World-renowned CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour has embarked on a new project – to explore sex and love experiences by women and girls across the world from an angle of “satisfaction and personal pleasure” in a documentary series called “Love and Sex Around The World”. She visited Ghana and interviewed a number of people, including Ghanaian actress Moesha Boduong – here-on called “Moesha” – who I didn’t know about until this series. An excerpt of her interview with Moesha (also below) was released yesterday and in it, Moesha shares why she is dating a married man to address her economic difficulties.
Moesha: “In Ghana our economy is just such in a way that you just need someone to take care of you. You can’t make enough money as a woman here. Even when you want to get an apartment in Ghana you pay two years in advance. I just started working, where will I get money to pay for two years?”
Amanpour: “Are you telling me that you’re having sex with this guy, essentially to pay your rent?”
Moesha: “Because he can afford to take care of you. He takes care of me, my financial stuff; my apartment, my car, my rent, everything…He expects me to be loyal and just date him only – and give him sex when he wants.”
Amanpour: “Does your man have more mistresses?”
Naturally, such an explosive topic as sex in Ghana has sparked numerous reactions and conversation on the matter – because, hello, we are only one of the most religious countries in the world. There are those who think Moesha is just lazy and a poor excuse for a Ghanaian woman. Others believe she is simply speaking the truth about what a majority of Ghanaian women have to do. Yet more are somewhere in the middle, wondering how Moesha landed such a platform in the first place. My initial reaction? “Umm, there are many Ghanaian women taking care of themselves – and living within means without going thatroute, no?” After reading various perspectives, receiving a number of messages from others about the video and processing my own thoughts and feelings on the matter, I went on Twitter and created a thread. That thread is reproduced below with a few additions and clarifications.
— Jemila #SisterhoodMatters (@jabdulai) April 12, 2018
These few years I’m constantly reminded that Ghana is an ecosystem of parallel universes. There are multiple versions of Ghana happening at the same time – most of us are fully immersed in one, with the occasional glimpse into the other. The Moesha Boduong situation is another reminder.
In the version of Ghana I tend to spend most of my time in, women and girls are expected to be hard working and to claim their space in life. Many of them are given the tools and opportunity to do so – and those who aren’t are reminded they already have what they need. The women and girls in parallel universe 1 are encouraged and supported. They are taught their self-worth and part of that is the notion that one’s vagina is one’s own. Independent and self-assured, they are rudely awakened when they encounter other universes in Ghana.
Like parallel universe 2. The women and girls in this universe never actually got an introduction to “life”. There was no time. They were hurled into the fray and expected to figure it out. Survival of the fittest. Most of these women we call “poor, vulnerable”. Besides having to deal with all the things women and girls deal with – self acceptance, confidence, period pains, etc – parallel universe 2 women also deal with a system not interested in their survival. They are often forgotten even in the name of “development”. With the system & environment being unfavourable, women and girls in parallel universe 2 are often illiterate, low-income, voiceless, unhealthy, disenfranchised, unemployed. Generally assumed they have no sex lives – they are often victims of sexual violence. Once in a while, a woman from this universe will get a lucky break – either by by sheer will or by help from elsewhere. More often than not, her motives for receiving that help will be questioned as will the intent of the helper. Many think it’s just about money.
And with that, the elements come together to create parallel universe 3 – where women and girls take what they can and do what they must, no questions asked. Because do or don’t they are screwed anyway. Pun intended. The logic is hey, you might as well have fun. That’s probably the universe Moesha resides in. The judgment received by the women and girls in parallel universe 3 is harsh – sometimes by women from other versions of Ghana. Parallel universe 3 women think the joke is on everyone else – they see the world for what it is. A system of exchanges where women rarely win. Parallel universe 3 is an extremity born and created out of inequality between parallel universes 1 and 2. Their women and girls are programmed to use all their resources to survive (unlike those of parallel universe 2), and to ignore society judgments (unlike those of parallel universe 1). They are borne from the system to survive the system.
The irony is – the women in all three parallel universes are similar in one respect: when necessary, society will reduce them to their sexuality. And in the same fashion, it will judge them for it. On that front, the system wins.
These few years I’m constantly reminded that Ghana is an ecosystem of parallel universes. There are multiple versions of Ghana happening at the same time – most of us are fully immersed in one, with the occasional glimpse into the other. Moesha situation is another reminder. Yes, that repetition is intentional – there are many truths, many women (even in one). Neither should be discounted. Neither should be put on a pedestal. There is danger in a single story. Context is always important. One must never claim certainty – because even the certain don’t know. And on this front, I do think that Moesha shouldn’t have generalised. She was speaking her reality, her truth – one I for instance cannot identify with. Her experience is valid, and qualifying her statement with words like “most”, “many” or “some” would have helped prevent dismissal of it. That said, I can’t help but wonder if she did actually qualify her statements, but Amanpour and/or her team simply disregarded it when editing. Because let’s not forget who is really crafting the narrative here.
