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Opinions of Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

Ananse Stories Feed On Hyperbole

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

At a conference for young-adult singles preparing for marriage, the head of the Faith Anointing International Ministries, Prophet Prince Kofi Okyere, was reported to have called for a review of the marriage age from 18 to 24 years (See "Clergyman Calls for Review of Marriage Age" Ghana News Agency / Ghanaweb.com 2/17/14).

I suppose 18 is the Fourth Republican constitutional stipulation. It is obviously linked to the minimum voting age of 18. The reality on the ground is that in various districts and municipalities across the country, the nubile age, especially for women, slightly varies, our Fourth Republican constitutional stipulation notwithstanding. For instance, in the northern-half of the country, it is widely known that women as young as 16, and sometimes even 14, are routinely given away in marriage to men nearly twice or even thrice their ages, and oftentimes even more.

When a woman gets married or is considered to be ready for marriage, often depends on such factors as educational opportunities and other avenues for career or professional advancement. We must also quickly point out that marriage below the cut-off age-limit of 18 is in no way, whatsoever, a peculiarity of Ghanaians of northern descent. It is, however, relatively more pronounced in that part of the country.

I have also decided to focus on women because, like many other parts of the world, men who decide to settle down with women in conjugal relationships often tend to be relatively older. This means that it is highly unlikely to come across any man in the role of a husband who is less than 18 years old. And this is primarily because men are often considered to be the major breadwinners of their families, even in situations where the woman is obviously known and perceived to be the major breadwinner. This state of affairs, of course, emanates from the fact of many a global culture being predominantly patriarchal.

The practical reality seems to be fast changing, with a remarkable tilt clearly in favor of women. This has been largely due to the great success of the women's liberation movement or the feminist revolution. On the psychological front, however, much more effort needs to be engaged to significantly reduce the level of male chauvinism. But what makes Prophet Prince Kofi Okyere's call for the raising of the marriage age from 18 to 24 years rather odd, and even patently untenable, is the curious presumption that, somehow, by age 24, the average woman would have learned all that she needs to know about child rearing, such as "breastfeeding a child or carrying a baby on her back."

This is rather laughable, because how adequately equipped, maternally, a woman becomes at the time that she is considered to be ready for marriage depends on a multiplicity of factors, none the least bit of which includes her familial background. The Ananse-story edge to this write-up, as it were, regards Rev. Okyere's observation that at 18 years old, a Ghanaian woman may not have learned the very basic maternal chore of carrying a newly-born baby on her back, much less talk of breastfeeding one.

Unless, of course, he has been living most of his life on a planet outside our solar system, Rev. Okyere may aptly be envisaged to have made the preceding observations in jest. Then also, who informed him that it is only women who carry babies on their backs. Maybe he would be amused to learn that my own maternal grandfather, the Rev. T. H. Sintim, of Akyem-Asiakwa and the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, continued to carry his own grandchildren on his back well into his 60s and 70s.

Besides, who said that babies need to be always breastfed, instead of bottle-fed? And also that babies need to be carried in a back-facing sling, or hammock, instead of a front-facing hammock, kangaroo style, as widely practiced here in the West, and increasingly in urban Ghana as well?

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*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Department of English
Nassau Community College of SUNY
Garden City, New York
Feb. 18, 2014
E-mail: okoampaahoofe@optimum.net
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