No disrespect to Dr. James Emmanuel Kwegyir Aggrey who said, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual. If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” The preeminent Ghanaian scholar, educator and missionary as I highly suspect must have been well intended with his words. I disagree however with the good Doctor. Practically, when you educate a girl you educate a girl and that is how it should be seen. The role education plays in the life of women should not be seen [only] in light of how the nation benefits. Women/girls should be educated for the simple reason that they are people.
In conversation with Rita Nketiah, a Pan-African feminist activist and a friend, she makes a salient point, “so much of the mainstream discourse on women's human rights in Africa/Global South centres on this notion that "a healthy women = a healthy nation" or that when we empower the girl-child, we empower the nation...I’m bothered by this”, she adds, “This line of thinking still reduces womyn and girls' values to that of reproducers of the nation-state. Can’t you just empower me because I am a human being? Why does my empowerment have to be tied to how useful my womb is for the nation? I feel that the healthy womon/healthy nation argument is meant to get a mainstream buy-in but still relies on traditional gender norms”, Rita Nketiah (Skype chat February 12, 2012).
Why do women need an added reason beyond humanness to be educated? I am certainly not belittling the role women play in development of a nation, neither will I condone any dubious interpretation of what I infer was a well intended speech by Dr. Aggrey. To be fair, I ask a friend and a graduate student from the Centre of African Studies of the University of Copenhage about his thoughts on Dr. Aggrey’s statement, he says, “often in a patriarchy, the man is out working, but it is the woman who takes care of the children. She spends the most time with them. If the man is somewhat educated he will send his boys to school, while the girls will perhaps join the basic [school] but drop out when reaching higher level like JHS [Junior High School]. She [the girl-child] is needed elsewhere and she is not going to be the prime-provider anyhow. However, if the mother is somewhat educated the chance the girl will continue school enhances. This can lead the way for more equality. Why would men allow for more competition that can affect their position negatively? This is not [just in] Africa; across the world the men are still having the good positions. Very few countries have had or have a female head of state. My country [Demark] has had one and she got elected four months ago. Perhaps the quote simply underlines the importance in educating women; women affect society greatest since women are the ones raising the children while the men spend time working or in worse situation drinking”. Mathias Søgaard (Facebook chat February 12, 2012).
The thoughts of my good friend Mr. Søgaard are noble, he believes as do I that we need to create a platform for equality. But my somewhat twisted interpretation of his explanation of Dr. Aggrey quote is, “Dear woman, we are going to give you breakfast everyday because we want your breast to develop so we can suck them. If per any chance you derive benefits from your developed breast that is fine, but remember, that your breast were developed to be sucked, that is the whole point here. Thank you, with love and believe in equality, signed, Breastless humans”. This is not a personal attack on Mathias’s analysis. Unquestionably, the popular notion is, to create a platform for equality we must emphasize the important role women play in a thing we have come to depend on like a nation. Nonetheless, consciously or unconsciously what we are really saying is ‘the develop your breast let me suck them’ analogy.
Why must there be the need for philosophical innuendos when it comes to educating womankind? Like Ms Nketah said, why must it be pegged against the survival of the nation? Will we only educate a woman because the nation needs her? Or must we educate womankind for the same reason we educate men? When we engage in overstatements, oversimplification, and obfuscation, we endanger the very cause we are fighting for, EQUALITY.
I see the logic in dramatizing the need in educating women, particularly to diehard believers in patriarchy. Nevertheless, such dramatization (however well intended) puts a needless burden on the already over burdened woman. So now, if the nation fails is it women who have failed? Will educating women and leaving men out still keep the nation in the balance we need it to be? Education, Gender and Nation Building are mutually exclusive with none less significant. If our goal is equity in education then that is what we should point to.
My argument is, women are important because they are people. Women should be encouraged to reach their highest not because of the nation, but for their own sakes. Without formal education and without our asking them to, many women have lighted so many paths to development. Women will continue to do what women will do. Women think about and act towards national/global development because they are people. Yaa Asantewaa, did without any formal education. Many women are developing the nation with or without formal education. Education is education for its own sake, the nation is the nation for its own sake and women are women, shall be women for our own sakes.
In the end, if you educate a man you educate an individual, if you educate a woman you educate and individual, and because all individuals are important why would you leave anyone out?