Ghanaian Divorces

I had my end-of-term exam last Friday in social studies. Although the exam wasn’t particularly difficult, it ended up being extremely thought-provoking.

The multiple choice questions were all essentially common sense. Here’s a sample question:

36. All of the following are negative work attitudes except:
(A). Lateness
(B). Pilfering
(C). Loitering
(D). Innovation

Needless to say, I didn't have any problems answering the multiple choice. The essays were a different issue...
Yes… I did write that it’s the duty of a good citizen to support their national soccer team.

#3. “List four problems that are created in the society when marriages breakdown.”

I had absolutely no idea what to say. My parents have been peacefully divorced for most of my life, always supporting each other and acting as friends. While my parents aren’t exactly a model of the ‘typical American divorce’, I couldn’t help but think about how the question was intended for a traditional society like Ghana.

I could think of only two (serious) answers:

  1. Mothers are left without disposable income, and may have trouble finding enough money to get by.
  2. Divorce may leave psychological effects on children, although these can be minimized.

After the exam, I looked in the textbook and found the following answers:

  1. Juvenile Delinquency – The children are likely to live out of home, smoke, and become a misfit.
  2. Teenage pregnancy – The children become sex objects for dishonest and unsympathetic men.
  3. Single Parenthood – This leads to financial troubles for the woman of the house.
  4. Drug Addictions – Lack of joy and parental attention may lead children to do and/or sell hard drugs.
  5. Prostitution – Divorce weakens moral standards among youth, who may turn to prostitution.
  6. Death – A partner may become so stressed that he/she ends it all by committing suicide.
I immediately deemed the textbook to be biased, and the ‘effects’ complete rubbish. It was so extreme that it couldn’t possibly be true.
That night I expressed my view to my host mom, expecting her to take my side. Instead she exclaimed, “No, no, no; the book’s true! Over here, if parents are religious [as most Ghanaians are], they would never go through that ‘divorce stuff.’ And I bet that over 50{3a5a0fd47fd42b6497167aecc6170a94848f1ba936db07c4954344fcfff1d528} of young prostitutes come from broken homes.”
What I had to realize is that the two cultures have completely different perceptions on divorce.
Divorce rates are hard to come by for Ghana; the only record I could find was that in 2006, 3.7{3a5a0fd47fd42b6497167aecc6170a94848f1ba936db07c4954344fcfff1d528} of Ghanaians in the Greater Accra region were divorced. (Source) But this study is skewed – since Accra is very westernized, divorce is more accepted in this region. In other regions such as the northern ones, divorce is almost unheard of.

 

If a couple is having marital issues, Ghanaians typically get the family involved. Usually, whatever they say goes. But if the situation is serious enough to warrant a divorce, the woman will always keep the kids. Like in the United States, child support is obligatory- but here it’s not enforced.

 

This is the reason for all the effects seen above. Since jobs can be tough to find for their mothers, there will likely be no income or child support for the family. The kids may have no choice but become delinquents to survive.
After talking with my host mom and re-reading what the social studies book says, I have personally come to the conclusion that divorce doesn’t directly causing child delinquency; it’s the lack of money that causes it resulting from single women raising kids in a ‘man’s world’. The lack of money may have originated from the divorce, but by saying divorce is the cause, I feel as though Ghanaian society puts pressure on women to avoid divorce at all costs – even when in some cases it is the best option.

Homosexuality in Ghana

Earlier this week, my friend Anastacia (in India with YES Abroad) emailed me a petition begging Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathon to veto a law that would make it a punishable offense of 14 years in prison to those who either go to gay bars, are involved with LGBT organizations, or are in openly gay relationships. It currently has over 61,000 signatures.

