MILEAD Journals: Gender Roles, Advocacy and Sisterhood

It’s Sunday and we finally get a chance to sleep in and enjoy some beautiful dreams after an intense week of lectures and other activities. We planned to spend the day at the beach, as our way of exploring Ghana, but the weather does not look too good and most of the girls are still in bed even as I write this entry. Knowing the bunch of energetic and fun-loving ladies we are, we just might go ahead and enjoy a rainy day outdoors!

At the MILEAD Institute, every single minute counts and thus, Saturdays are full working days. Our hopes for lecture-free weekends were soon pushed to the rear when the program schedule was handed over to us. We’re not complaining though, as every lecture has interested and enlightened in its own way. Since classes started on Wednesday, we’ve met some of the most amazing women leaders and shared precious moments with them. Yesterday, we were blessed to be introduced to Madame Angela Dwamena-Aboagye for two lectures on Gender Roles and Values and Advocacy Skills . Angela is the Founder and Executive Director of Ark Foundation in Ghana. Her organisation provides a host of services for the empowerment and advancement of women in Africa.

Angela Dwamena-Aboagye

Her first lecture took us through identifying the differences between gender and sex; the former qualified as ‘socially constructed’ and the latter, ‘biologically defined’. Basically, our sex is determined by Nature and one is considered male or female depending on their sex organs. Gender, however , is determined by the society and environment in which we find ourselves. It includes variables identifying differences in roles, responsibilities, opportunities, needs, constraints etc. We looked at and analysed various facets of the gender question including: the distinctive features of Gender, gender roles, gender relations, the relationship between gender and culture, gender bias etc. The lecture was punctuated by the usual questions and contributions from the brilliant fellows and the interaction helped to bring out the best in each of us.

As part of the lecture, each fellow was asked to write one thing they do not like but are forced to do  and one thing they would love to do but cannot just because they are female. The ladies talked about various things which resonated, somehow, with everyone else. On the first list, a good number of fellows including yours truly, noted cooking as something they wished they didn’t have to do just because of their sex. Most love to do it when they want to and feel like doing it. In the end we decided to form the Anti-Cooking Coalition. We kid, of course. On the second point, fellows listed things like paying for a date, ability to ask a guy out, propose marriage, drive a taxi, ability to stay away from bras etc. In a nutshell, the exercise helped us to identify the way society affects the various gender roles assigned to the different sexes. Note, however, that there are exceptions in some cases as was seen with the Liberian fellow. She explained how gender roles were almost the opposite in her country where women are expected to drive on their own etc, in contrast to situations in some other countries.

After a short break, we did a short exercise to get us ready for the second lecture. You would think it would be excruciatingly painful to sit through two 2-hour lectures from the same resource person but the case was entirely different for us. The lecture on Advocacy Skills got even more interesting as all the Fellows could contribute actively in the discussion, given the varying levels of experience we all had in the field. We looked at the different types of advocacy, the process steps to ensure effective advocacy, the risks involved, the potential benefits etc. This tied in with the lecture on Effective Communication Skills we’d had the previous day. I got to share my experience advocating with the Tuta Pack Action Group, which aimed to end the indiscriminate sale of alcohol to minors in The Gambia last summer. I explained the path we took and the eventual results attained from the campaign and my chest swelled with pride when the group was applauded by everyone present. Other Fellows got to share their experiences too and we had a Q&A session after the lecture before heading out to lunch.

Team Building time came up right after and we went through one of the most trying experiences. The planning team had decided to test our leadership skills and assess our reaction when faced with a difficult situation. Two Fellows were picked upon and informed that the group was disappointed by their actions which involved gossiping. As a group of ladies living together, we thought it was the best trick we could use  and it worked. At first, I could figure out it was all a joke but things got really serious with the great actresses we had. In the end, both Fellows were able to defend themselves in different ways, proving that they could handle the negativity they are expected to receive as leaders. After a round of tears and objection from some fellows who did not agree with the method used ( Yours truly included), we headed out for a game of musical chairs. It was loads of fun and helped us to bond some more.

The third lecture on Leadership Dimensions did not hold and we used the time to do three Fellow presentations. This has been the most emotional moment I’ve had since coming to Ghana. The three ladies talked about themselves, their families, education and the work they were involved in. They also shared personal stories because they felt they had found sisters in all the Fellows and so felt safe to share their experiences. It was one rocky ride and I’m bracing myself for more as everyone else has resolved to open up some more to enable us create a support system for one another . One of the fellows broke into tears as she spoke about her experiences as an immigrant in the United States who felt alienated when she went back to her home country. The room went quiet and the looks on our faces reflected the struggles each one had gone through. In my attempt to encourage her through sharing my story as an immigrant student in Morocco, I also broke down. In our sadness and sudden rush of emotion, we all felt like one and there was a silent resolve to be there for each other. This taught me to respect every person and never try to judge people as we never can tell the battle they are fighting. It was an eye-opener for us all.

Today’s Values

(i) Authenticity

(ii) Integrity

(iii) Faith

The evening was spent dancing after dinner and I later visited the mall with Tayo (Ghana) and Ann (Botswana/Malaysia). It was late and most of the shops had already closed but I shall return to explore and spend a few cedis. Some of the ladies went out clubbing while the rest of us stayed back and hooked up with our computers. Right now, we’re off for lunch and will finally decide if it’s a ‘yes’ for the beach. Stay posted for another week of inspiration, education, interaction, love, care and friendship. MILEAD is truly an experience worth living. Catch you soonest! 🙂

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