‘Yes, I will marry’, I replied to the group of men who asked me if I would marry. I was standing in the sun in front of a kiosk while they sat on a bench under the shade provided by the kiosk. I had just finished a focus group discussion with them on the enrolment of girls to basic education in the district for my dissertation. These Dagaaba men said that it was not a good idea to send female children to school because they will marry and take up their husband’s family name as their own, and because of the women’s ‘loss’, it was pointless. They are ‘right’. Coming from a patrilineal society, I understand why they said so, men maintain their family names while women marry and help their husbandsto also maintain their family names. They went on to say that my parents just wasted their money on me after one of them who had been to school explained to them what it meant to be to have a Masters’ degree.
How can my parents allow me to go to school and go this far when they know that I will marry and belong to a man? In the patrilineal society, a woman becomes part of the man’s family when she is married to him and how will I contribute to maintain the family, or even promote my family with all that education? They just could not understand, and they told me, taking girls to school is just a waste of time and resources because even if they don’t get pregnant and drop out along the way, they will eventually get married. To them, they would rather invest in their male children than worry about taking girls to school and seeing them go far. They would prefer to let the girls have basic education and learn a trade after so that they can marry these girls off and gather some resources (bride price) for the family.
Girls cannot take the family name anywhere! That was their conclusion and I was pained, but I found an opportunity to raise awareness about girl and women empowerment. So I explained to them why they need to send their girls to school and also protect them while they are in school. I also asked them that why did they ask whose daughter I am and not whose wife I am if girls cannot take the family name far. You should have seen their faces! To cut a long story short, after a long discussion with them, they agreed that girls’ education is important and they would try to pay more attention to it, rather than holding the belief that girls can’t take the family name anywhere! Issues of girl and women empowerment if not handled well, can take a different turn.
These are my own people, my culture, and my roots, we believe in the family name. While these things are true and real and
happening, a lot of people find it hard to believe that girls are still out of school or denied the right to education! What happens in urban areas is very much different from what happens in rural areas. In urban areas, girls and boys are given equal opportunities in school and even at home. Sometimes the girls even enjoy more opportunities than boys. Boys and girls do house chores equally, they get equal access to facilities and opportunities and many other things. For us who are from rural areas especially from patrilineal societies, the story is not the same. Gender roles are deeply rooted in society and as a girl, you have to work extra hard to enjoy some privileges (which are actually your rights). For example, you have to wake up early to do “female chores” before you go to school. After school, you have chores to do again; cook, clean, etc.
Let’s take a case in hand where I am a daughter to a farmer
father and a pito brewer mother and I have some male siblings as well. I am the one who has to draw water for the household, wash the dishes, get firewood, cook, or assistsmy mother to cook, clean, wash and do other chores as well. All my brothers have to do is to help my father keep the farm and tend to the livestock. They also have to provide meat for the family from the livestock and any other duties that may come up and are considered masculine. That is not to say I don’t do any farm work, the women and girls also assist on the farm by planting, weeding, harvesting among other things. When work on the farm is done, we go back home and I have to go to the kitchen to get dinner ready while the men bath and relax over pots of pito waiting for dinner to get ready.
At dinner, I have to serve them and do the dishes after we are all done eating. The boys are free to stroll, meet up with friends, or do their homework. After all this, all a tired girl wants to do is catch some rest. To hell with homework! No time to learn, no time for other activities. On days when my mother has to brew pito, I have to help her after doing all these chores. So in theory, my father has put us all in school, but in practice, I am just in school physically. All that the family focuses on is to socialize and prepare me for marriage so that they can use the bride price to get my brothers married when they are of age. I cannot maintain the family name, so they will only be interested in my brothers who can keep the name and make my father proud.
While this is just an example, that is actually what I found out from girls during a data collection on the issue, and boys, teachers, and parents confirmed that it is true. The culture of the people, as well as the importance that they place on the family name, give boys an advantage over girls. It’s one thing taking a girl to school and another thing ensuring that she is able to stay and complete the school. Another thing that makes it difficult for girls to stay in school and finish their education in rural areas is that most of the teachers (will include data) are males, girls do not have anyone to look up to or motivate them to want to finish school.
All they grow up to see most are women brewing pito, making Shea butter, dawadawa, and occasionally engaged in dressmaking, hairdressing, weaving, and other vocational trades. They can only aspire to be what they see and know, they see female teachers, doctors, engineers, lawyers, planners, architects, and so on to be too distant from them. It will surprise you to know what most of these children do not know. This narrative should change, but how? You and I who come from rural areas should go back and interact with the young people who are there, we (both males and females) can be mentors to these young people. Many of us do not want to go back to our communities for various reasons. The number one is that we also want to enjoy life in the city and all the goodies the city has to offer. That is fine, but find some time to go back to the community and inspire some of these young people. Where possible, solicit support from friends and organizations for them. If you get the chance, speak with them, let them see that you are also from that community but you have ‘made it’.
Let us always have it at the back of our minds that, we are all ambassadors and mentors to the young people in one way or another. Sometimes they may be bold enough to approach you and tell you to be their mentor, role model, big brother or sister, or even a foster parent. But a lot of times, there are many who just admire you from a distance, they are even many more who see you as a role model, just that they haven’t told you. So now that you know this, you may want to be selective about the things you do especially when you are around these people. Someone may be looking up to you. And don’t just encourage the family name by stressing on gender roles. When you relax gender roles, you are helping a young girl to complete her education. CHEERS!!!