Ghanaian minister of trade and industry Hannah Tetteh summarized much of Africa’s views on homosexuality with the following quote: "Every society has its norms and what it considers to be acceptable. In the Western world, it is acceptable to have gay relationships and even move on to the next level to gay marriages; in our society, it is unacceptable." (Source)

This starkly contrasts with the view of many 'Western' nations. Earlier in November, British Prime Minister David Cameron threatened to cut all aid to countries refusing to recognize gay rights. Upon hearing this, Ghanaian president John A. Mills responded, “I, as president of this nation, will never initiate or support any attempts to legalize homosexuality in Ghana.” (Source)

A few days ago, the United States joined Britain in stating  we may use aid to combat the criminalization of homosexuality abroad. We have already been criticized by many African allies including the Ugandan presidential adviser who firmly stated, "If the Americans think they can tell us what to do, they can go to hell." (Source)

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38 African countries have made homosexuality illegal, while 13  have legalized some aspects of it or have not made any laws about it. The following map (from Wikipedia) shows the rights/penalties of same-sex activities in Africa.

(Source)

Note: Despite South Africa being the first nation in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, 'corrective rape' is a growing issue. Corrective rape is the practice of raping lesbian women to convert them to a 'normal' lifestyle. In Cape Town alone, rights activists estimate  there to be 10 corrective rapes every week. And since this is Africa, convictions are rare. Out of 31 lesbians murdered in South Africa since 1998, only one case has resulted in a conviction. (Source)

Corrective rape is also a growing issue in Zimbabwe, where “Gay men are forced into heterosexual acts and lesbian women are raped, sometimes by male relatives, to teach them to change their ways." (Source)

[hr]

Ghana’s criminal code states that those who have gay 'relations' without consent may receive up to 25 years in prison, while those with consent are guilty of a misdemeanor. One thing interesting to note is that the punishment for consensual homosexual sex is the same as the punishment for bestiality.  (Source)

Views on gays may vary depending on the city in Ghana. In Accra the gay scene isn't noticeable, but in Ghana's other large cities, such as Kumasi and Tema, gay social life occasionally may exist. In rural areas homosexuality is generally not accepted – many rural Ghanaians do not even accept that homosexuality exists. (Source)

One interesting  aspect of Ghanaian law is that female/female relations are actually allowed, while male/male ones are forbidden. Regardless, both types are heavily prejudiced against. In fact, when two of my female Canadian friends tried to book a hotel room, they almost were not allowed because the manager thought that they may be lesbians.

Efforts against homosexuality are commonplace in Ghana. In July, Ghana’s Western Region Minister Paul Aidoo ordered the immediate arrest of all homosexuals in the country’s west. He later tasked Ghana’s Bureau of National Investigations and security forces to round-up the country’s entire gay population, and has called on landlords and tenants to spy and report people they suspect of being homosexuals. (Source)

It’s not just elected officials that have a heavy anti-Gay bias- it’s also the common man. When the local ‘TV-3’ news station ran a program where they asked the public their views on homosexuality, every single person interviewed had the same response. They were strongly against it for religious/moral reasons, and without a doubt in their mind, the best way to ‘purge Ghana’ of gays would be by introducing the death penalty.

Earlier this month I told my Ghanaian classmates that I have a few gay friends, and that I don't let their sexual orientation affect my friendship. They were speechless for a few seconds- until one girl meekly asked me, “Have you tried informing them that they’re abominations to God?”

[hr]

I'm not trying to influence my readers to feel one way or the other about gay relationships. I'm merely stating reality in Ghana as objectively as possible;  this is a controversial issue where ideologies shouldn't be forced on others. Facts should be given, and individual decisions should be made based on them.

It's a complex issue due to a clash between religious/social beliefs and values. Although Western nations would like to get involved to create equality throughout the world, many African countries resent the effort. They feel as though we're 'meddling' by forcing our agenda upon them. And it's partially true – what gives us the right to tell countries like Ghana how they should run themselves? They are no longer a British colony, and shouldn't be treated as such.

On the other hand, my question is, "At what point should natural liberties override the sovereignty of a nation?"

Gratefulness

As I was jogging recently, I came across a barren stretch of dirt. It was entirely uneven – one side a full five feet higher than the other, with large rifts and piles of broken glass on the ground.   Looking further, I could see a nearly-naked toddler playing barefoot with a soccer ball. The ball was ratty – the outer patch coverings were worn out, flaking, and decrepit. It was a size five soccer ball – about half as tall as the toddler. Putting two and two together, I soon realized that this was a makeshift soccer field.

