A Stolen Childhood and a Reclaimed Story: Brigitte Sossou Perenyi

Recently, I was introduced to an elegant looking woman in a coffee shop in Accra. She was well-spoken, chic, and had a good sense of humor, and a hello turned into a 30-minute conversation. Towards the middle of the convo, she told me about having had the opportunity to make a BBC documentary about her life. I was quite impressed talking to a twenty-something with her own documentary and told her I would check it out.

The woman was Brigitte Sossou Perenyi and her story was “My stolen childhood: understanding the trokosi system”. This fantastic documentary chronicles Brigitte’s and thousands of other West African girls’ unfair fate of being human sacrifices. In some cultures in Ghana, Togo, and Benin, a committed sin is believed to cause sickness and death in the family which can only be stopped if a girl is “sacrificed” and made a slave of a shrine.

This documentary is fantastic as it shows how striving for understanding of wrongs made against you can free you, how returning to the scene of the crime and remembering together can let your courage spread to others. Our heroine travels the region and speaks to everyone from an Uber-driver, a group of elders, academics studying the practice at the University of Ghana, her trokosi friend who also managed to get free, her family, and to all of us who want to listen to her story. I spent another half-an-hour with Brigitte and cherished every moment of it.

Thank you Brigitte for reclaiming and sharing your story with so much courage and truth-telling!

Trokosi, or ritual servitude, was made a crime in 1998, but no one has been prosecuted for a practice that is still ongoing and affecting many lives.

Looking Forward to An African City 2 (coming Jan 24, 2016)

Right now there is a humongous group of people ( 35 300 YouTube subscribers and counting, basically a small city!) just waiting around for January 24th when An African City, the popular web series recorded in Accra, Ghana, is back with season 2! See my first impression of season one here. Bottom line: If you love talkative women, fashion, West Africa, and a little sex…this is for you. 

Here is the trailer of An African City Season 2:

While the girls and the setting remains the same, this season, the series will not be available for free on YouTube, but through a $19.99 subscription, underlining what has said in one of the early episodes…that everything in Ghana is really charged in US dollars!

Ps. If you missed season one, it’s still available on YouTube for free!

Practical Women’s Day: WomenWhoInspire

Over the last week or two, I have been involved in a project to showcase inspirational women in Ghana. Here is the introduction to the  project and further down my contribution!

The first International Women’s Day (IWD) was first held in 1911 and every year since women have been celebrated and the issues that affect them highlighted on the 8th of March. While IWD started as a way of highlighting what was unjust, wrong and harmful to women, today we can also celebrate how far we’ve come and recommit to the work yet to be done.

WomenWhoInspire is an online project created by a group of Ghanaian women as a contribution to the 2014 International Women’s Day theme: Inspiring Change!

WomenWhoInspire is a reminder through video, photos and words that women everywhere are powerful, beautiful and truly inspiring. Join us as we celebrate WomenWhoInspire over the next two months. Let us celebrate the social, political and economic achievements of women! Let us advocate for equality for everyone! Share your story or that of another amazing Woman who inspires!

We want to encourage women to record themselves or other women. Here are some guidelines!

Suggestion for questions for 1 min video:

  1. “My name is … and I hope my story inspires you”,

  2. I am a / the …. eg mother, student, Manager of…[they can give multiple roles]

  3. I use technology to / when… eg I use technology when I use to communicate with friends and to get my work done.

  4. Another woman who inspires me is ….

  5. My three words of inspiration to women are…

Upload

When you upload your video, be sure to use the hashtag #WomenhoInspire if you want us to find it and share it!

My video

Here is the video I made, of an inspiring woman in my life, my mother-in-law Grace Dolly Acquah (apologies for poor sound).

An interesting aspect is how fun it has been working together with other women, Most of the work has been done online, but today we met Away From Keyboard and it was great!

Ghana’s President in Sweden, Sweden’s Minister of Trade in Ghana

Right now, Ghana’s president John Dramani Mahama is in Sthockholm cohosting the GAVI alliance meeting for immunization and next week the Swedish Minister for Trade, Annie Lööf, will be coming to Ghana.

John Dramani Mahama

In the photo, minister Lööf and president Mahama. Photo borrowed from the Swedish government website/ Martina Huber.

