The more things change, the more they stay the same: Deconstructing a law maker’s prescription of stoning for adulterous women in Ghana.
The Member of Parliament (MP) for Daboya, Makarigu in the Northern Region of Ghana, “Honourable” Nelson Abudu Baani, is reported to have advocated on the floor of the nation’s Parliament during the 2nd reading of the Interstate Succession Bill, that the house should consider introducing punishments for women who would be adulterous in their marriages in order to be fair to husbands if wives were to inherit their properties. The MP later on in an interview, which was also posted on www.myjoyonline.com, suggested Islamic Sharia Law in Afghanistan which hangs and stones so called adulterous women to death as an example of such punishment he deems as appropriate. He insisted that this form of punishment would ensure the Ghanaian society has the right kind of women for family. Obviously, the right kind of women for no one but men, ultimately, and particularly his kind!
The Interstate Succession Bill before parliament is seeking to replace the Interstate Succession Law [PNDCL 111] by way of widening the scope of securing the property rights of individuals after the death of persons to include co-habitees in addition to spouses as well as persons for whom the deceased person deemed as his/her children.
Now, to begin with, needless to say, I am completely shocked and appalled by the MP and the total silence of the caretakers of our public interest on this matter. But, I have to pinch myself to not express absolute shock or surprise or go into why supposedly a whole MP, a person of his so called calibre will pass such comments. This is because 1- it would likely amount to ignorance on my part and at worst a travesty of existing knowledge that sexism and cruelty arising from sexism are not dead and 2 – that, as it has been evident, gradually all manner of persons have been entering our politics without character as entry to politics only got expensive with money.
Although his suggestion doesn’t specifically reflect any form of law or customary practice in Ghana, reflectively, his comments to me were not unexpected. For if one assumed a position of shock, and thought them dead in 2014, then, what do we make of events in the news; for instance, locally, where husbands and boyfriends have been butchering the women in their lives with cutlasses on mere suspicion of unfaithfulness and internationally, recent incidences of the Sudanese woman who married a Christian man and was sentenced to death by stoning and the other being an Iranian woman who was executed for being raped?
In this piece, I will concern myself with 3 issues – one being, interrogating the thought processes and the social systems which influenced the MP to suggest punishment for women only, the second being an assessment of the implications of his prescription of so called right kind of women for family in society and the third being an attempt to de-categorise all forms of sexism and patriarchal cruelty which have been placed into harmful and not harmful and finally conclude that that no sexism is innocent and without impact in the long run.
Why the MP suggested punishment for women only
Unarguably, I am compelled to interrogate why the MP would prescribe punishment for the women only and most strikingly suggest that such a penal clause should be inserted into the new bill or else his colleagues should reject the bill in Toto.
First, on the softer side, is it that he and his constituents in their minds and judgment have adulterous wives or as he mentioned ‘alomo gyata’ (domineering women) in their homes which is compelling him to secure their so called interest under the law, such that if the corporal punishment wasn’t introduced his interests and that of his constituency would not be served?
Second, could it also be that the MP was rather exposing the perceived economic status quo in society by way of pointing us to the fact that it is actually men who have properties to give in most cases? Implicit in this status quo is the fact that most women curtail their own economic progress by taking on family roles to the benefit of men and most understandably start to depend on men to take care of their economic needs. Thus wives inclusive of co-habitees, mostly have nothing considered of reasonable economic worth compared to men. So in the MP’s explicit opinion, the women, as wives or co-habitants, would have to ensure that before their masters dash them any wealth on their death, they should have been good and faithful servants especially in how they have used their bodies which should have been set apart, pleasing and acceptable for their Lords’ and masters only use? The MP is clear in his revelation that women continue to be seen by some men as chattels. For if they were not considered as such, why the particular interest of men in owning the decision around the use of the woman’s own body in addition to theirs?
Third, by prescribing that only adulterous women are punished, was he equally not acknowledging that women’s labour in their homes are trivial and without economic value such that what a man earned was not to be considered as for the two but exclusively for the man although the woman probably stayed at home and took care of child-rearing on both of their behalf? This mind-set helps us to understand the embarrassment many women face when a husband dies, where the woman’s labour and efforts towards the man’s wealth is isolated, discounted and exempted because her labour according to society doesn’t count.
The MP obviously on his auto-pilot cruelly sexist mindset forgot that there is the other side of the coin; where women who have wealth would have their adulterous husbands or co-habitants take on their wealth. How on earth does the MP concern himself so much with adulterous women when adulterous men are far more common and their acts remain despicably unacceptable and an aberration of most cherished societal values?
