The Widows and Orphans Movement (WOM) has trained 40 female traditional, religious and community leaders and sent them out to serve as “change agents” against Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV) in the Upper East Region.
The training programme forms part of an annual conference organised by the WOM for female leaders under an initiative dubbed “ENOUGH Project” against SGBV. It took place in the regional capital, Bolgatanga, with top officials from the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) and the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service (GPS) as resource persons.
Aimed at empowering women, girls, boys and men to take up positive actions against SGBV, the ENOUGH Project is being implemented by the WOM in six communities within two districts in the Upper East Region. And it is being carried out in collaboration with the Oxfam International Ghana and the Women in Law and Development in Africa, Ghana (WiLDAF-Ghana) with support from the European Union (EU).
The six communities, according to the officer in charge of the ENOUGH Project, Gifty Abalansah, are Balungu, Bongo-Beo and Vea in the Bongo District and Gundork, Kongo and Logre in the Nabdam District. The newly trained “change agents” are expected to work towards bringing to an end in their respective communities some existing abuses said to be disguised as traditions.
The said abuses include forcing girls below eighteen years into marriage, stripping grieving widows naked in public and feeding them with potentially toxic concoctions as part of some rituals they are traditionally required to undergo to prove they are not responsible for their husbands’ deaths, female genital mutilation and seizure of a widow’s property by relatives of her departed husband among other forms of violence and oppression.
“By reason of poverty, some families let their girls follow people to the cities, aiding somebody to traffic the girl child. People come around here and convince us to follow them either to Kumasi or to Accra. People have left their husbands to go like that. People have left the shores of Ghana to other countries. All those things [amount to] trafficking. Once you aid somebody to traffic a woman or a child, it is against the laws of Ghana. If you take the way sometimes we marry: a young man is standing by the roadside; he sees a young lady passing; he captures the lady; puts the girl on a bicycle or motorbike; runs away; after three days, he goes back to tell the family that your daughter is with me. That is wrong! The laws frown upon all these things but we do them under the guise of our culture.
“But as change agents, you are not to go back to the communities and be fighting people. Some people are used to a certain way of life; it would be very difficult for them to change overnight. You need to take your time, just as you also have undergone some training, to help them also to see the need to change. Don’t say because you have come for training, you are going to fight everybody. If you want to fight everybody, they will fight you back. Just take your time and educate them. Continue to educate them. One day, we will achieve our aim,” the CHRAJ’s Upper East Regional Director, Abdulai Jaladeen, told the trainee participants.
DOVVSU Officer promises to pay transport fares for poor victims
As resource persons took questions and contributions from the floor, participants cited financial hardship as a reason some poor victims were not reporting abuses allegedly being meted out to them in their communities.
They further explained that such poor persons had been having difficulty taking care of just transportation fares on their own to travel from their remote localities to town to lodge complaints with the relevant institutions.
Responding to that concern, a Station Officer at the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) headquarters in the region, Detective Inspector (DI) Godfrey Quaye, pledged to personally offer financial assistance to any poor person with a genuine abuse-related case but without money to pay his or her transportation fares.
“DOVVSU, we don’t collect money. In fact, if you come and you don’t have money, tell us; we shall give you money to go back. I will also give you my mobile [number]. You can call me. If you don’t have money, I will send you money to come and give your report,” DI Quaye assured and gave out his mobile number to the participants as promised.
Some widows, according to some experiences shared at the workshop by participants, reportedly were warned they would die if they refused to undergo the “harmful” widowhood rites. The widows stood their ground and yet survived the forewarned deaths.
A number of widows who resisted the rituals and lived unharmed ever after were cited at the workshop. Bringing the meeting to a close, the WOM’s Founder, Betty Ayagiba, told the newly trained “change agents” to circulate “the truth” when they returned to their communities so that “the lies” that had sustained the “harmful rites” for years against “innocent widows and children” could be exposed to more people for the public good.
By Edward Adeti, Journalist in Upper East Region – Daily Mail GH