“Gala”, Silence, Denial, and the Culture of Sexual Violence in Ghana. By : Umar Mohammed

When I was growing up in Tamale, I had often heard my friends talk about “gala” in reference to girls they slept with en masse. I can vividly remember these stories because they were quite prevalent. I can remember some of the places they went to have the gala. In my experience, from what I heard from my friends growing up, gala was often something they did to girls who were considered ‘sluts’ and needed ‘proper fucking”. There were a few times this strayed into the ‘supposed good girls’ who were caught up in this gala thing. I am saying ‘strayed’ because the idea of gala was often laden with overtones of teaching girls bitter lessons, so when they did it to the ‘good girls’, it was supposed to be seen as an aberration.But, that culture where we use sex as a weapon of patriarchal gender norms has dire consequences. So comments about girls’ behavior regarding rape cases are null and void because what needs changing is the way we see girls, not girls’ behavior. Now, because we teach girls to see sex as shame, we’d never had any reports of rape in my community that I can remember (I might be forgetting something). But these gala stories abounded.

When I read the story of the four boys gangrape of the girl on JoyFM, a guy named @Chris Tetteh commented this to a bunch of laugh emojis—”The time we dey play gala this is not the right way…we buy fried rice for the girl before chopping😂😂. This boys no organize the thing well 😂.” In Ghana, when you complain about sexism and Patriarchy, men say you’re making stuff up and that women are not oppressed and that—if you’re a woman—you have penis envy. These things are real. There were other comments like Chris’ on the thread. I know for a fact that some people would be reading my story about my childhood experience and immediately say ‘he’s embellishing it or he’s lying or it only happened in his hometown and not mine.” But Chris and I didn’t grow up in the same hometown. We grew up at different ends of the country. But he knew about gala just like I did growing up.

So you see something, Chris is probably now in his late 20s or early 30s and probably already married, and probably with a kid or two. Chris is not an aberration. He’s probably the guy you sit with in church or knock knees with at the mosque. I am angry at myself for the response I gave earlier to this gangrape story because my response presumed I was shocked by it. That is a lie. I am not shocked by it. I was immersed in it. I know people right now who talked about playing gala when we were teens. So to speak of these boys in the video in terms expressing shock is to lie to myself. To speak of Chris as if he’s a unicorn is to lie to myself. I know many many Chrises and I’m still on good talking terms with them.

If not for the strict and often annoying hard and heavy-handed parenting my grandfather gave us, I probably would have played some gala myself growing up. You see, my grandfather made sure to lock the compound gate at 8pm or latest by 9pm. The time when the gala games were going on were the times I was locked at home seething with anger at the old man for preventing me from ‘having fun’ and socializing with my friends. I am not advocating heavy-handed parenting but now that I remember it, I see it might have saved me from a lot of experiences the boys in my neighborhood had. So I most likely would have become Chris but for this thing my grandfather did. I have often said that poverty can often lead to bad parenting because unlike my grandfather who had a little more resources than most people in our community and could impose his iron fist parenting on us, including when we had to be home and sleeping, most parents in Tamale live in open homes with little or no chance of locking gates to their homes. So in essence, we raise children like we raise our animals: free-range animal rearing. They learn all sorts of values and ways of living mostly from their peers with whom we have no control over. That is what happened in my community (Jisonayilli, a suburb of Tamale) where very young girls were the victims to this, where a number of them were pregnant teens. And we were even better than the neighboring communities because theirs was even worse. But for my grandfather, I would have joined what boys in Tamale call gattos (a bastard of the ghetto) where boys form cliques and socialize together. I never got into any clique so I was spared the worst that came from these ghettos.

