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Some students from the University of Edinburgh have started a petition around discussions about the rule of shaving hair in Ghanaian schools and other treatment meted out on students in their access to education. The group thinks that rules that do not benefit us should be changed and people be given the opportunity to make decisions on their appearance no matter where they find themselves.
They have started a petition on Change.org, which is an advocacy to change systems that are deeply rooted in colonialism and discrimination. You can sign the petition here
The petition reads:
“Students with hair don’t study, they don’t have the time to concentrate on their studies; Students with hair are arrogant, students with hair are…” This prejudice has perpetuated our educational institutions for decades. All over the world, students’ academic performance is in no way dependent on the growth of the hair but on an individual’s own zeal to excel and on the quality of education provided.
His Excellency the President of Ghana, the Government of Ghana, and the Ministry of Education.
We are strong believers in your words and vision for a progressive society for all Ghanaians. A place we would one day be proud to call our homeland. Despite our many challenges, we share in your belief that “Ghanaians are a restless, questing, hopeful people” who strive to make Ghana a better country. Yet for years, as our leaders, you have allowed us to be held down by practices originating from our colonial masters that hold no true value in our society today. You have continually represented Ghanaians in the fight against foreign control. Why then do leaders in our institutions keep holding us to policies imposed on us by slave masters and meant to degrade us? I think we must be educated on the real reasons students are required to cut down their hair in our educational institutions; an environment meant to teach us about our history and empower us to apply the knowledge learned to better our country. This policy, although not official, is compulsory in all primary and secondary government schools with various consequences including physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, and being exempted from both school and external examinations. Please, His Excellency, I believe you must enlighten us on why you continue to allow such practices to go on long after our founding leaders and forefathers’ spilled their blood to free us from the cruelties that were perpetrated on our soil. More than 60 years after our independence, young students: mostly female, are made to cut off their hair before they get access to education. The mental shackles of slavery are still in the possession of most African leaders and placed around the necks of innocent citizens.
Angel Kabonu, President of the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT) was reported to have said that “what I gathered was that when Caucasians students cut their hair to the level of black ladies, it makes them look very ugly and it can even affect their looks so Caucasian students are not allowed to cut their hair. There is no rule in the Ghana Education Service concerning Caucasians in Ghana because we are not Caucasians, we are Negroes.”
He said we are Negroes. He used a denigrating term that was used to refer to us by colonial and slave masters. Some may believe there’s no issue with an African man using the term but I believe we shouldn’t affirm words, terms, or policies used by cruel men. Besides this point, a high-ranking official implied that Ghanaian female students look ugly and unkept with hair.
Also, we have leaders who continue to silence those who voice their opinions on the matter. Recently, an issue surfaced with a couple of students being denied admission due to their hair, Education Minister, Dr. Yaw Osei told us to stop wasting our precious time discussing hair-related issues while others are going to Mars. It is rather unfortunate he finds this issue not worth his time when it concerns a student’s access to education that was promised to every Ghanaian. In response to his statement, we would like to bring to his notice that his educational directives have failed to provide students with the needed infrastructure and motivations for students to aspire to create projects of such heights. This alarming statement made by someone of his caliber is an insult to all who have been deeply affected by this situation as a way to shut them up.
Based on our research and the personal experience of many including ourselves, we have listed the reasons we believe this practice must be abolished.
REASONS WHY THIS RULE MUST BE ABOLISHED
1. Its Origin is Colonial
“Historically, African Hair was symbolic of an individual’s background and traditions. The styles held social significance and were used in social rituals. Owing to the uniqueness and texture of African Hair, it can be styled in complex and varied ways”.
“During the time of slavery, Europeans shaved the heads of enslaved Africans upon arrival to America in an attempt to dehumanize and break the African spirit. It also represented a removal of any trace of African identity”.
According to Nambe Patrick, a blogger, this originated during the colonial era, when local girls attending ‘castle schools’ were forced to shave their heads as a distinguishing feature between them and the ‘mulatto’ children. During that era, some women were also forced to shave their heads because their hair was supposedly “confusing” white men. Therefore, it’s very perplexing why a rule so racist and degrading, rooted in colonialism, is still strictly enforced by our own people.
The Executive Director of the National Commission on Culture made in a statement that the affected Rastafians submit themselves to the rules and regulations of the institutions: rules and regulations that were born out of colonialism in an attempt to erase our culture and pride. A sector she is trying to preserve.
