Monday, March 18, 2013

March 18th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Over the past few years there have been sporadic reports about passengers refusing to fly upon hearing that there was a female pilot in the cockpit. A quick trawl of the search engines and you will find reports of several incidents related to ‘gender fear’.

I find it hard to comprehend why a passenger on an airliner would insist on disembarking simply due to the gender of the pilot. Personally, I am always pleased to hear that a woman is up at the pointy end of the aircraft, I feel a little bit safer! Women are, in general, less likely to take risks and to be ‘more gentle’ on the controls. I see it every day as I watch women land ‘v’ men land aircraft. It is hard to believe that such attitudes still exist in the world… or is it?

Here in Ghana there is an on-going debate over the ‘bride-price’. There exists a lot of confusion over terminology and the ‘bride price’ in Ghana is often, mistakenly, called the Dowry. A Dowry is what is given to the groom when marrying – it is given by the family of the bride. Conversely, the ‘bride-price’ is what is demanded by the woman’s family in return for the release of the woman to marriage. In some cultures both are practiced, often extravagantly, as a way to demonstrate that both families are able to provide such items.

In most western societies these practices have all but vanished. The idea of putting a ‘price’ on the head of a human being is seen as ‘unacceptable’. Instead, the families of both the bride and the groom are encouraged to assist the couple on their journey together, providing support to them, be it financial, material or moral support. There are, of course, good and positive examples of both ‘bride-price’ and dowry being used to the constructive establishment of a couple’s life journey.

In a loving family environment, where the people getting married and starting their life together matter, the money and articles changing hands are nothing more than ‘designated wedding gifts’. Items and cash being used to give the newly-weds a little head start on life together. This is good.

For example, in the ‘bride price’ weddings I have witnessed, the idea of a ‘suitcase with clothing, cloth and cooking utensils’ for the bride is common place in the ‘price’. How wonderful! The husband ‘to be’ can choose suitable items for his wife ‘to be’, and ensure that she has those things that will give her dignity and independence on day one. I applaud that concept.

Sadly, the ‘bride price’ in some of the families is far from ‘positive’. Lists that include many bottles of alcoholic beverages – often stating that they must be ‘foreign Gin’ or ‘foreign schnapps’… one such list that I witnessed, requested 24 bottles of hard liquor for the men in the family to consume. It makes me wonder if such a family is in need of counselling from Alcoholics Anonymous! Alcohol has no place in a marriage – it is well documented as a ‘destructive liquid’ and the root cause of failure in many relationships.

Then there is the demand for ‘Holland Cloth’ for the ‘in-laws’. What is wrong with Ghanaian cloth? Are we using marriage as a means of causing financial flight from the country? If such a list is ‘traditional’ then surely ‘Ghanaian cloth’ is what we should see! All the same, giving something to the ‘in-laws’ as a gift is perfectly acceptable – provided that the ‘in-laws’ are supportive and loving towards their offspring!

But the thing that repulses me most in the ‘bride price’ is the money. You cannot and should not put a price on a human being. Giving of gifts, which should be done from the heart and not from a list, is one thing, but asking for a set amount of money in exchange for a human being is repulsive. It is degrading – how can any amount of money represent the value of a human being’s heart in love. No person can ever pay the value of a human heart – for it is a priceless item, and one that can only be rewarded with an equally loving heart, beating in unison.

I was told that ‘the better educated and more pretty a girl is, the more money the family will ask for’. How disgusting! How can you tell me that a girl who cannot read and write is worth less than one who can use a computer? How can one’s appearance affect one’s value?

Then the argument gets thrown in ‘but the family raised the girl, they educated the girl and as such they need to get a return on their investment’. Now, my blood is boiling.

When a child is conceived, is it conceived as an investment? Did the parents lie in their bed one night and say ‘let us make children so that we can raise them and sell them?’ Is that really what is going on? Surely not. Definitely not. I see mothers with their children, thrilled at the magnificent miracle of life. Lovingly playing with the fruit of their love; hoping for the very best future for them. Sadly, it seems that the men folk control the ‘bride price’ and listen little to the voices of the loving mothers – and rarely at all to the wishes of their daughters.

It seems that the system is driven by the greed of some of the men. Hence the alcohol (for I do not see the women getting drunk in the same way as the men). Hence the ‘valuing of the girl’ as an item (since it seems that the men get to spend most of the money). Perhaps the men folk need to get pregnant! I cannot imagine them taking the same line if they have carried that human being inside of them, feeding the child, taking care of their needs in return for nothing more than a smile and the love that only a human child can give to its parent. Sadly, too many men, in all cultures around the world, fail to engage in the bond that is on offer from their children.

I regularly come across situations where the boys in a family are given far more support towards their education than the girls. The girls seem to be seen as simply ‘objects for working the fields, cooking, making babies and perhaps a ‘bride-price’ one day’. The concept of ‘bride price’ reinforces my perception that, in some families, the girl children are still not given the same value as human beings as the boy children are. It is time for families to love their children regardless of their gender, to respect their child and human rights, and to support them in their choices, giving each and every one the freedom to reach their full potential, without fear, and with support.

Culture and tradition are organic, they grow and change. It is my fervent desire to see a positive growth in our cultures and traditions towards recognition of the freedom of each individual, regardless of their gender or social background. Let us enable all of our children to live full, free and successful lives without trying to put a price on their heads or impediments in the way of their education, development or happiness. Let us see some more ‘Girl Power’ on the Better Ghana Agenda!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail )

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