How I discovered that my voice is my freedom
Growing up, I did not realise I was “fighting for my right” when I insisted on the choice of high school I wanted to attend. I recall my father wanted me to go to a particular high school but I cried and insisted that I wanted to go Gambia High School. I remember how I admired the girls in their blue and white checked uniforms on the school bus. “One day, I will also wear this uniform”, I thought to myself. Indeed I did- My voice became my freedom to choose my school.
Being the first girl in my family to attend high school was great pride. However, as I struggled through the years in high school, my parents were thinking ahead, scouting out who should be my husband.
Again, as I completed high school, several suitors were planned without my consent. At last, when my choice of husband was introduced, my father was not happy. He and his siblings had others in mind. I recall my uncle saying, “Your father is not happy with your choice of husband. What do you have to say?” I replied, “Tell my father that this is the man I love and I want to marry. However, I will not force my will on him but let him that I will marry any man that he wants me to marry on one condition. If laughing will make that man happy, I will not laugh. I will never do anything to make that man happy”. My uncle reported back to my father and the response I got was “It’s not worth all that trouble. Let her marry her choice but also on condition that she will not be a slave to her husband”- Again, my voice became my freedom.
The Gambian family setup is such that a wife is not only married to her husband, but to the siblings, parents and even the friends of the husband. How could I manage to be a “housewife” who is expected to cook for a family of thirty everyday and go to work as a broadcaster, trekking up and down the rural areas of The Gambia? A challenge I had to face. I decided I had to break tradition and do things my way. For instance I was expected to cook lunch and finished by 2 pm, the time when the children would have closed from school and they can all sit together to eat. The challenge was, I was also a full time employee as a broadcast and I had to be at work for 8 hours. I decided I will do both. I will cook the soup at night for the next day and one of those who spent the day at home will boil the rice to accompany it; that way lunch will be ready for 2 PM and I will also be at work. That did not go well with the in-laws. They wanted the soup cooked fresh every day. I wondered how I could do that, because one thing was certain, I will not leave my job as a broadcaster to be a full time house wife. To compromise, I decided to cook fresh every day. So, I went to work as usual and closed work at 4 P.M, I went to the market and prepared food. It was ready by 6.30 pm. I knew it would not happen the following day because the mothers at home had children and they would be hungry when they closed from school. A decision was taken and a schedule was agreed upon to allow me to go to work during the week days and on weekends I would do the cooking. Again, my voice became my freedom.
That’s enough tip to give you an insight of how a lone feminine voice could break the cycle of control in a deep rooted cultural society especially within conservative ethnic groups where being female is equated to being a child with no voice and can’t make any decisions. Women are expected to just wait to be led and all they have to do is to follow. Well that chain has been broken in my family, no more gagging; my voice has freed me, my children and generations to come because my voice is my freedom.