Sign above the door to a local drinking establishment

Sign above the door to a local drinking establishment

I have been a bit slow since our evening of salsa dancing on the Rooftop of the African Rainbow, but there is something from Saturday afternoon’s presentation that keeps coming back to me. It is time for me to wade into a topic which has been weighing on me for some time.

On the weekend, our hotel hosted an awareness creating conference on the topic of prostate cancer. One of our guests is a medical doctor specializing in cancer research and treatment, with emphasis in the sphere of public health. During his presentation, he compared the availability of information and treatment for breast cancer, which is only experienced by women, with that of prostate cancer, which is only experienced by men. The doctor told us that the National Health Insurance Scheme of Ghana provides payment for treatment of breast cancer but not for prostate cancer.

The doctor went further to talk about the reasons for the discrepancy between these two treatments. He spoke about the way in which the concept of “women’s empowerment” has left men in a disadvantaged position, and for no reason other than the fact that they are men. The example of prostate cancer illustrated the doctor’s point.

The concept of “women’s empowerment” is a western idea, and one which grew out of the women’s liberation movement of the 1960’s and 70’s. This was a time of the Peace Movement and a time when “people of colour” were pushing forward their rights, particularly in North America. As a naïve and idealistic socialist, I was a strong supporter of all of these causes. It was clear to me that men and women had equal rights, just as people of all races and sexual orientations were entitled to be treated with those same equal rights.

In a similar way that Christianity made its way to this continent, well-meaning people brought the women’s liberation movement to Ghana. Those people came with views based on the perspective with which they were familiar – i.e. a western context. As a result, it is currently in vogue in “development circles” to address “gender equity” when foreign aid packages and programs are being decided. In fact this has become so much the case that issues which address community as a whole are often given little or no consideration, in preference for those which purport to enhance “women’s empowerment”.

In anticipation of the daggers of indignation being drawn, let me hasten to say that I am all in favour of women’s empowerment BUT with one proviso. Let us ensure that the empowerment of women is accompanied by the empowerment of men, as well as that of children. Let us recognize that empowerment of one segment of society at the expense of another is not empowerment at all but rather a form of that which we are trying to rid ourselves and that is colonization and enslavement.

When I read about foreign NGO’s and aid agencies talking about the way in which this or that project which they have undertaken is going to “empower women and children”, I smile to myself and think about Kejetia and Makola and Fumso and Bolgatanga and Agona Nkwanta and Kasoa and all the other markets, big and small, in Ghana. When walking through any one of those places of commerce, it is clear where the power lies. Yes, perhaps the western business world may still be dominated by men, but in the marketplace, it is women who rule.

And so before we leave the topic, let us return to the issue of treatment for men’s prostate cancer. Let us here in Ghana not be led astray by the western world. Let us remember that women make up half of the population while men make up the other half, and let us ensure that equality and empowerment is practised in all directions. Remember, men and women, we are all in this together – if we are all sisters, let us acknowledge that we are also all brothers. Let us also ensure that policies which are made in Africa and Ghana are based on an African and Ghanaian context and not one from the western world.