The president is in Stockholm to campaign for vaccines for all children. Ghana is an “Immunization Champion” and have a strong track-record on immunizations. From the website of GAVI:

“As an innovative global health partner, GAVI is committed to promoting the health of children through immunisation and this must be commended”, President Mahama stated in a meeting with Ms. Evans.

He further observed that, “GAVI deserves the support of all leaders desirous of building healthier communities. I pledge my unflinching support as an Immunisation Champion to enable GAVI achieve its noble objectives.”

The Swedish minister comes to Ghana with a trade delegation including Ericsson, ABB, Atlas Copco, Sandvik och Eltel, continuing on the visit three years ago with the then Minister of Trade Ewa Bjorling. The minister is also following up on her favorite issues: innovation and womens’ leadership. She will visit a local innovation hub, Meltwater, and talk to Ghana’s minister of foreign affairs, Hanna Tetteh about women in politics, according to her schedule (only in Swedish).

Granted, these two news items are suitable for a Swedish/Ghanaian blog. But this time, there are more connections! Last week, I saw Mahama at the ICAS13 conference , my daughter got immunized and next week I have been invited to meet with Annie Lööf ! Report to follow.

Bloggforum 2012 : Swedish Blog Event

After just having posted photos from last week’s BlogCamp 2012 in Ghana, I thought this was pretty interesting. Came across this photo from a blog conference in Sweden, Bloggforum 2012. So this is what blogging events looks like in Sweden where blogging seems to predominantly be a female thing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a photo of the speakers. One of my favorite Swedish bloggers Underbaraclara spoke about Blogs and Business, she is the tall brunette second from left. Pic borrowed from Underbaraclaras blogpost on the event.

What Do Women Want ?

Inspired by Ghanaian radio channel Joy FM’s discussion this morning, I feel like I have to make a comment on this topic, “What Do Women Want?”.

The discussion had a strong start. The host linked the discussion to yesterday’s International Women’s Day and aimed for understanding. A man called in and suggested that “a man who knows what his woman wants is a happy man”, explaining that then you know what is expected of you and can have harmony in your home.

However, soon the discussion was flooded with men calling in with grave generalizations. Several of them were suggesting that

“women do not know what they want themselves, so how can we know?”

or that women are “unpredictable” and “moody”.

How very convenient to say that! A way out for those too lazy to actually care about what women want?

Fellow blogger Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah (see her co-blogger Malaika’s International Women’s Day post) was a guest of the show and shared some levelheaded and feminist comments, for instance suggesting that men calling women “moody” and “hormonal” is a grave exaggeration many times used as an excuse to meet expectations.

On Joy FM’s Facebook page the discussion was at this time going wild! Some comments were debating materialistic wants and intangible ones

“women want time and attention when they are with a rich man and wants financial security when they find themselves with a “poor man””

Others again were holding forward how very complicated women are.

Then Akorfa A. Pomeyie stated:
“Women are not complicated, we are very simple”
and I want to agree with her.

We women are just like anybody else. We like to be given respect, we like being listened to, we like it when you prioritize us and our wants and needs.

At this time, my phone rang. It was my husband calling to say good morning and ask how I was doing as this morning he left before I woke up. I smiled and said I was doing just fine.

That attentive phonecall, my friends, is how simple it is to give a woman what she wants.

The discussion is still going on at Joy FM’s Facebook page.

International Women’s Day: A Personal Reflection

Last year around this time, I was pregnant with my first child. It was an amazing and literally nauseating experience. It was a reminder of what it is to be a woman.

Being a woman is at times a very bodily experience – growing breasts and hips, learning how to dance, coordinating movements in some nice shoe, climbing trees or other remote places for solitude.

Being a woman is filled with pain – headaches from trying to remember everything, cramps from the monthly period, silent but sharp stings of betrayal, the shockingly forceful pains of child labor.

Being a woman is joyous – growing in your mother’s shadow, learning to express yourself freely in words, feeling the cold water on your body as you dive in, being someone’s mother.

On a day like this, I think of everything that unites us women. I think of everything that separates us. Clearly, there is not a single experience of womanhood, however there is an attitude I feel is common to all women. An attitude I find it heard to put words on, but something along the lines of “change is inevitable”.

We change. We grow. We transform. The world changes.

This is a BloggingGhana universal post. See others take part in the discussion here. Female sign borrowed from Zazzle.com

Breastfeeding, Part 2

After posting on my experiences of breastfeeding in Ghana, I got many comments. Most of them were long and very informative, so I thought I’d share with you some of the issues that came up. Here is Breastfeeding in Ghana and elsewhere, Part 2.

