21st Century Salute to my Heroine Quartet

by Natty Mark Samuels

On this Saturday evening, I sit relaxing in joyful thought, wishing that the next time I go to Ghana, I get to hear Dr. Rabiatu Deinyo Ammah speak.  I wish I could have been there, at that January 2016 Accra lecture, when she spoke about the end of year national elections, with the hope that the populace, or certain segments of it, would not be used as aids to coercive voting, by the campaigning politicians.

Speaking specifically to the Muslim community, she said ‘’we are people of peace, so we must emulate Prophet Muhammed (SAW) who thrived on peace.’’ I would love to hear her speak at the University of Ghana, where she is a lecturer in Religious Studies (as well as a visiting lecturer worldwide).  She has also undertaken research, on behalf of her sisters in faith, looking at issues such as domestic violence and HIV/AIDS.  She is part of the great umbrella, FOMWAG – Federation of Muslim Woman Associations Ghana.  Many have recognised her wisdom, such as President Mahama, who gave her a place on the Council of State, the body that advises the Presidency and other constitutional bodies.

I salute Dr. Rabiatu Deinyo Ammah.

Last time I went to Ghana, I was content just to be there, but next time, I want to research the pioneering teacher/activists – spiritual descendents of Nana Asma’u of Nigeria and Dada (Grandmother) Masiti of Somalia – because there is a frustrating lack of online access, to biographical information, about these stalwart women of the Black Star country. We have been told of earlier teachers, such as Solomon Bagayogo and Al-Hajj Umar of Kete-Krachie, but not of their later, female counterparts.

It would be good to sit and talk with Hajia Mariam Obeng, to hear about her education, her favourite subjects and teachers; to hear about her work as chairwoman of another essential umbrella, the GMMWF – Ghana Muslim Mission Women’s Fellowship. Whether organising leadership workshops, interspersed with skills training – or gathering and donating crucial supplies to a hospital, she is there on the frontline, of empowerment and transformation. I hope that at the end of the day, there is someone to oil and rejuvenate her tired feet.  I know of the monumental Yaa Asantewaa: I saw the cell in Kumasi Fort where they held her.

I salute Hajia Mariam Obeng.

Now, I need to know of those in the present, of equal brilliance and potential, such as Deputy Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs, Hajia Hawawu Boya- Gariba.  Her clarion call to all, is to upgrade the thinking, funding and facilities, concerning the education of girls. She supports the work of those such as Hajia Mariama Mohammed, Headmistress of the Tamale Girls High School, in Dagomba, northern Ghana.  Talking of the sad statistics of female enrolment, at a 2012 speech she gave at the school, she said ‘’This calls for concerted efforts by all stakeholders and meaningful Ghanaians – and for that matter the Northerners, to get involved in getting females enrolled and retained in school’’.

Other issues she has fought against, include the witch labelling and subsequent societal banishment – to ’witch camps’, where children are imprisoned also, forced to leave their communities with the accused parent. I remember that the colonial authorities labelled the enslaved – future Jamaican national heroine – Ashanti Maroon called Nanny, a witch, to discredit her. As well as the moral reasoning, she mentions the United Nations decree, which calls for the elimination of all discrimination against women, which Ghana has signed up to. She calls for the closing of the camps – as ‘’a national disgrace’’ – and to community leaders, to facilitate the re-integration of these women and children, back into their home communities.

I salute Hajia Hawawu Boya Gariba.

The other member of my Heroine’s Quartet, is also an eliminator of ignorance – and a reducer of a form of cancer. The Al-Hayaat Foundation, a home grown NGO, was set up by Hajia Hanatu Abubakar. Working with the Ghana Health Service and universities, her self-imposed remit, is to bring widespread awareness – to men, as well as women – about cervical cancer, focusing on aspects, such as forms of transmission and early screening. Thinking back now, to my work in the Kumasi Children’s Home, I wonder how many were there, due to the ignorance of their parents? She advocates for healthier lifestyles, including the avoidance of smoking and multiple partners. She organises, co-ordinates and speaks at seminars nationwide, because cervical cancer is on the increase.

I salute Hajia Hanatu Abubakar.

I feel proud that the country where my roots lie, has produced women such as this, sometimes against all the odds. So it is time we knew, what we should know. Recognise them now, while their physical presence still emanates. After all, they say we shouldn’t put off for tomorrow, what we can do today.

Time to salute.

Natty Mark Samuels is a poet and the founder of African School, a Cultural Education project based in Oxford. This initiative provides teaching in African Studies with a focus on pre-colonial sub-Saharan and Islamic cultures and early Black journalism.  Formerly a Visiting Tutor at Ruskin College and other academies, Natty Mark also tutors on the Oxford Study Abroad Programme.


Categories: Diaspora, Diversity & Difference

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