Today, it came to my attention that a story about a 4 year old girl who was defiled in Ghana has been circulating widely. The mother has been on a journey to seek justice for the child, including having consulted a local chief who told her the gods declare the suspect innocent. The story is disturbing but deserves a full read here.
There has since been large public outcry about the incident, the chief, and local leaders, with some even calling for the Minister of Gender to bring the perpetrator and the chief to justice.
But what has largely been missing, is a critique of the system and culture that continues to foster and condone an environment that makes rape rampant in this country.
In fact, it appears that some Ghanaians seek to silence "the system" or "culture critique", simplifying it to a "women vs. men" attack.
A comment a friend shared on Facebook made this silencing especially clear. This is what he wrote as a status on Facebook:
This was my response to his critique:
Another friend wrote to me that "the world is cruel and unjust", after I voiced my anger about the incident on WhatsApp. Another reasoned that the mother should have spoken to local authorities instead of the chief, and that her going to the chief, is the problem we need to address. I have seen other comments to the effect of helping the little girl at the expense of trying to address a system problem.
I had taken a break from writing on my site to focus on some larger writing projects I have coming up but it seems more effective to put my arguments in a post and send it to my friends rather than circle the same argument in silos. To me, all of these critiques rest on a misunderstanding of the systems argument.
1. This is not just a case of one 4 year old being defiled by a man and local leaders being on the sideline. This is not a punish the perpetrator and unite and help the one victim story either. As the local journalist in the village stated in the JOYFM article, rape, especially rape against young girls, is rampant in that village. Yet Kofi argued that rape is not Ghanaian and that no structure in Ghana tolerates such a crime. But I dare to contest that rape is rampant in Ghana at large (not to say that it is not as well else where (I have already had a friend try to argue this point)), and that our institutions (criminal and otherwise) do not consistently and effectively apply the law as it applies to this matter. A friend is working on a project to illuminate more on this issue in Ghana and will release it soon.
But for now, can we agree that based on the article and other reports on the incident alone, that it is not just one girl and criticizing people calling for a systems address is largely misplaced ?
2. This is not a ' the world is just cruel and unjust problem ' either. There are larger systems at play the develop people (both men and women) into normalizing rape and assault and promulgating rape culture. This article is especially helpful in understanding the history behind rape and rape culture as a result of a system of laws such as the Code of Hammurabi among others based on the belief that women are property ( and if we inherited colonial laws, I am sure some elements of these believes remain vestiges in our laws and culture). .
Rape did not just develop into the global crisis we see with statistics saying that about 2 in 5 women are raped (where false reports are rare - only 2 to 8%). People are not just "bad". The world is not just cruel against women and young girls (and black and African boys and men).
3. Finally, and perhaps the last argument I hope drives the point home is an exploration of the explosion at the Atomic Junction gas station in Accra just a few weeks ago. There was immediate and massive public outcry, some about the specific explosion, but largely about the reoccurring incidence (system) of gas explosions in the country.
The government quickly mobilized a task force to investigate this specific issue and then issued a more system wide response to the atrocity: they placed directives BIG & small, including closing high risk stations, instituting mandatory training and certification, punishing negligence, prohibiting the construction of new gas sites until further notice, etc.
I see evidence of this in the number of recently closed gas stations. While I hear that some owners are upset and not keen to these new regulations and the business cost, the larger public and media appear content with the government's efforts.
Why shouldn't we expect a systems oriented response to this incident? Our current context demands that we can and that we do both: crisis response and systems address. BOTH.
Any less, would be an injustice to the 4 year old child and other sexual assault survivors. Any less and we fail as a society.
So what would a similar response to such an atrocity mean? Either a local or national effort to investigate the situation fully and hold anyone accountable for assault and obstructing justice.
A systems approach also means using this as a moment to educate the larger public including men and boys on preventing violence against women (and each other, yes I hear the other side), provide child friendly and safe spaces for children to play in all of our communities (in this case, the girl's mother was going to church and left the two children alone), put policies in place against gender discrimination and violence in the workplace (which every honest person in Ghana will admit is rampant), etc etc etc - parallel to what we saw with the recent gas explosion response : educate, punish, redesign.
So to Kofi and co: yes, this crime is heinous and is a tragedy we all grieve. But, like I wrote in response to Kofi's critique, the best we can do together, perhaps the most sane response, is to use this brewing public outcry to raise awareness and mobilize community towards effective implementation of laws, systems, policy, and education on this case AND on a larger system-wide level so that this does not continue to be the norm.
Many people, including a lot of women around you, have probably been speaking about sexual assault and violence for a while. But perhaps you haven't been hearing them. So if today, they sound more angry and demanding then ever: I salute them - let us pour coal on the fire. We cannot stop calling out systemic issues around patriarchy, sexism, gender based violence, and rape culture just because it makes a few people uncomfortable when we are in crisis.