all. I was so excited by Julia’s vision for the blog and couldn’t see myself not being a part of the movement she was trying to start.

But there was something else that compelled me to add my voice to this women’s rights advocacy platform. Being in the field of development I find that the voices of the very women we are trying to advocate for are not given the same platform to tell their own stories as we give to others trying to tell the story for them.

As a woman of colour born in a developing country and raised in a community of strong women of colour, I feel compelled to throw my hat in the ring and contribute to this discourse on behalf of my mother, my aunts, sisters, my cousins and especially my grandmothers. I find that the struggles of girls and women in our communities aren’t given the same attention as others. So as a blogger for Girls’ Globe, I try to use our platform to talk about things that are close to my heart. I haven’t quite figured out what my physical presence as a woman of colour in this movement means, but I know that it’s significant, at least to me.

And so begins my next adventure. And as with most of my adventures, there is the possibility of travel. The Girls’ Globe team has a fantastic opportunity to attend the Women Deliver conference in Malaysia this May. It will give us (the 12 blogger team) the chance to meet each other, to network with others working to promote the rights of women and girls around the world, and to listen to some pretty high profile guest speakers. I am amazed at how life seems to always lay these fantastic opportunities along my path. I’m just doing my best to recognize and take advantage of them.

In order to go to Women Deliver, Girls’ Globe launched a fundraising campaign and we only have three days left to reach our goal of $12,000USD. Your support would mean the world to me, you can check out the campaign here.

Thank you’s & some Girls’ Globe supporters

This blog is called Collecting Stamps because I set a goal for myself to fill my passport with stamps before it expires in 2014. So far I’ve already surpassed the pages filled in my previous passport with just under a year to go. I am looking forward to the adventures that will accompany the new stamps.

I will leave you with this quote from my twitter friend Amina (aka @sheRoxLox), which is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read:

I write for all of you nomad traveller women. My Grandmama. My Mama. Me. I write for you – women who travel fearlessly with *home* on their backs. The one’s who traverse all corners of the globe meeting, touching, learning, sharing, living, loving, breathing, being. I write for all of you nomad traveller women who have given me the courage, bravery (and ability) to get up and go…to see the world. To see its colours. To taste its fruit. To breathe its air. To touch its people…because the world is much too much to be ignored by women like us, too beautiful, too big, too much for women like us. I write for all of you nomad traveller women journeying far and wide but also finding comfort and solace within. I write as much for you as I write for me. I write because I am slowly beginning to understand that *for a woman to travel can be a feminist act.* I write for the strength of our backs and for the weight of our feet. I write for global communities, movements and love spaces. I write for us all. I write for love.

You can read about her journey here

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Meet Dorothy

Dorothy Okwae

It’s been a while since I’ve introduced you to someone, so today I would like you to meet Dorothy; the Ghana YMCA Accountant and my French practice buddy.  Dorothy is always very vocal in my gender sessions, and in general when gender is being discussed in the office.  Here are a some of her thoughts on Gender:

What are your thoughts on the Ghana YMCA’s efforts to increase gender equality within the organization?

I think it’s in the right direction; and we as the YMCA need it because of where it’s (the organization) is coming from and because of the name*.  We actually need a gender desk here.

*YMCA stands for Young Men’s Christian Organization

What has been your experience as a woman working for the Ghana YMCA?

They haven’t had a lot of women working here (In the secretariat office).  There was one woman staff who resigned, and then myself and Vero came in.  I don’t find anything difficult about working with only men; in my family I’m used to being around men, I’m the only woman.  (Dorothy has two sons: three-and-a-half year old Pistis and Basil who is one-and-a-half).

 Sometimes the challenge is when we have (executive) meetings.  Because it’s all men, if you are not so loud you might not be heard.  Here as a woman you have to be extra loud.

Have you noticed any changes in relations between men and women in Ghana between now and when you were a student?

In the family men didn’t used to help so much.  They thought it was the sole responsibility of the woman to keep the house.  Now I see a number of career-women and the husbands help at home. They (men) change diapers, where before that would be seen as an abomination.

Now men like women to contribute financially; they are actually looking for career women because they know she will be able to help out financially which wasn’t a priority before.

You are raising two young boys; what kinds of values are you trying to instill in them with regards to gender?

I would want them to grow up respecting women.  Some men think all that a woman is good for is to be in the kitchen. They don’t like it when their partner is rising up, especially when it’s above them, like in education.  I would not want them to be like that.