2. It Promotes the Misconceptions About the African Hair
Girls attending public schools in Ghana have been required to have short hair since the 1960s. It was thought to prevent lice, reduce costs, and minimize rivalry among students, as black hair is costly to maintain. One of the reasons it is seen to be expensive is because we are not taught to appreciate our natural hair or taught to maintain it from a young age. Despite popular beliefs, it is possible to maintain Ghanaian hair with just a comb and shea butter.
We have been conditioned to refer to our hair as”bushy”. Note, another colonial description for grown African hair. Mr. Kabonu also said the “maintenance of a bushy hair also distracts the students from concentrating” on their academic work. If that is the issue, why not allow our students to wear them straight in schools. It is also high time we became actively aware of the words used to describe ourselves.
Another reason according to him is to maintain a “uniform look” (whatever that means) for students and believes “the rule is part of the discipline that students are supposed to be subjected when in school.”
Here is another misconception: It is believed that the African hair is unruly and cannot be well-groomed. Also, to discipline our children, they must have their heads shaved. Yet again another colonial mentality: “Shave their heads and subdue them”.
Besides, why should shaved heads be used to promote uniformity? School uniforms are already in existence. Everyone is unique, and we shouldn’t aim to create carbon copies in our school.
Mr. Kabonu also claimed that students in some cases “put materials in their hair and take it to the examination center” and said students have several times been caught with such materials in their hair.
The failure of the government and leaders in our educational sector to curb the rising incidence of examination malpractices should not be blamed on hair, otherwise, students should be asked to write examinations without clothes too.
3. It Fails to Empower Female Students
Short hair is thought to indicate that a young lady has not reached the age of consent, therefore is off-limits to interested men.
We should endeavor to empower young girls to speak and stand up for themselves against predators from a young age. Let her be thought to say “no” to a man she is not interested in. Shaving-off her hair must not be used as a means to deflect sexual advances. This is societies’ attempt to interfere with a young woman’s sexuality. This is the same for breast ironing and female genital mutation. The Ghanaian society is plagued with female discriminatory practices which need to be tackled. Accepting a way of life just because it’s convenient does not grow a nation but rather retards growth.
A young lady should have a voice to speak up to her colleagues and teachers. Better still, teach her to do so and stop trying to change her looks. A young lady should be allowed to wear her hair anyhow she feels most comfortable and confident: short, long, afro, straight or braided.
4. It Eliminates the Choice Factor
According to the Chairman of the Ghana Education Service (GES) Council, Michael Nsowah Adjei, “for many of the schools, and also for economic reasons, they will prefer that the students don’t waste too much time going to expensive salons, so they advise that the students keep their hair low, so they can concentrate on their studies and it has become a norm”
Ladies should be given the mantle to decide on how they want to keep their hair and at what cost. Also, there are no studies to affirm that students with hair are at an academic disadvantage because of distractions by their hair. Even if that’s the case, students should be taught the right way to manage their hair, as school, is an institution meant to educate.
We are advocating for the freedom to choose for all regardless of their economic status. No one should have the right to determine for another what they can or cannot afford. We seem to forget the importance of having a choice and to have that taken away from you. This is a basic human right violation.
It is common knowledge that some teachers spitefully make students cut their hair before school holidays so that students are not able to grow or braid their hair while away from school. According to them, it would make them feel “arrogant”. This is also usually done right before the final examination ends, although they are very much aware that most ladies are eager to start growing after their last BECE or WASSCE paper. This is unquestionably bullying by teachers and abuse of power by persons in authority.
- This rule must be abolished at all levels in schools. Its supposed benefits are unfounded and it’s rooted in colonialism.
- The choice must be made available for students and parents of minors.
- There should be clear guidelines to schools and school authorities regarding the policy changes. A policy change should not be a motivation for authorities to find different ways to oppress so-called “undisciplined students” just as was the case for the abolishing of caning in school. Authorities found means to torture and terrorize students.
- Students should be made aware of their right as an individual to choose.
- Students should be taught across all our educational institutions how to properly take care of their hair, be it natural, straightened, permed, or short.
- Facilities or provisions should be made across boarding schools to provide access to hair care services.
- Teachers who take advantage of this colonial rule to oppress students by meting out severe punishment should be educated and taught to focus their energies on empowering their students.
We do recognize there are reasons why some still believe this policy needs to still be applied today. We believe this policy is not necessary and holds no real benefits and are happy to engage in meaningful discussions that would yield the best results for all affected personnel and institutions.