Nsoromma described breastfeeding as something very natural when growing up in a Ghanaian community in London:

As common as drinking water, women would whip out their breasts and feed a baby that needed feeding. There was no shame and it was not sexualised. When I grew up slightly and saw more White English families I realised it was Not The Done Thing. I remember being surprised to hear quite openly negative remarks about how disgusting it was for women to breastfeed…particularly outside of the home! This view pervades British society to such an extent that in my current job I often hear that raising breastfeeding rates (initiation, through to 6 months) is a massive public health priority.

So going back to Ghanaian women (at least in th UK), I think its a misguided case of copying what the ‘West’ do.

I think Nsoromma’s story is a good illustration of that attitudes vary and that they matter. Maybe sexualizing babies’ food/ breastfeeding has much more to do with the issue than I first thought…

Fiona Leonard stressed that pumping and bottle-feeding is possible, but that your workplace needs to be supportive.

Going back to work certainly makes it hard. I went back to work at four months and was exclusively breast feeding which meant I had to express, including at work. To be able to do that you need a very accommodating workplace. It’s not impossible though. I continued breast feeding (not exclusively) through to twelve months.

I can imagine expressing/pumping daily is a chore! I invested in a simple but high-end pump and have used it a total of three times…many parts to wash, pumping for 10-15 minutes (now I know why baby is sweating while eating) and I have been lucky to be able to stay at home until now which means I just bring baby with me instead of the pump!

My Intercultural Communication’s professor Pam wrote a long comment that I am too proud to cut down in any way. She also shared a link to a historic so-called usenet group FAQ that she had put together on the topic back in 1996! Still worth a read, though!

This is a fascinating article not only on cross-cultural attitudes about breastfeeding but also about how these attitudes are changing (and not always in good ways). Here in the US when I was breastfeeding nearly 20 years ago, I would discreetly breastfeed in public (restaurants, benches), and although many people found it odd, few if any people criticized me for it. However, now, I cannot remember the last time I saw a breastfeeding mother in public. And apparently there has been much controversy about it: see this article: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/kasey-kahne-target-nurse-ins-public-breast-feeding/story.

Where I found much more dissension was in breastfeeding my child after he was a year old. Very few American mothers continue to breastfeed older infants and toddlers and tend to wean them rather young. I continued until my son naturally weaned himself, which happened about 18-20 months. This was back in the very early days of the internet (before the WorldWide Web and I was a participant in a great support group called misc.kids via usenet groups. In fact, I just located the archives of the FAQ I compiled on this topic at http://www.faqs.org/faqs/misc-kids/breastfeeding/toddlers/. Enjoy!

I find it interesting that when breastfeeding in public is “breaking the norm” – actually nothing much happens if one does!

Maya Mame suggested that the comments I have gotten when breastfeeding in Ghana are more class related than anything else:

  I was going to raise a point, but realised mentioned it later in your piece. I doubt the surprise at you breastfeeding has to do with your colour, I think it is mainly something that you don’t see “affluent” people doing in Ghana. (I too received many “you’ve done well” comments and there’s nothing white about me! ;-)

The same commenter also shared some particulars for Ghanaian mothers that makes breastfeeding more difficult that it need to be:

In addition to that, as you and Fiona mentioned, going back to work (and here, let’s remember, as I was harshly informed, there are extremely limited part time jobs in Ghana, so going back to work means full time, with approximately 45 minutes journey in and out) means most women will be away from home for 10-12 hours a day. It is practically impossible to pump enough to feed a baby for those hours.

In addition, what I noticed we lack in Ghana is advice on breastfeeding and stimulating milk production. Unless you get traditional tips from aunties (eat groundnuts with their skin on, or drink palm nut soup, there’s not much advice or places to go to for advice if your milk production were to slow down. I, who’ve somehow become the breast milk guru among friends, managed to help two friend who would most likely have stopped completely, if not given the tips I learned at the Swedish child care centre.

It is so common that milk production slows down, whether due to lack of sleep, stress or change in diet, and it is sad that something that can easily be increased would completely end, because people don’t know where to get advice from. Looking at those around me, ALL the mothers I know had the intention to breastfeed, but sadly, probably more than half stopped by three months, due to slow production or work commitments.