 If you had a daughter, what kinds of values would you want her to have?

I would want her to be virtuous and I would like her to stand up for what she believes in.  She should not be intimidated by men or the things around her.  I am aspiring to be a good person, so I would want her to see that, if not do better than me.

Favourite Dorothy Quote: In everything that you do, you should not do away with love.

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Gender Workshops and Religion in Kumasi

My workshop participants

I spent the past two weeks outside of Accra for work and I didn’t miss the big city one bit.  I was in Kumasi to start a project that will see one woman recruited in each of the five Ghana YMCA regions as advocates for Women and Gender issues.  Eventually, they will lay the ground work for a National Gender Committee of the Ghana YMCA.

While I was in Kumasi I led my first gender workshop, which was an incredible amount of fun, but not without stress.  The workshop was supposed to start at 10am; anticipating African time we told everyone that it started at 9am.  At 10am there was one person there.  At 10:30 there were two.  At this point, I was a little worried.  But just before 11:00 a steady stream of people trickled in and we got started.  I love working with people and this was a pleasant departure from sitting in an office all day. On top of that improving my facilitation skills was one of the goals I set for myself during my internship; and my ability to keep us on track and maintain order was definitely tested.

There was some pretty heated debate about gender (in)equality, at the height of which there was an assertion made that men and women are not meant to be equal because the bible says so.  Followed by asking me a) if I’m a Christian – because if I am, then I have to follow everything the bible says; and b) how I define sin – because if the bible says that men and women aren’t equal and we go against that, we’re sinning.

This was not my first time hearing this argument, I had a conversation with a pastor who shared the same views about the bible and gender equality:

Me: Well if Ghana as a country is trying to progress, how do you suppose it does that when half of the population isn’t seen as being equal and denied certain rights?

Him: The men will work to progress the country and the women are supposed to support the men.  You know the saying “Behind every successful man is a successful woman”.

Me: Actually, I think it’s BESIDE every successful man is a successful woman.  But if women are behind successful men then who is behind successful women?

Him: God

Me: Then why can’t God be behind the men too?

He then calls into question my faith, and I, sensing that this conversation is going nowhere fast and not wanting to get disrespectful, tell him that I hear what he is saying, but I disagree. End of conversation.

I am not usually one to shy away from a good fight debate, but as a facilitator I can’t get caught up in those things.  Instead of the back and forth I engaged in with the pastor, in my

Some of the descriptions the group came up with for men and women

session I said that we weren’t there to debate religion and needed to get back on track.  As frustrating as these experiences are, I’ve learned not to focus on the one or two people trying to dominate the conversation with their views, but rather on the majority of people who are there to listen, share and learn.  My efforts are better spent encouraging them to share their views and not indulging the attention seekers.

The workshop went very well with both men and women in the group challenging gender roles and stereotypes. I was so proud when I heard people talking about what they learned and when the men acknowledged how gender roles are harmful to everyone.  One of the participants talked about how he thinks there is something wonderful about being able to prepare a meal for your family and wished that it was acceptable for him as a man to do the cooking.

While I was in Kumasi I stayed with a host family and it was so nice to be around family, even if they weren’t my own.  It was also nice to have my male co-worker (whose family I was staying with), Iron my work clothes and bring me hot water for my morning tea every day while I was still in bed.  See, I’m making progress on this gender role stuff already!

My co-worker Gabriel and I

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(Mentally) Tough Days at Work

Yesterday I got a good taste of how simultaneously rewarding and challenging my work is going to be.  I had a lengthy, and for the most part productive, conversation about gender and the necessity of the gender equality policy with one of my male co-workers.  It was rewarding for me to find ways of breaking the policy down so that it made sense to him and disarmed what was at first a very confrontational demeanor.  But then we hit a road block.  One that left me feeling frustrated at how deep seeded many attitudes about gender are and generally disrespected by his tone with me.  I ended up walking away after feeling like it was no longer a productive discussion.

In addition to being a disagreement about gender issues, it was further complicated when religion was brought into the argument as a justifier for certain viewpoints.  I work in a very religious context; we begin every work day with devotions; however, this particular argument was an eye opener as to how large an influence religion has on just about all aspects of life here.  This makes navigating certain topics tricky, because I want to get my point across, but also remain respectful of people’s beliefs.

