I consider the opportunity to address this all-important gathering one of not just my career but my life’s high moment. And for this noble reason, I’d first of all and with the permission of Mr. Chairman, Heads of various UN Agencies present and staff, members of the diplomatic corps, women leaders, private sector CEO’s, the press and you special people gathered here to permit me acknowledge the toils of some privileged few who throughout the course of their lives and history, either consciously or unconsciously, blazed the trail especially for women in the creative and performing arts worldwide.
By their sweat, today it is convenient for me to mount this platform expressing my views on gender, gender violence and also my experience with persons living with HIV and AIDS; 91 year old Madam Theodosia Salome Okoh who designed our National Flag, Miriam Makeba who is passed on to eternal glory but the first African woman to win a Grammy in 1966, Dr Maya Angelou a Former Lecturer of the University of Ghana and the first Black Woman poet to make an inaugural recitation during president Bill Clinton’s first term of office, Belinda Oku aka Adwoa Smart a Ghanaian based actress/comedian who has lived with dwarfism, a medical condition, all her 43yrs of life. Mrs Joyce
Dzidzor Nartey, is also a Ghanaian based actress and movie producer living with HIV just to mention a few.
Ladies and gentlemen, the aforementioned are women not just of substance who in-spite of their sex has excelled in their chosen careers. They have fought battles beyond our wildest dreams and against all odds, won. Because of my limited time, I would not want to bore you with even one of the challenges that any of these illustrious females went through in fulfilling of their God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness irrespective of gender. We have as females in the creative and performing arts come a long way in our efforts to be considered on merits.
Just this Monday whilst enjoying the honour of having a lunch meeting with Mrs. Joyce Nartey at her residence, I confirmed my suspicion, through our chatter that the 21st century wave of violence is not just the physical abuse they mete out to us but the psychological bit is just as prevalent.
And the sad part is most of us are not even aware that it is as old as rape, very institutionalized and deeply rooted in our socio-political structure as a nation.
I have taken an interest in policy statements and reports from UN agencies for a while now. In fact the recently issued 2013 Global Gender Gap Index which examines the disparities between men and women in four fundamental categories namely Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment is a piece which on another day will provoke an interesting discuss.
Before I proceed to my substantive subject area, I wish to congratulate the UN on its 68th birthday and commend my UNAIDS, UNDP, UNICEF and all partners on the conscious accelerated efforts you are investing in your attempts to reach the health related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) before the 31/12/15 deadline.
Mr. Chairman, I am sure we all recall with glee the pride that we as a nation enjoyed when Barrack Hussien Obama, the first Black President of USA came and addressed us on the floor of our parliament, because of the novelty of his ascension and the fact that Ghana was the first country in Black Africa that he was visiting, we all thought that our Day Of Redemption had come. But to dispel that joke, he remarked in his 2nd paragraph, and I quote “I have come here, to Ghana, for a simple reason: the 21st century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Accra as well.”
In other words, there is no reason for us to be backward and wait to be herd like cattle to the Promised Land or slaughter house. Please pardon my French but I am sure you will tolerate my situation even more after you’ve heard this bit of psychological abuse I suffered from the system at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium in Kumasi during the World Cup qualifier against Zambia.
It had been arranged through the UNAIDS under its “Protect The Goal” campaign with FIFA and with all protocols observed i.e. the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Ghana’s Football Association, The Match Commissioner designated by FIFA, The Head Of Security at the Sports Council responsible for the Baba Yara Sports Stadium that I sing the National Anthem before the Black Stars match against the Chipolopolo of Zambia. In fact my singing of the National Anthem was so official that on the eve of the crucial match, national television reported it.
So it came to pass that I, together with my team reported to the stadium at 10am; a time that all stakeholders had agreed was best for my purpose. Even then the stadium was almost filled to capacity so I did my sound check and dress rehearsal quickly and retired to wait for the 7hour interval period before history was made.
Ladies and Gentlemen, as is the norm, the away team mimed their Zambian anthem with support from the stadium’s public announce system before Ghana’s turn. I was going to sing ours live through the cordless microphone made available for my act.
The stadium announcer acting as MC for the occasion introduced me because he had the official match day program and was sticking to it. The stadium announcer and pressmen who had relayed the info that I was about to make history did not know was that a directive had come from an authority or perhaps authorities that I do not sing the national ANTHEM anymore. Reason? I was a woman.
The authority had at the last minute remembered that my being a woman apparently was bad omen. In other words, because I could menstruate I was unworthy of singing our anthem. At least that was the explanation given to the UNAIDS when they sought why an event that had cost precious time plus efforts to conceive and hatch was basically dumped on the scrap heap of gender equality.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Whatever or whoever informed this superstitious twist should have known that the very Ghanaian flag the black stars defended and won on the day was designed by Theodosia Salome Okoh, a fertile woman. In fact, like nature, tradition is a description not a moral justification. Just because we’ve always done or believed a particular action, doesn’t mean it’s always or ever was justified.
The irony of life, some would say…..I will like to state empathetically that my purpose of recounting my ordeal is not create a platform for cheap political points but rather to bring to bare a challenge that women have had to deal with for generations and must cease.
I have refused to be drawn back by such events and believe my urging all women to do same is a positive step in the right direction. I am determined, competitive, confident, ambitious, courageous and productive just like any other and that is why I will not be suppressed.
Mr. Chairman, the day after this unfortunate incident, Estonia played against the Netherlands in their European region for the same world cup qualifiers and guess what? A woman musician called Suzy sang the national anthem for the home team. Without sounding biased towards gender violence especially in the creative arts, an economic sector from which I earn my descent living, I’d use my final words to appeal to policy and lawmakers on the need to institute a national free HIV Testing Day.
This humble request is been informed by my recent trip to Nairobi- Kenya where I met a healthy looking young woman who works with the Aids Centre in Nairobi but had been living with HIV for 6yrs. She told me that she found out about her status when she took advantage of a free national HIV testing exercise during her University days hence the need to start managing her status and living a healthy life.
I, Rebecca Acheampong have had my status checked and I think you lovely people should if you haven’t. God bless Africa our homeland and find favour with Ghana. Amen.