When I read the comment, I thought of Amningshjälpen, a Swedish breastfeeding support organization, and how it might be much needed globally.

Kinnatold her story of breastfeeding in Ghana and concluded that motivation to breastfeed might be lacking in Ghana.

Having lived most of my adult life in the US where breastfeeding is a problem for working mothers, I took full advantage of being back home to breastfeed my second son well past 12 months. Yeah, I got the “you’ve done well” and “isn’t it time to wean” talk but I just refused to do it any other way except the way that I had chosen. Of course, I have an accommodating workplace but nonetheless, I pumped and all that to make it work. It seems in Ghana that most parents, working or not, affluent or not, just don’t want to make time for the children that no one forced them to have. And the non-breastfeeding issue is a part of that.

Swedish blogger Nina Ruthström saw similarities in the Ghanaian breastfeeding situation to attitudes prevailing in Sweden in the 1970-1980s. She also shared her personal feeling on breastfeeding in public.

Gällande det sexuella så skulle jag vilja slänga fram tutten precis som om den vore en termos, men det vågar jag inte. Jag är alldeles för pryd för det. Och indoktrinerad bröst=sexuellt. Jag skulle gärna hjälpa till att avsexualisera brösten. Men jag är diskret.

(Concering the sexual, I would like to put forward the boob as was it a thermos, but I do not dare to. I am way too much of a prude. And indoctrinated that breast=sexual. I would like to help de-sexualizing breasts, but I am discreet).

Swedish friend Maria who have lived many years in the US also too interest in the debate. She commented on the need to cover up when breastfeeding in the US and said she prefer the more “relaxed” attitude to breastfeeding in Sweden.
 Vet inte riktigt var denna trend kommit fran i U.S.A. men tror kanske att det delvis har att gora med den i ibland bara tva veckor langa mamma ledigheten men ocksa i en oversexualisering av brost och i feluppfattningen att modersmjolksersattning ar nyttigare for barnet. Mycket intressant amne!
(I do not quite know where this US trend has come from, but think it is partly due to the sometimes only two week long maternity leave, but also a sexualization of breast and the misconception of that formula is healthier for the baby. Very interesting topic!)

I must say I was surprised at the interest my blog post on breastfeeding generated, but I am happy and grateful to have learned so much from my readers on the topic. Recently a reader of Nina’s blog , Sofia, suggested blogging is the womens’ forum of our time. I thought it was a bold and alluring statement. However, the discussion above seems to be the perfect illustration of its validity.

 

 

International Women’s Day: Why Are Mothers Still Dying?

Birth in Lagos from Alice Proujansky on Vimeo.

Today is March 8th, international women’s day. It is a day to rejoice for the amazing advances women as a group has made over the last 100 years, but also to focus on important issues of tomorrow.

My husband always says that equal pay must be the starting point for any viable change towards equality for women. But after seeing Alice Proujansky’s scary and beautiful birth clinic pictures from around the world (see slideshow above from Nigeria, where 1 in 13 women die during pregnancy or in childbirth), listening to Christy Turlington/EveryMotherCounts on Aljaazerah this morning (sign her petition!) and since last year pondering on the success of Ghana’s free health care policy for mothers, I still wonder if global maternity health is not the most important issue for the women of tomorrow.

According to Turlington:

“an additional investment of $1.3 billion per year would save the lives of an estimated 250,000 women and babies per year.”

Then why are mothers still dying to give birth to human kind?

Astrient Foundation Women’s Forum: Enhancing your Work Image

Astrient Foundation Women's Form AshesiAfter having sweated though the weekend, I am now assuming my malaria parasites are all gone and I will start my week with something interesting. Monday evening, I will be speaking at an Astrient Foundation Women’s Forum event.

Initially, I was hesitant. For the event with the slightly puzzling title “Enhancing your Work Image in the Corporate World”  I felt I was not the right speaker as I wasn’t even too sure about what ‘work image’ was…but after some explanation from the director Phoebe Acolatse, I have prepared to talk about my blog and how I have enhanced my own career.

The Astrient Foundation provides, among other things, scholarships, community educational programs and these women’s networking seminars.

If you are interested, this is the time and place:

Astrient Foundation Women’s Forum

Ashesi University College, Labone

Building 3, Lecturehall 4

6-8pm, Monday 31st May, 2010.

And I am no more hesitant, but looking forward to this experience!