Although I was beyond frustrated and a little disheartened, I feel better equipped to handle the types of discussions that will inevitably become a regular part of my work.  I am also glad to have found allies in my female co-workers.  By no means are Ghanaian women passive and it felt great to be supported by other women in the office who had my back and were quick to speak up.

There are always going to be challenges and I would rather be met with the type of direct disagreement that I can then deal with directly, than some of the more subtle challenges that I don’t quite know how to approach.  For example, I was asked to attend a meeting at the last minute with some male colleagues.  Being new and having had about 5 minutes to read a briefing beforehand I didn’t have much to contribute.  I later found out that my requested presence had less to do with what I could actually contribute and more to do with my gender.  Apparently, having a woman present is an advantage when negotiating.   I’m still trying to process that whole situation, but the next time I was asked to attend a meeting for which there was really no need or clear purpose for my presence, I politely declined because I had other work to do.  I’m not sure what I’m more bothered and confused by: the perception of gender as a negotiating tool and not being in control of how I was used; or that in the end, the perception was proven to be a reality, because it worked.

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Who Run the World? Girls…?

No B, we don't run the world, we just do all the work.

Gender is obviously a big part of my work here in Ghana, but I can already tell that it is also going to impact my personal life and how I navigate friendships outside of work.  Last week I came to the realization that it is going to be much easier to form friendships with men here than women.  I asked my friend Sarah, who has traveled quite a bit throughout Africa and had the same experience, why she thought it was so much more difficult to make friends with women than men, and her response was that women don’t have leisure time like men do (She’s so smart, you should check out her blog too!)  Now it seems so obvious that I don’t know how I didn’t put those things together myself.

Division of labour is very gendered in Ghana, as it still is in Canada and most countries.  Within a family, cooking, cleaning and child care are considered to be the woman’s work.  On top of that, in Accra there are shops or chop bars lining pretty much every street where you can purchase small grocery items, drinks and prepared food late into the evening; it has been my experience that they are almost exclusively run by women.  More often than not, while minding the store, the women are looking after children (who sometimes help out with the work) and cooking at the same time.

So it made sense that I was having this conversation at a salsa dancing event where the men easily outnumbered the women, who presumably had other responsibilities to tend to.  That’s not to say that there were no women there, but if I had to guess, I would say that age and class combine to dictate which women have the time to just hang out.

At work, while the guys usually talk about weekend plans and are always offering to take me places and act as tour guides; the women my age are married with children and don’t offer up their time so easily, or at all.

It has been an adjustment because I have always had more female than male friends; I am definitely a girls’ girl!  So now I find myself wondering if and how I can manage to forge friendships outside of work with my female coworkers.  This is another learning curve because I have never really had to make friends.  Even in situations where I didn’t know anyone else, I’ve been spoiled to find kind people who want to be my friend without much effort on my part to seek them out.  But I am making progress and it’s becoming clear that some of the women I work with want to be my friend, I’m just going to have to go to them, and not expect that they can come to me.

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What does a Gender Advisor do? (Hint: I don’t advise people of what gender they are)

After moving back to Toronto from Halifax, my goal was to find full time work, save, pay off debt and generally settle down (ie. less gallivanting around the world).  Having a Master’s degree under my belt, surely I would be able to find SOMETHING in my field relatively quickly. Oh how wrong I was!  After a very humbling few months of job hunting, I eventually figured out that if I wanted to pursue a career in international development, I would need international work experience.

After a few interviews, I was offered a seven month internship through Youth Challenge International, funded by CIDA in Accra, Ghana as a Gender Advisor for the YMCA of Ghana.  My position was preceded by another Gender Advisor intern who worked on the creation of a Gender Equality policy for the Ghana YMCA.  I will be continuing her work through three major projects:

The first is to work with the YMCA to implement the Gender Equality Policy.  This will include making sure that all of the staff, volunteers and board members have read, understood and are on board with the policy.  I will also be leading group sessions to decide how best to meet the targets of the policy, and then monitoring and evaluating the progress of the policy implementation throughout my time here.

The second part of my mandate is to work with the regional branches of YMCA Ghana to design, implement and report on specific gender equality programmes.  And lastly, I will be working with YMCA volunteers and members of the community to assess what kinds of programming would be most beneficial to girls and women; then finding ways to provide that programming and recruit more young women to the Y.  I’ve also managed to add coaching a girls’ soccer team to my official work duties.

A lot to get done in 7 months, but I’m so excited about my work and have a wonderful group of coworkers, who I will write about in future posts.

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