Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gender Roles Blatantly Exposed

It’s 4pm and I decide to take off from work. As I arrive at home, I see from afar a soccer ball bouncing up and down just above the thatched roofs that make up my community. As I get closer, I hear a sound that is music to my ears. The screams, shouts, and laughter that make up a good volleyball game for a bunch of neighborhood kids.

After parking my bike, I exit my compound to watch the action. The first thing I notice is that out of 12 kids playing, none are girls. 12 boys, aged 10-24 are engaged in a jovial game of volleyball. The spectators are made up of 2 girls and about 8 other younger boys. This scene was very similar when I returned yesterday from Togo.

I ask Evelyn my host sister if she has played at all today. “No” she says with a smile. “I have too much work to do”.

I call over my host brother Philip and ask him if any girls have played today. He tells me no, they haven’t come. “Maybe they aren’t interested in volleyball”.

I decide to investigate. What are all the girls doing right now that is keeping them from this game? So I start to take a walk through my community to check out the scene. Oddly enough I didn’t come across that many girls in the households or in the other parts of the community. I look at the sun hanging just above the horizon and it hits me. Evening time.

Upon arriving at the community well, I see the answer to my mystery. All the girls are playing that other game that boys can’t play! 15 girls sit and chat while fetching water to either cook with, or likely provide drinking and bath water for the family.

Now I’m pissed. At first I was angry because I assumed that the boys weren’t giving a chance to the girls to play. I’ve encountered too many instances where males dominate and suppress females to retain control. My first instinct was to remove the net. If the boys can’t learn to share, then they won’t be able to play.

After having investigated a little, I see that it goes deeper.

It all comes back to the gender roles. What in society has condoned the fact that women must work throughout the day while men and boys have little work to do? What bothers me more than the fact that women always work while men enjoy more rest time, is the fact that these are children! The gender roles are engrained from birth, so the likelihood of reversing this in the future is minimal, as this will become all the young boys ever know.

The boys ask me if I’ll come and play. “No!” I say sharply. “I have water to fetch”.

My host sisters are now starting to fetch three buckets of water each, so I figure by adding me in the equation we can at least reduce that down to 2 trips. Sitting with the girls at the borehole, I feel powerless to truly pry and find out what is holding them back from playing. Once again language has prevented me from engaging over half the population here in Ghana.

I’ll have to work within my means on this one. My heart can’t help but feel a considerable amount of tension towards the boys; though my head tells me to stop taking out my frustrations caused by a male-dominated culture, on these young boys who are not to blame. Ideas flash through my head: allocating certain parts of the day for just girls, removing the net entirely, allowing my host sister to be in control of the net instead of my host brother. None land me at a comfortable feeling.

I call my host brother Philip into my room later that night.

“I’m not happy” I start. “Yesterday I came home and saw that only boys were playing. Again tonight I see the same thing. Why is this happening?”

He goes onto explain the same thing I already know. That the girls just have more work. They go to water the garden in the morning and in the evening. They also have to collect and sell firewood, fetch water, and go to study at night. This is why they don’t play.

“But why do girls have more work than boys? Why do boys have so much time?” I ask hoping for the answer.

Philip shrugs his shoulders. How could he know, I ask myself? This is the way it has always been. The only answer one can muster for why a woman carries water and a man does not is: ‘it is their work, men can’t do that’.

And this is one of the cruxes of gender equity and therefore development as a whole. No one can explain, or justify why gender roles are the way they are. Some men will say that there are certain tasks that a man can do that a woman cannot. I will concede on the fact that certain more labourious tasks are better suited to men. However, using four months of hard work during the year to justify resting for the remaining eight months is hardly acceptable.

The volleyball net is hardly the point of contention here. Replace the volleyball net with studying, starting a business, going to school, or for Christ’s sake just having fun as a child. All this volleyball net has done is uncovered what I have sadly allowed to become the order of the day, and what I have ceased to notice. The blatant fact that rural gender roles that were carved out by whosoever are preventing over half the population of Ghana from developing at the same rate as the other.

The change begins with the individuals. If a system is to change, individuals must change.

“There’s a problem” I begin slowly. “I bought the net so that everybody could play, but right now only boys are playing.” Philip nods along. “We have to find a way to fix this problem.”