And if it bothers us all so much – how about we all take a step back and examine how we play a role in maintaining the ecosystem within which these parallel universes reside. The system keeping the different versions of Ghana alive. For instance, those men and boys who know they can “have their way” with a girl by buying papaye and phone credit for a girl – why exclaim when her utility for those goes down and her appreciation for the “finer things” increases? Wouldn’t that make them parallel universe 3 enablers? Those of us saying – oh but there are so many entrepreneurial hardworking women in Ghana. Can you share a post, buy a product, procure a service, refer these women to others? Else the narrative remains below surface & then Amanpour comes and its Moesha’s name she hears. What about those of us who consider ourselves parallel universe 1 women – how about we check our knee jerk reaction to dispel the existence of those other universes because they may “tarnish” or diminish what we do and who we consider ourselves to be? Parallel universes at play. Your truth isn’t the only truth.
I’m partially calling myself out here. Because my immediate inclination was to defend my version and experience of Ghana. Not to actually listen or hear a truth. Women like Moesha exist – it’s rarely just fun & games – it’s navigating a system rigged to have many lose.
In an ideal world, we would all have what we need. In the real world many Ghanaians live in, it’s complex, no guarantees. Hard work doesn’t always guarantee success. Prayer doesn’t always guarantee salvation. Being a virgin doesn’t always guarantee your first time is with the one you love or marry. There is a system at play – and willing or otherwise, we are all participants. Moesha doesn’t represent all Ghanaian women, but she does reflect some. “Hardworking” parallel universe 1 women are outliers at best. I’m an outlier – Ghanaian woman, highly educated, not married, muslim, living independently, working for myself, paying my bills.Parallel universe 1 women are still outliers, not the norm. We may appear to win on the “making it” front, but believe me, we lose in many others. Since many have tagged me as an ‘example’ of such on Twitter and seem to be looking for a ‘face’ to counter the picture Moesha has painted, let me make this important point about who the average Ghanaian woman is. To be clear, all of this parallel universe stuff is extremely simplistic.
The average Ghanaian woman lives in parallel universe 2. She is most likely rural, poor, un- or semi-educated, no viable job, no social safety nets in key areas like healthcare, she rarely sees the fruits of her labour so cannot re-invest in herself. She works because she must and she makes hard decisions daily. The average Ghanaian woman is damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t. She isn’t online – but we damn her for the choices she makes in a system where the odds are stacked against her. If we have to choose a “face” for Ghana, it would most likely be her. Not me, not Moesha. You will only hear her story in passing, because again, she isn’t online so she cannot be tagged. Oh and sex? The average Ghana woman is definitely getting some – but not in the way you think. She is the 8-year old sleeping with a trucker to have shelter from the rains. The professional woman who has to deal with sexual propositions from her boss and male colleagues every day, just because she wants to earn a salary and live.The kakayei who is raped sleeping in a market after working all day. Life ripped that right off. The average Ghana woman is the student who still has to go to class and face taunts from her classmates because they discovered she is sleeping with their teacher – a teacher who threatened to fail her. The one who inspired that nonsense stool campaign some of you liked.
But the craziest bit is that the average Ghana woman is not safe at home in parallel universe 1 or enclosed in the warm embrace of a “sponsor” or “sugar daddy” in parallel universe 3. The parallel universe 2 woman hangs in a balance, she is in constant flux and uncertainty. It takes very little to throw her to either extreme – any day now she may rise or fall. Because nobody really cares enough to do something. The kicker in all this? All these Ghana women wouldn’t exist, these parallel universes wouldn’t be – without the equivalent in the male realm. But that’s a story for another day.
If you leave with anything, leave with this: Ghana is an ecosystem of parallel universes. There are multiple versions of Ghana happening at the same time – most of us are fully immersed in one, with the occasional glimpse into the other. Moesha is just another reminder. It’s an uncomfortable realisation, seeing that our laundry is being aired so internationally. Seeing how far we have to go. And even though our immediate reaction is to deny it all and to clamour for the familiar, it doesn’t help change the status quo. We can’t move forward unless we accept all our women, all our realities, all the versions of Ghana in existence. I’ll end with this Kahlil Gibran quote which I always reference whenever the inclination to deny the worst of us rears its head:
“Oftentimes have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world.
But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you,
So the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also.
And as a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree,
So the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all.
Like a procession you walk together towards your god-self.
You are the way and the wayfarers.
And when one of you falls down he falls for those behind him, a caution against the stumbling stone.
Ay, and he falls for those ahead of him, who though faster and surer of foot, yet removed not the stumbling stone.”
Explore other Ghanaian and international perspective on love and sex in Amanpour’s “Love and Sex Around The World” series.