Feature Article of Friday, 10 August 2007

Columnist: Mensah, Opanin Kwabena

Female genitalia search at St. Louis Training College

News of July 6, 2007 carried a news item that reads, “630 students of St. Louis Training College in the Ashanti Region had their private parts searched by the school authorities to ascertain if any of the female trainee teachers had undergone abortion. According to the report the search of first and second year students in the school’s laboratory followed the discovery of a bag of sanitary pads soaked in blood behind the dormitory. The students, including both married and matured ones, were lined up and one by one in the laboratory they removed their panties for their housemistresses to see if they were bleeding. They touched their breasts and looked at their stomachs for signs of lines on them.

It was disturbing reading through this chilling news item that borders on both physical and mental abuse, a direct case of invasion of privacy. I sympathized with the students and wished that some professional counselors were dispatched to help them deal with the trauma that befell them on that day. Somebody elsewhere needed to psychoanalyze the principal who permitted this cruelty on her students. She had either lost it or in the process of losing her mind. It is believed that the principal is either a witch or belonged to an occultist group that had asked her to affect such an exercise as part of a ritual to gain absolute control over her students. Other than this how on earth would a person of sound mind conduct physical inspection of students’ genitals on suspicion that someone had an abortion?

On what basis did the principal select only first and second year students? What about the final year students? Was she afraid of them or what? Why did she not include the female members of the teaching and administrative staff including her, their daughters and the kitchen personnel? Why did she not extend her search to the staff and some students of the primary and junior secondary schools in the same compound? A visitor or a vendor/customer of the school could deposit the blood-soaked sanitary pad. If it were noted that St. Louis Training College is a typical urban institution located in the heart of the city, Kumasi (Mbrom), one would understand how wrong the principal was in targeting only a particular group of students – a classical case of discrimination.

What happened to the usual posturing of principals of training colleges in instances of this nature? This is where one would hear the principal in his/her chastising mood at either the morning assembly or an emergency gathering of students say something like this: “This morning I woke up to a very embarrassing news in this school. One of you has disgraced St. Louis Training College of all institutions. In the past some responsible and highly respected men came to this school to look for their wives. This is no more because you students of today do not respect anybody and have lowered yourselves to the extent that some of you are even causing abortion. We have discovered a plastic bag containing blood-soaked sanitary pad(s) belonging to one of you. Some of you know who did that and had refused to report it to me. I never expected students being trained as teachers to do that. What type of teachers and mothers are you going to be? You students cannot disgrace this school and go scot-free. The college prefect and all student leaders should meet me in my office soon after this gathering. Henceforward, no student would go out unless it is an emergency. No visitors are allowed. Rules and regulations are going to be enforced and anyone who breaks it would be dismissed. You students are not beautiful. Animguasefuo!” Various statements of this nature always have effect on the students and usually produce results. If the principal used the right method she could easily find the culprit without necessarily resorting to irresponsible, dehumanizing and embarrassing act.

The subservient behavior of the students to submit themselves to such traumatizing act by the school authorities seemed to have surprised many people. Unfortunately, they had no choice but to comply as directed. Teacher-trainees, especially those in faith-based institutions such as St Louis Training College (Catholic), Presbyterian Training Colleges, Anglican Training Colleges, SDA Training Colleges and Methodist Training Colleges, do not have the type of luxury that exist even in secondary schools let alone tertiary institutions. There is the appearance of some military type of obedience of do before complain. None of the 630 students dared to disobey. The individual, even in this case, would be dismissed based on the principle that she refused the orders of school authorities. It is easy for anyone to argue on the contrary, but the authorities needed this to maintain law and order in the various institutions.

This principle had worked well over the years. It is unfortunate that this particular principal had abused it and thus calls for its review. With the classification of teacher training colleges as diploma-awarding institutions, they invariably acquire tertiary education status and therefore should be divorced from almost all appendages of second-cycle institutions. In particular, the authorities should let go their uncompromising hold on rules and regulations that seek to control students’social behavior to prevent gay/lesbian principals from seeking to inspect the genitals of their students.

The principal’s method of choice is a reflection of our tradition and our definition of discipline. To the average Ghanaian, discipline is being steadfast on teen daughter to prevent her from hanging out with guys. It is not uncommon to hear a woman call on her teenage girl who had stayed late in the night to remove her panties for inspection to determine if a boy/man had canal knowledge of her while she was outside. Almost every Ghanaian parent wants his/her growing young woman to associate with only persons of the same gender other than that she is a bad girl. Yet in spite of our strict and good parenting we continue to have growing teenage pregnancy, abortion and prostitution. Our girls sneak out of the house to get laid in a hurry not considering the implications involved or act out their sexual fantasy with other girls, popularly known in our boarding schools as “supi” which has now matured into lesbianism.

We as a society cannot have our cake and eat it too. We do not want our sexually active girls to have an abortion, yet we dismiss them from our schools when they become pregnant. If the student at St Louis Training College knew that she would not be dismissed but had a fair chance of achieving her goal of becoming a trained teacher, possibly, she would not have terminated the pregnancy that had brought her school into public disrepute.

It’s time we reflected on our relationship with our girls as they mature into womanhood and stop pontificating our piety on them. We should engage them in healthy conversation about the human body and its development and the social pressures that bear on it. Parents should let them know the consequences and responsibilities associated with active sexual behavior and the need for them to be adequately prepared before indulging in it. They should sympathize with their daughters if they “have accident” instead of engaging them in shouting bouts and condemning them which may lead to an action which they may regret later as has happened in the case of the principal of St Louis Training College in Kumasi. Mothers should also identify with their daughters the challenges they had to overcome to become good wives and mothers or about their own failures and lessons to be learned out of them. If fathers discussed the various lies they peddled, schemes they adopted, plots and romantic moves they made to get girls fall for them, they would get their daughters more than prepared to handle similar situations with ease and confidence.

It is unfortunate that the principal of St Louis Training College, Kumasi, had to resort to a method that is beyond her training to unearth a criminal behavior. Her behavior is an extension of the cruel and insensitive treatment we mete out to our sexually active young women. It is hoped that this incident would lead us to reassess our relationship with our daughters and help all to handle issues of this nature with maturity and the decorum they deserve.

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