Ghana is building a national cathedral. Ghana does not have a national shelter for women and children survivors of domestic violence. Why are we building the first? Why are we not building the second?
These are crucial questions that reveal the ways money, influence, politics and priority sometimes guide our nation’s actions and privilege the power of a few versus the urgent need of thousands.
We are in the middle of the UN’s 16 Days of activism to end gender-based violence. They are dedicated to focusing on solutions and further raising awareness regarding such violence.
The announcement of the National Cathedral triggered controversy, headlines and hours of debate. There were multiple allegations: concern regarding political influence, increased power between politics and religion where there should be separation of Church and State and more.
Award winning architect, David Adjaye, will be the Cathedral’s architect. Adjaye became a global household name for his architecture in building the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It is a building in America’s capital that rightly centres a brutal and bloody history of enslavement alongside extraordinary accomplishments of a people within one building. Given the contested history that is enslavement – that Museum is a powerful and necessary intervention.
That is America. This is Ghana.
The President called the National Cathedral a dedication to national heritage.
What about national safety of girls and women and our dedication to that?
According to news reports, the national cathedral will be surrounded by more than five hectares of landscaped gardens, will serve as a place of worship and a community hub that will encompass several chapels, a baptistery, a school, an art gallery and Africa’s first bible museum. It will stretch alongside the Osu Cemetery and take over land holding the Ridge roundabout, the Scholarship Secretariat, the Judicial Training Institute, the Passport Office and the residences of nine judges. All of those buildings would be demolished and relocated elsewhere.
The cost is currently cloaked in secrecy.
We don’t yet know what percentage might be government money vs private money or taxpayers money. Right now, neither the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources nor Adjaye Associates has commented on the cost of the project.
I think it is necessary to explore privilege, priority, possibility and people as regards a National Cathedral vs a national shelter – or indeed a network of shelters across Ghana.
You may argue that it need not be either or – why can’t we have a National Cathedral and National Shelters.?
It may seem fair. It is an unreasonable question. The Cathedral won’t save lives by being built. Shelters will.
The Ark Foundation has embarked on a national campaign to resurrect the sadly defunct Shelter for Battered Women and Children that closed in December 2016 after 17 years primarily due to lack of funds. It was the only functional shelter in the country for women and children domestic abuse survivors.
The good news is that the Australian High Commission in partnership with The Lady organization is working to build a shelter for young women aged 18 to 35 who are sexual abuse survivors. This is a laudable effort, it is a wonderful and necessary contribution.
It is, of course, not enough. Currently in Ghana there is no active domestic abuse shelter in operation.
These two efforts may ultimately mean two new shelters.
They are interventions to a necessary crisis that imprisons women and girls seeking much needed shelter from violence in their homes.
There are also coalitions working in this area.
There is Ghanaians Against Child Abuse (GACA) launched in November 2017 by the Ministries of Gender, Children and Social Protection and the Local Government and Rural Development in collaboration with UNICEF. And there is the recent launch of Coalition Against Sexual and Gender Based Violence and Harmful Practices known as CoPASH supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) and helmed by Mme Samira Bauwmia; who also launched GACA.
There is the coalition that I am part of, Coalition Against Sexual Abuse (CASA).
Each of these is a powerful effort and is doing important, necessary work in dealing with this issue of both physical and sexual violence.
What is also true is that resources are a constant challenge for all these groups.
The launch of CoPASH requires that those who commit to the Coalition must be able to bring their own resources as well as their time. For GACA, it is described as a social campaign. For CASA, we are in the middle of a year-long campaign ‘STOP SEX ABUSE in SCHOOLS!’
The combination of commitment, human talent, strategy, policy and a consistent resource source is crucial to creating long-term sustainable interventions and longer-term responses to substantively reducing and ultimately ending violence against women.
With sexual and physical violence, beyond the act itself, there is the legacy of the often untreated trauma and its long-term impact. That also requires attention which necessitates resources.
Numbers help. They are revealing and worth repeating.
In Ghana, more than 90 per cent of children have experienced some form of physical violence. 16% of girls aged between 15 and 19 years old had their first experience of sexual intercourse forced against their will.
It is important to note that so many cases of sexual abuse are not reported due to the combined cultural practices of silencing, shaming and privileging perpetrators over protecting survivors of abuse.
Girls and women’s lives are at stake.
When it comes to resources, as a Christian nation committed to Christian principles, I wonder why I have never heard a national call to action from Ghana’s Christian Council that on a given Sunday all tithing from all churches should contribute to building or sustaining a victims’ shelter.
Imagine: A massive #GivingSunday campaign where all the churches in Accra dedicate the entirety of their Sunday offerings to resurrecting The Ark Foundation’s Shelter. That could be followed by a regular #ShelterTithe; a tithe by Churches to sustain and support shelters – just as so many Churches regularly tithe to build yet more religious structures.
We shy away from such specifics because of the holy hell directed at discussion surrounding Churches and Christianity and the equally powerful accusation of being ‘political’ by questioning the National Cathedral’s presence or necessity.
Safety for women and girls should not be a political issue.
If we weigh the validity of building and resources required for the National Cathedral against the dire need of building shelters to house, clothe, feed and protect the survivors of violence, it is crucial and critically analytical work.
So, what if we could choose? A national cathedral or a national survivors’ shelter with the breadth, landscape and resources committed to the national cathedral.
What if we cared as much about the wellbeing, safety and freedom from violence for Ghana’s girls and women as we seem to about yet another religious structure?