When I fractured my right arm in my first year in Junior High School, my life changed dramatically—both for good and bad. To this day, I still have a deformed right arm putting me in the class of “the disabled” in Ghana. I was just on the cusp of puberty when this happened. And I had my puberty years and socialization dealing with and coming to terms with being a disabled boy in Tamale. This meant a drastic change to the way I viewed myself and the way others around me viewed me. This meant, in a culture where we still see people with disabilities as not worthy romantic partners, that I was off the market for dating both as a personal countermeasure as well as an imposition by the forces that be in our lives. To that effect, I almost entirely switched off from trying anything sexual all through my Junior High School and Senior High School years. This meant that my socialization into the sexual politics in our community was experienced at an arm’s length. This meant that I only heard stories of sexual escapades from my friends instead of engaged in them myself. I am telling you this to make a point: that it could easily have been me making the comment Chris made if not for this extenuating circumstance. [A side note: I fell from a mango tree plucking some plum mangoes I was hoping to gift to this girl (Antwiwaa) in our class—you can say she was my first crush, a prepubescent love that didn’t materialize after she went back to Accra after JHS. She really was my first love. She showed me my first porn movie 😬, and when I went home with her in her very miniskirt, my super Sunni grandfather was livid 😂 but behaved himself till she left before he unloaded on me 😩. But we were just kids so nothing happened other than a touch here and a touch there.] But my fractured arm and subsequent disability changed the trajectory of my dating habits and differentiated me from my friends.

To be honest with you, I was a most likely candidate to be Chris but for my fractured arm. I am not saying this to boast but I really was. I was almost always topping my class. I played soccer decently. I was a cocky little bastard and was always full of myself. I was brash and I thought myself handsome. So I was the quintessential jock but with a little more brain power. So I was definitely going to be in the middle of everything ‘boys boys’ would be doing. But my fractured arm changed things. I started spending more time alone in my room to a point my grandmother started referring to me as a soothsayer. I always hated that word but I love my grandmother though. Spending time with myself allowed me to be a bit more reflective and thoughtful. I think it really did help me become a better student. But more importantly, it prevented me from joining the area boys in their daily shenanigans, including their sexual escapades. I probably would have had my own personal stories of playing gala but for my fractured arm.

The general use of sex as a form of punishment in our community is neck deep in our psyche. To my Dagbamba friends, do you remember when, and I dare say it is still a phrase in use today, men saying “ni nyaba ka a dulim dulim” as a form of threat to women and girls? Because we’re so ignorant about sexuality, we even use something that’s supposed be beautiful as a threat. For my non-Dagbamba friends, the phrase roughly translates as “I’ll fuck you till you urinate.” Now, given that we have no proper idea of women’s ejaculation or women “coming” to use the street term, the height of some female orgasm occurs when they have some fluid release just like the male orgasm but because we don’t know this properly, some men think it a just pee. So some men use it as a threat to girls to “put them in their place.” They do this because they think the woman squirting during sex is a form of punishment. So they use it as a threat.

These are things we hear in our everyday lives. But when some boys film it and share it on social media, we feign outrage and make them look like outliers. But to me, in my estimation, given my experience growing up, these boys are not outliers. They are us. They are what our society is. We are just embarrassed that they’ve been dumb enough to record it to show to the world. We have been socialized into that toxic environment. You and I can feign outrage all we want, but until we acknowledge that this is not an outlier but a deep social problem, we’re never going to solve this. Until we, in every walk of life, start seeing women as equal to men, we’ll never solve this. I still struggle with my own views about women. I still strive every day to see women not as sex objects or second to me, but as equal partners in this thing we call life. I am not always successful on all occasions or at all times, but it is a personal struggle I’m willing to never stop working at. Gala is our language, we need to own it so as to be able to dismantle it. Chris is me, and I’m Chris. But I can improve. I can become a better person for my mothers and aunties and sisters and girls friends and fiancé and wife and a better father or uncle and most important of all, a better human being. They deserve better than what I am now.

Loving your abuser to change; the new type of women’s advocacy that enables abuse.

Yet women are supposed to be polite in their advocacy, they’re supposed to be soft spoken, un confrontational, choose their words carefully and remain calm through it all.

They’re not supposed to antagonize men and they have to WIN them over because OFCOURSE if the person abusing you isn’t on board it’s a wasted effort.

So guess what?

We join forces with them, speak in a language that doesn’t alienate them, focus more on making them feel comfortable with the idea of equality than speaking against the abuse and suffering.

They love that we’re proving to them that we’re not against them by NOT speaking up when we have to and even when we do, making sure they understand that we men some men and not all.

Ok.

So they’re happy, yaaaaah because it takes us constantly rubbing their heads and their balls to prove to them that when we speak out against a man’s mistreatment of another woman, it doesn’t mean all of them.