I jogged near the toddler and motioned for the ball. At first he had a confused look that read, "What could an Obruni want with a soccer ball?" As soon as he passed the football, I started juggling and quickly dispelled all notions that I didn't know how to play. The toddler and I started passing, and other children soon joined in.

A crowd quickly gathered to watch the Obruni pass. Eventually I was asked, amidst much laughter, if I wanted to join a full-size soccer game with adults and miniature goals.

Their mindset was that I would surely decline their offer, since my 'Obruni-body' wasn't tough enough to play with Obibinis. They thought I would surely be afraid of breaking a bone, and ending up in the hospital.

To their surprise, I agreed to play. I handed a reliable-looking Ghanaian mother my house-key to hold onto, and moved a 2 cedi bill ($1.20) from in my pocket to under the bottom of my shoe for safekeeping.

The toddler I passed with gaped at the money, staring with his mouth wide-open. With a completely straight face, he pointed at my shoe and asked me, "How did you gotten so much money?"

I paused, at a lack of words. This wasn't a large amount of money – I brought just enough for three coconuts. But what really hit me was his tone. Unlike the begging kids on the street, he wasn't asking for money. He was simply shocked at the idea of another kid having so much money by himself, and was puzzled as to how I attained it.

I wasn't sure how to respond to his question. Answering, "It's just two cedis…" would've only fulfilled the 'Obrunis being rich' stereotype. And if I told him the truth – that I brought 2 cedi to buy three coconuts, he would've been shocked at my gluttony and misuse of money.

I resolved the issue by telling him that my host mom sending me out to buy her cell phone credit. This white lie was ultimately the best decision – as I wasn't seen as just another 'rich Obruni', and the money was well-explained. Completing my fairy-tale ending, I played a great game of soccer, scoring once on a breakaway. Ghanaians eagerly picked me up and started chanting, "Landon Donovan!"

The Point of this Post: Being grateful for all that you have. Whether you 'hate high school', don't have the opportunity of spending Thanksgiving with your family, or  don't like the direction your life is headed; think about everything that you have been blessed. While I feel like I am basically reiterating the commonly known 'theme' of Thanksgiving, it feels different coming from Africa.

When I tell people I'm from America, most look puzzled  and ask me, "Why would you come here? Everyone here wants to go there!" The United States, consists of only 4{3a5a0fd47fd42b6497167aecc6170a94848f1ba936db07c4954344fcfff1d528} of the earth's population, and most of the other 96{3a5a0fd47fd42b6497167aecc6170a94848f1ba936db07c4954344fcfff1d528} want to become one of us. Always remember – you're part of the lucky 4{3a5a0fd47fd42b6497167aecc6170a94848f1ba936db07c4954344fcfff1d528}.

I'm seeing now that America really is the 'land of dreams.' People in many countries across the world simply don't have the opportunity to control their lives as Americans do. In the United States, the value of kids being able to 'become anything they want to be," is enshrined from youth. Kids aspire to become astronauts, actors, and even cavemen (I was an odd child…)

In countries like Ghana, many families stick to a 'be real' approach. Kids often follow in their family's footsteps, or choose one of the socially acceptable careers (lawyer, scientist, teacher, etc). People don't believe it's possible for an ordinary person to change the world by themselves. When I told classmates that no matter what my career ends up being, I want to leave a mark on the world – they openly treated my ideas with scorn.

When people ask me for money, it's an instant, "No," without any thought. This is why the toddler stands out in my mind so much. By not asking for my money but rather making a statement about it, he made me realize how fortunate I am not only for my possessions, but also for the opportunities I have in life. Thanks to him I am even more grateful for all my family, friends, and mentors who helped me along the way.

Speaking of being Grateful… While Thanksgiving stands as my favorite holiday, the concept of mass-gluttony is a bit nauseating at the moment (despite the fact that I'm going to the U.S. Ambassedor's house tomorrow for a feast). As I tell Ghanaians, poverty exists in both the United States and in Ghana. As far as excessive gorging goes, everyone knows that the first potato chip is always the best one, so why not stop when you're at a point where somebody else would enjoy the food more than you? There's hungry people all over the U.S. – if your situation permits, seek them out and offer a special meal this Thanksgiving.

At the very least, think about how fortunate you are in life. Not just on Thanksgiving, but during everyday of the year.