Side by Side Ghana: The Collective Voices of Faith Actors for Gender Justice

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By Aba Hagan, Side by Side Ghana / Christian Aid Ghana.

Last year, faith actors from across West Africa gathered in Ghana to host a Regional Side by Side Conference in Accra. During the conference, faith actors worked together to develop ways to work together and establish national chapters. In Ghana, we formally launched our national chapter on 13th March 2019 with representation from different faiths, including Christian, Islam, traditional leaders and Bahá’í.

Ernest Okyere (Country Director, Christian Aid, Ghana) in his welcome address shared a personal gender story of his journey and experiences on gender injustice. Growing up in family of 4 boys, he used to cook, sweep and clean as a woman would do. Later on, a female cousin came to live with them and surprisingly all the chores he was performing prior to his cousin’s arrival ceased. He did not cook and he did not clean. He had a lot more fun than before. All chores were offloaded to his cousin. Mr. Okyere continued to say that, even as a Christian in his childhood days, he realised that there were no discussions within the church on the interactions of Males and Females, Boys and Girls or Men and Women and what to do or not do as a boy or girl, man or a woman. All he knew growing up was, men and women had distinct tasks to carry out.

“Similarly, in the educational and traditional authority settings, there were no discussions on how to define existing systems, different opportunities and chances available to us and the spaces we occupy as men or as women were impacting on us separately in different ways” Mr. Okyere mentioned.

In Mr. Okyere’s words “I am grown now, I am married and I have a young daughter and as a father and a husband I would want the best for the two women in my life who justify my living; and I wouldn’t want that “best” for them being defined or determined by them being a woman or a girl. I want them to have better opportunities than I did. I want them to have a life of dignity and not constrained by the fact that you are a girl or a woman as defined by society. This is the journey I am embarking on.”

In addition, Mr. Okyere stated that we are first created as men and women in the image of God. Though our physical abilities may differ, it doesn’t necessarily define us and limit us to certain opportunities.

Mrs. Joyce Steiner (Director of Programmes and Advocacy, Christian Council of Ghana) added that, “if we are talking about sustainable development, then we must talk about God’s creation. Why didn’t God just create only man but created a woman in addition? Because there is something a woman has that a man lacks, but if they are walking side by side, they can make it”.

She highlighted that fight for gender justice runs heavily on partnership. Partnership between men and women fighting for a common cause. If women fight alone, the solution would be different.

Mr. Richard Okine (Integrated Project Director, World Vision International in Ghana) reiterated that most of the Ghanaian citizenry align themselves with a particular faith: “we as citizens of our belief systems are also the custodians of how it can be interpreted and applied. We constitute the natural and spiritual affiliates of our values and natural justice. We have the crowds of fellowship and the crowds of leadership. When the Imam calls, his congregation follows, and when the pastor calls, his congregation adheres to that voice”.

Gender injustice does not only happen in our schools but also in our churches where it has been largely attributed to faith. As aforementioned, in our application of these values and with those scriptures in our hands, so how are we using it to ensure social justice?

In the Keynote address, Rev. Dr. Cyril G.K. Fayose (General Secretary, Christian Council of Ghana) stated that if a religion is not for a good purpose, then it doesn’t pass as religion. Every religion is about improving the lives of people and ensuring the well being of society. However as pointed out by earlier speakers, sometimes these good faiths can be perfected to cause injustices, said the General Secretary in his keynote address. He mentioned that even in the Bible all the disciples of Jesus were men. This shows that even in Jesus’s leadership days, gender injustices prevailed.

Day in day out some structures in society maltreat, mistreat and mishandle people of certain genders doing so under the disguise of the faith they align themselves with. This is very common in all faith establishments. Rev. Dr. Fayose stressed that we cannot say religion is for a good purpose and unanimously endorse acts that perpetuate gender injustice. We all have an opportunity to make our stands on Gender Injustice through this Side by Side Movement and let people know that “No faith in its proper doctrine and interpretations supports acts that limit women and children in attaining their fullest potentials as given them by God”.

The national movement was officially launched by Rev. Dr. Fayose.  On this declaration, the Side by Side Movement Ghana Chapter was launched in the name of the Almighty God, in the name of Allah; the most peaceful and the most merciful, in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

 

After the formal launch, a panel of speakers discussed gender and development dynamics in Ghana: the role of faith leaders. Moderated by Keita Rose-Tahiru (Gender Justice Advisor, Oxfam in Ghana).

Left-Keita Rose-Tahiru; Centre- Rev. Dr. Grace Sintim Adasi; Right- Dr. Rabiatu Ammah

Dr. Rabiatu Ammah (Senior Lecturer, Department of Religion, University of Ghana) presented an Islamic perspective on Gender and development dynamics in Ghana: the role of faith leaders. She revealed that in Quran 2:30 following, the Quran teaches that human beings (Male and Female) have been created as stewards of Allah. As stewards they have been given the freewill, responsibilities and intellect but these freedoms, responsibilities and intellects also come with accountability.

In the creation story of the stewards, both men and women are representing God on earth. Both males and females have been given specific things to do, basically to serve Allah. Therefore, everything that the human being has been told to do; pray 5 times a day, believe in Allah etc, men and women must all do it. Within this same creation story, the Quran says that women are not responsible for the transgressions of Adam (men). The Quran simply says both of them transgressed and none is responsible for the sins of the other. Both of them asked for repentance and Allah relented to them and gave them guidance saying, “if you follow my guidance, no fear will hang up on you”. This was a condition to both of them. Therefore, as a human being, in all the economics, politics, social spheres of life, the Muslim man and Muslim woman must partake because it is a duty of the servants of God to ensure that there is a shadow of God on earth.

A major statement that Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) made about women was that “the laps of the mother are the preschool of every child”.  This statement conspicuously implies that women are the educationist of humanity. The Prophet was not necessarily talking about classroom education but the inculcation of values. Similarly, when we are talking about development we are not only talking about infrastructure. Values are important elements of development especially when we are talking about it in a sustainable manner. The Prophet again said, “anyone who educates three of his daughters will achieve paradise”. If this is not talking about empowering women, honouring women and the importance of women, then what is it? She concluded by stating that the Muslim woman’s individuality and independence is asserted in the Quran.

Rev. Dr. Grace Sintim Adasi (Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon) presented a Christian Perspectives of the panel topic. She cited an example that prior to her joining the ministry, the already established cultures were against people like her becoming pastors just because of her gender. As an academician in African Studies she mentioned the following as some of the cultures of injustices that have been transferred into the church and are suppressing women;

 

Role as a Faith Leader in the Church to fight against Gender Injustice

Rev. Dr. Grace rounded off her presentation by highlighting some of the actions she has been taking as a faith leader to move the side by side conversation. She recommended the following as some of the roles faith leaders should play to help fight gender injustices at the church level;

 

The next steps for the national chapter will be to institute the steering committee that will spearhead all Side by Side related activities in Ghana.

Posted by: Rachel Tavernor | Wednesday, May 8th, 2019
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