Good.

Now , a videos out of a girl being ganged rapped, and these “let’s join forces” people are either suspiciously silent or screaming left right centre for justice.

And the men in their circles are saying “but she didn’t scream”, “what was she doing there anyway”, ” there was no penetration”, “poor guys will go to jail for no penetration”.

What do you say to that?

How do you address this without “offending” all men?

How do you use LOVE to get them to reason?

Because this year women’s advocacy has been met even more resistance than any other year( I know).

It’s been turned into a we’re against men movement, even when we’ve said over and over that we’re not.

And men have been at the centre of this misconception, because you can’t speak on anything a man has done without another jumping in to disclaim that not all men are like that.

A lot of men have spent a better part of this year constantly trying to prove their different from the men we speak about, and they’ve done this by discrediting all group set up to fight for women and not in showing us through their behavior they’re different.

Several groups have been created ( by other women) to counter this notion by proving to men how much we LOVE THEM.

But tell me, how has that changed the mindset of these rapist and abusers?

How has showing them love stopped people from beating their wives and killing them?

So why cry out now when rape still remains a “sport” for some men. ( notice I said some, seeing that I constantly have to remind you it’s not all of you)

How many times did you talk about rape as compared to the times you did against groups set up to fight it?— Zero.

How do we change ANYTHING if we’re unwilling to address the mindset that creates this environment in he first place.

Women’s Empowerment; the illusion of Freedom

Women’s empowerment seems to be the “new kid on the block” when it comes to activism; even for some men.

Everyone wants to be seen as an ally, one who believes in women’s rights, one who supports women to live their full potential, one who’s quick to defend women against societal stereotypes and those who abuse them.

But a lot of this is just cosmetic; people are yet to fully grasp the concept of the freedom and rights they claim to fight for, they’re yet to look within themselves and understand that the fight is with themselves also.

Because a lot of the same people who fight for women’s empowerment are the very people that like to dictate what they can do with that power.

You can wear what you want- but it has to fit into my idea of what’s appropriate.

You can be what you want- but you’ve got to understand that as a woman you have limitations.

You can marry who you want – but you have to understand that as a woman you need a man who earns more than you so you don’t become superior to him.

Your body is yours to do what you please with it – but as a woman you’ve got to atleast have a few children because it’s what you were born to do.

Many still don’t understand that giving a person the freedom to make certain life choices means accepting that it maybe one you don’t understand, agree or appreciate; that some of these choices may go against your beliefs, lifestyle and core values.

Think about it; why fight to give someone freedom and restrict what they can do with it?

Yes, freedom comes with responsibility; I get that. But it’s up to the person to be responsible for those choices and not you to force them into it.

We’re not free; for now, it’s all an illusion.

The President on Homosexuality; he said what he said.

See I’m going to keep this very simple because I know no matter how well I put this people are still going to find a reason to be offended.

There’s public outrage over an interview President Akufo-Addo granted in which he said that the conversation on the legalization of homosexuality was bound to happen. Read here Here

Now I understand your anger if this is a practice you’re against, especially if it’s one your religion forbids.

But the president response doesn’t in ANYWAY condone the act, in fact he maybe equally against it.

But he wasn’t voted into power to enforce his own personal beliefs on all of us, he was voted to represent ALL the citizens of the country irrespective of their beliefs and practices.

Which is why he gave an intellectual response, devoid of emotions to that question.

Because years in LAW school would have taught him about human rights and the realities of any minority group.

Legalization of anything doesn’t suggest that everyone agrees with it, it’s to protect the few who do; which is why there are still people in America against homosexuality and are free to be, so long as they don’t harm those who’re for it.

The law exist to protect ALL its citizens and not impose ones personal beliefs and views on another.

So the president’s response is what anyone who understands history, law and the realities of the world we live in today, would say.

History should teach us all that every minority, or group of people that feel oppressed, restricted etc will some day find their voice,strength and the balls to demand for equal treatment.

That’s just the way it is!

Twins.

Albinos.

Jews.

Women.

Black people.

Interracial couples.

At some point in our history these groups of people have been completely disregarded and some even KILLED for not being “normal”.

They’ve risen up and fought to be included.