Was he being mischievous to neglect men, or that he was being insufferably misogynistic in his unwitting ignorance? By leaving out punishment for adulterous men, the MP says clearly one thing, cheating by men is no cheating at all. The MP, by his exemption of men, excuses men’s character and sides with patriarchal code of conduct that establishes, suggests and socialises us to believe that it is in men’s DNA to cheat and they will cheat no matter what and so when they do, they are to be forgiven, which practically renders cheating by men as not offensive or rather an excusable one. However, for a woman to give her own body which she owns to another as she wishes, it is highly deemed as an unthinkable offence punishable by nothing else but death by stoning, as the MP advocates.
Obviously, it is not in the MP’s interest to promote faithfulness and marriage vows. He unreservedly wanted to call the spade a spade, and his truth was that women’s bodies are owned by men, which really is how the politics organised around the use of women’s body tell us. The MP’s proud rationalisation within his intolerable character and deceptive intelligence posits that man is the ultimate determinant of a woman’s being and the definition of her pleasure and she could easily incur the displeasure of her man to the point of her death for the so called misuse of her own body. Which really makes me wonder how low women’s status has further fallen or rather has remained. The MP also makes it clear that women have no agency, and so they should define their worth and interests within men’s hand-outs; the space men give them.
Thus, the suggestion of punishment for women only bores from the patriarchal concept that the woman is part of the chattels of the man and on the fallacy that wealth is only made by the man and consequently, since the man seeks to do the woman a favour to partake in his wealth the woman should be punished by stoning when she is not faithful. Such a position is completely beyond the pale and only exposes long held gender biases which are very problematic to sustain. [pullquote]Thus, the suggestion of punishment for women only bores from the patriarchal concept that the woman is part of the chattels of the man and on the fallacy that wealth is only made by the man and consequently, since the man seeks to do the woman a favour to partake in his wealth the woman should be punished by stoning when she is not faithful. Such a position is completely beyond the pale and only exposes long held gender biases which are very problematic to sustain.[/pullquote]
Implications of his prescription of so called right kind of women for family in society
Then the MP of Daboya/Makarigu also mentions that punishing women would ensure we have good family life in society. Regrettably, the MP’s assertion is very much consistent although erroneously with Society’s suggestion, that every woman is made to be for a man and children in a family; designed and packaged with skills only relevant for such. This is not only flimsy and degrading seeing that women find themselves excelling from Addis Ababa to Zanzibar and in all fields as well. He furthers his verbal vapours by placing solely women as custodians of piety and so called bedrock to successful family life. In his gendered role distribution, he acts to burden and stifle women’s expression in all aspects. I believe this squarely falls on men too as equality on the part of both gender in the house ensures good family life.
No sexism is innocent and without impact in the long run.
Many would argue that the dishonourable Member of Parliament’s utterance is way beyond sexism. But to consider it carefully, looking for a term supposedly beyond sexism, especially words such as primitive and cruelty is to deny that sexism itself isn’t primitive and hasn’t been cruel. This opinion further suggests misleadingly that the part of sexism especially the kind that will go unnoticed and for which many would claim is somehow essential to keep all of ‘us’ going is the opposite of cruel.
No doubt, the MPs comments are outrageous and would be largely considered as a heightened form of sexism and cruelty. However, it is important not to isolate his comments and categorise them as more worthy of our outright condemnation and disgust than others. Everyday sexism which has many a time gone and continues to go unnoticed would come out most of the time to many as trivial but when raised deserves equal attention and condemnation. This is because we need to understand that everyday sexism works and has worked to offer a shoulder to the so called heightened forms of sexism which the dishonourable Member of Parliament has dished out to us recently. His comments are nothing less than a shameful travesty of the values of our social fabric, for which he has sworn to uphold with the utmost honour.
As Ghanaians curse and cuss on this man, we could begin to see how everyday sexism shelters and feeds its extreme forms to manifest. No sexist action, slur or whatever form or shape it takes is innocent. As people continue to do these so called little things, may I draw your attention to your contribution to the ocean of sexism? Little drops of water, they say, make a mighty ocean? Oh yes! To borrow from the French also: ‘Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid’ and in Akan: ‘nkakra nkakra na y3 de b) toa’. All of these help explain that all ‘small’ sexist acts in public or private space amount to something and impact in the long run. They complement the system and sustain it as its functional set of organs to keep it alive and as such the need to halt same.
In conclusion, it is my considered opinion that anyone and I mean anyone, both women and men, who on all counts and scores ascribe to any form of differential treatment not arising from correcting imbalances but based upon extending the privilege of one over the other in terms of negotiating the balance of power in all social spaces, in resources, status, authority and the likes furthers and perpetuates an environment that produces men and women like dishonourable Abudu Baani. If you consider yourself fair and with best of intentions, one should make sure s/he does not become a ‘sexist skeptic’ – where you discount other forms of sexism as unserious, or a sexist jerk – where you are despicably innocent about sexism and work as its accomplice, and the list continues. Sexism is deep and does anyone dare deny it? If someone ever did, would it be misplaced to humbly ask that ‘Amadiora’ breaks her/his neck?
Image source: Pace International Law Review Blog