How a Minister of State nearly shattered my dreams
The saying that “women are their own enemies”, which I never believed, has now become something I think about every day. I used not to support people who use that saying against women, but now I actually believe that women treat each other in a way, which makes that saying true, and we need to put a stop it.
My name is Rahinatu Abdul Bach. I am a student at the Ghana Institute of Journalism, currently an intern at one of Ghana’s leading media houses, Multimedia Group Limited. I think of myself as a strong young woman with a great ambition. Since my childhood, life has not been that easy, as I watch my parents brave the storms of life to give us the best they could. Indeed, there have been a number of obstacles in my academic progress but I keep pushing and climbing the ladder steadily till I got to GIJ, where I am studying journalism.
But recently, I had one of the most demeaning experiences that could have potentially make me give up any dream of climbing higher; and it was from a woman I aspire to be like.
It has always been my dream to become a great woman and also occupy a higher position like my female role models, such as Oheneyire Gifty Anti, Anita Erskine, Communication Minister, Ursula Owusu Ekuful and others. But this noble dream was almost shattered by one female minister who is also a role model; Sanitation Minister, Cecilia Abena Dapaah.
In my internship at Multimedia, I work as a Broadcast Journalist/Reporter at Adom FM. I was very happy for the opportunity because I knew it was a chance many others would have loved, and it was a rare opportunity to get closer to my dream by possibly meeting some of my role models and even interacting with them. I promised myself that I was going to make the best of this rare opportunity of a lifetime; so I took every assignment I was given very seriously like my life depended on it.
On July 15, 2019 (a day I will never forget), I was given an assignment – to report on the current trend of sanitation offenders being made to pick litter or sweep whole streets instantly when found. The assignment required that I spoke with one of my role models, the Sanitation Minister, Cecilia Dapaah and get her thoughts about that trend, and ask whether it was something government would consider as a national policy.
When I called her number for the first time, a gentleman picked it and said she was busy so I should call in an hour’s time. So I did; I called again after one hour and she picked the phone this time. I introduced myself and said I was calling from Adom FM, and asked if I was speaking with Madam Cecilia Abena Dapaah, then she responded with a stern voice “how can I help you?”
The tone of her voice unsettled me a bit because that was a woman I held in very high esteem, but I knew I needed to deliver on my assignment, so I mustered the courage and went on to tell her what my mission was. While I was yet speaking, she interrupted and asked in another stern voice, “who are you?”, I told her my name and where I was calling from again. She then asked what I do at Adom FM, and I told her I was an intern; then she made the most demeaning remark to me in Akan, saying “you are an intern and who gave you the right go call me directly – you don’t respect.” After those harsh words, she even did worse by saying “please go off”, and hung up on me.
After going off the line, it took me almost 30 minutes before I could even get up from my seat. I became so downcast, shocked and indeed terrified because of the way she spoke to me; my mind became messed up with so many disjointed thoughts – whether I did something wrong – whether I don’t qualify to talk to my role model – whether I was ever going to achieve my ambition if this is how the people I look up to are going to be treating me when I meet them, and all sorts of thoughts. In fact, I was sitting under very chilled air conditioner but I started sweating as her words kept ringing in my head.
I eventually managed and got out of the recording booth and went to my News Editor and reported what had just happened. In fact, I showed him evidence of how she responded to me even before hearing exactly why I called her. My News Editor called her back right in my presence and her response was even worse. Again, before my News Editor could even finish a sentence, she interrupted and said “but I mean how do you let an intern call a Minister – an elderly woman like me – you don’t let an intern call a Minster – please if you don’t even respect me as a person, at least respect the office – please I am in a meeting I will call you later,” then she hung up just like before.
After that call I tried to put my thoughts together but it was impossible at that moment. I kept on asking myself, how can l do this job when my role model thinks I’m a nobody? Imagine getting the glorious opportunity to speak to someone you consider as a role model, particularly of the same gender, and she speaks to you in this harsh tone and makes you feel you don’t qualify and you are not enough.
I have seen my male colleague interns call other top public officials like Ministers, MPs and all, and they were happy to speak with them, in spite of the fact that they were interns. Indeed, some even went on assignments with their ID Cards that read “INTERN” and covered some of these top public officials who were happy to speak with them, and they did very good stories. But when I got the opportunity to speak with my role model, she used her words to break me into pieces because she did not think I was qualified enough; or she thought assigning me to her was a sign of disrespect to her office. I cried the whole day.
Later on when the matter became a topic of discussion in the newsroom, quite a number of the reporters who had encountered Madam Cecilia Dapaah in the past, said they were really surprised she would do that because she was known to be a very nice person, and friendly to the media. In fact, some of them said she would call later and apologize for her actions but till date, she hasn’t. My News Editor wrote to her on WhatsApp, and she sounded like she had an explanation, but till date she had not bothered. My Editor explained to her that the yardstick for assigning people to tasks in the newsroom was “competence” and not tags, but she still did not say anything.
I had nothing but pure admiration for that woman; and thought that being a woman herself, she would be proud of me; that a young woman had been given that rare opportunity to interview a high profile woman like her; that is all this talk about affirmative action – gender equality, women empowerment and what-have-you is all about. Recently in Vancouver, President Nana Akufo-Addo came under criticism for allegedly suggesting that there were not enough dynamic women to rise into leadership. He was told to amplify the few who were showing promise. Here was I, a young woman, who needed my role model to pull me up and amplify me, but she pushed me down and actually trampled on me like I was a nobody. When my male News Editor tried to explain to her I was capable, she even did worse with her comments to him.
What Madam Dapaah did nearly shattered my hopes of ever becoming something. But in that instance, it was the words of my News Editor, a man, and other male colleagues, which made me regain my confidence to keep my dream alive.
High profile women like Madam Cecilia Dapaah always go out and preach about gender equally, affirmative action and women empowerment to the public; they create the impression that they hold forums to encourage we the upcoming young females to become better than them in future. But when they are presented with the opportunity to hold the hands of people like me and pull us up and help us achieve our dreams, they turn us away. Is this what they call women empowerment?
It is common knowledge in our country that when young inexperienced people apply for jobs, they are turned away because they lack experience. It is even worse with ladies. So when a young female intern like me, gets an opportunity to interview people like Madam Cecilia Dapaah, it is an opportunity that has far reaching implications for us. It would have enriched my CV and given me a fighting chance for a job in the future. But when we are treated the way she treated me, then your guess is as good as mine. Such conducts make this whole women empowerment thing nothing but a smoke screen.
Nothing hurts me more than seeing how some young females have had their dreams shattered by their fellow women, and today, they are unable to put themselves together and pursue their dreams. I keep asking myself, how can we, women, be empowered if we don’t help each other, if we don’t prove to society that we deserve to be empowered, if women already in power don’t help push the upcoming females when we need their help. Women, let’s try to be each other’s keeper and help one another, then we can succeed in empowering women.
Persons with disability (PWDs) often say “disability is not inability”. In that light, my final message to Madam Cecilia Abena Dapaah, my role model, is that, “Internship is not incompetence”.
I am Rahinatu Abdul Bach and I am a competent intern at Adom FM.
By Rahinatu Abdul Bach