The president didn’t condone homosexuality, he simply stated the FACT that at some point we’ll be forced to have this conversation, whether we want to or not; and it may not even be any time soon or even in our life time.

But we have to reach the mental capacity needed to have these debates.

Which is why I don’t think it’s fair to constantly pressurize African leaders to taking a stand on this.

Where we are now as a country, all these developed countries were several decades ago, so we shouldn’t be forced to run when we’re just learning how to WALK.

With that being said, your outrage isn’t going to change the fact that your friend,doctor,pastor (yep them too) lawyer etc is GAY.

Pretending they don’t exist doesn’t change the FACT that they do.

Sad | My Last words to a Facebook user who committed suicide and those who mocked him. 

About three days ago I saw what seemed to be a suicide note from one of my followers, and after reading it sent him a message both privately and publicly to hang in there.

I do this a lot; and some of you have received random messages and phone calls from me whenever I can or feel inclined to. 

But more than anything it’s the comments from his friends that worried me; some mocked him, others experessed disappointment in his inability to “tough it out” and the worst were those who encouraged him to do it. 
Only a few thought it wise to say kind words or try to reach out to him and encourage him not to.
For days I’ve montored his page and wondered about if he’s ok, got the help he needed and if he actually went through with it.
I even wondered how the friends who’d made fun of him would feel if he’d actually killed him self.
Well he did.
There’s so much we don’t understand about depression, mental health and the people who suffer through it; it’s easy for us to think them weak or stupid because we presume they’re just people not “tough enough” for this life.

But the truth is we all have those days when we feel the weight of the world on our shoulders, days when we’re unhappy for no reason, days when we feel like everyone’s against us, and days when we can’t even put into words how we feel.

Days like that all we need is someone to talk to, someone’s who’s willing to listen and if possible get us professional help. 

People who commit suicide are just crying out for help and it’s up to us to hear their silent cry. 
Unfortunately recent events have led me to believe that we’ve become a society that lacks empathy or an understanding of mental health. And because of this we sit by, make fun, humiliate and further kick people when they’re down. 
Dear Kofi, I’m so sorry we didn’t hear you on time, I’m sorry on behalf of those that laughed at you, they didn’t know any better, and I’m sorry that you felt pushed to do this. May your death encourage us all to do better and look out for each other more. 
Below are screen shots from comments I and others wrote on his wall leading up to his death. 
 
** NOTE : Dear Dia is still open to all. I created it on my blog for people to share their stories or what they’re going through anonymously. Just being able to share your story sometimes helps, and thankfully so many people leave kind words of support and in some cases professionals reach out to help. Send you story to contact@lydiaforson.com 

Sexual Assault | Speaking out takes COURAGE don’t shame Victims.

I really can’t stand how EVERYONE seems to want to tell victims of sexual assault what they should or shouldn’t have done in the situation.
How do you tell someone how to react to something you’ve NEVER experienced.
How many rapist walk freely in Ghana and the world, how many rapist are prosecuted, how many times have women been scrutinized for actions that led to their assault?
There’s a real fear of your life being over for speaking out, because you’ll lose that job, be shamed, be forever treated as a victim and not a survivor and live the rest of your life reliving your abuse through the judgmental eyes of people. 
In a fair world, women and even men of sexual assault would immediately scream out and report their abusers.

But the reality is, in a country like Ghana, for instance, where you have to pay GH20 for a rape form, and other countries where victims have no money or their abusers are powerful men they’re really crippled and can’t do much. 
So before you give your ignorant opinion about sexual assault, know the real risk a VICTIM takes in speaking out and understand the courage they have for doing so.

My Runway Moment at Glitz Fashion Week 

So guess who took over the runway at this years Glitz Fashion Week!!

You guessed right. Meeeeeeee!!!!

I still remember cat walking in my living room in  as a kid and telling everyone I was going to be a model.

Then the world stopped me before I could even dream any further,  by telling me I was too big to ever walk the runway.

Who’s laughing now?

There are no limitations to what you can  do with your life. if you put your mind to it and you’re determined, the world will have no choice but to accommodate you.

Big thank you to Latasha of www.aboutthatcurvylife.com for allowing me to do this and Abaya of Lagos for the amazing outfit.