I put it to Philip. This upcoming week I will be travelling to a retreat with my co-volunteers. I will take the volleyball net with me. His task, is to sit down with the boys and figure out how they can get both girls and boys to participate. They can explore why the problem exists, and ask girls as well. But in the end, I want to come back to an answer, or something having been done to rectify the situation.

Philip agrees with me and says that he likes the suggestion. He will sit with the boys to figure it out.

I know that this isn’t a solution to the overarching problem. What I want is that initiative to come from the boys themselves; not because a white man has taken away the net and now in order to play again they need to include girls. But to be perfectly honest, I’ve got no better ideas.

This is where I ask you. Tell me what you think of the situation and what I should do. If you think I’m blowing things out of proportion (and I likely am, I’ve got my own issues with gender inequity), then tell me. I just feel that this is a great chance to use as a learning opportunity for these boys. Who knows?

A Great Week at Work

Lately there have been some great leaps and bounds at work. As I said in my last post, my evaluation/educational proposal went up for approval. The first step was convincing the executive committee (all the decision makers) to approve it and put it before the house. This went off smoothly, and most of the members of the committee were very excited about it.

Three days later was a general assembly meeting. This is where any large projects get put before elected representatives within the district, to be approved. I was called upon to go to the front of the room at the podium and explain briefly my proposal. Alas, the house approved the proposal and it looks like funds will come in the next couple of weeks for the project.

What this means for me, is that I now have to design this whole evaluation down to the tee, so that it can run as smoothly as possible and be effective. This was a huge step for the District Assembly because it is extremely rare that they finance their own evaluations. One of this size has never been conducted with their own funds. Only when donors have come in has the Assembly gone out to do field evaluations.

So the opportunity for great changes has come. There’s a chance that if this evaluation is conducted well and the findings are proven to be very useful, then perhaps the District Assembly might value and budget for monitoring and evaluation in the future.

Taking all this into account, I’m just working feverishly to make sure that it is as great as possible, so as to have the most impact on the beneficiaries. Done well, I believe that the information gathered, and the participation instilled and taken by the communities will really move the district forward.

Other exciting news is that I’m learning how to ride a motorcycle. Lately the works department guys and I have been going out to the field more to monitor contractors and make sure that they are building quality infrastructure. With my co-workers, we created a field monitoring form to fill out, that way we can start to keep track of the work that different contractors do. Through this, better infrastructure can be built, as well as ensuring that certain contractors don’t receive projects in the future.

For now it’s back to the drawing board for designing this evaluation. I’ve got one month to clearly design all of the logistics as well as our approach in the communities and what exactly we will be doing. Once I’ve got that figured out, I will train the 21 people doing the evaluation. In January, it looks like I will be spending the majority of my time in the field visiting 40 communities or so and monitoring the evaluator teams. The whole evaluation is targeted at visiting all 281 communities in the district, by using 8 evaluator teams. It should be a jammed packed two months, filled with a lot of learning and interacting with the primary beneficiaries.

If You Weave it, They Will Come

It all started with wanting to get more in touch with my community. I thought to myself: “what’s a game that I could play with my community that everybody will be able to participate in”. Volleyball!

I went to my local fish net weaver, and explained my situation. He said that he could weave me a volleyball net for 10$. Sure I thought to myself. A soccer ball and few tree branches later, almost all the kids in the community were outside MY compound playing volleyball.

First the bigger children took to the court, with the little ones as anxious onlookers keeping score. Apparently, being off the court is just as exciting as playing, as all of the young children look up with bright eyes at the competitive game. Every time the ball hits the ground, at least three different versions of the score are shouted from the children, followed by a vivid discussion over whose right. No need for a chalk board, at least 2 small children are keeping score with their hands in the sand.

Following the first game, all the young children got to give it a chance. The older kids reluctantly give leave as I push them off the court so that everybody can have a chance. The small kids have a great time throwing the ball over the net and hitting it anyhow. Sadly, the bigger kids are less accurate in their ability to keep score. One point turns into five, and within 15minutes, the small halftime timbit game is over.

By the end of the day, the volleyball net resembles a badminton net. It has sagged so much that now most of the older kids are at eye level with the top of the net. Thankfully nobody knows how to spike.

The game ends as the sun starts to approach the horizon and the mosquitoes emerge to take over the air. That night I hear my host siblings talking about how they will play the following day (Saturday). I think to myself how this had to be the best 13$ I’ve spent in Ghana so far.