It was the nineteenth day of August, 1951. It was a typical day in the tropical, sun-bathed town of Koforidua, the Eastern regional capital of Ghana that Beatrice Bernice Boateng was born.
It was not long before I felt the pangs of real disaffection from my parents, especially my mother. My father, who was a nurse anaesthetist, worked outside Koforidua. My mother, who was a trader, was reported to have commented bizarrely that she had given birth to a ‘bird’ (I had no hair on her head). My mother was also reported to have been very hesitant to take me into public let alone to waste time breastfeeding me as a result. Thankfully, I was lucky to be occasionally breastfed by a kind nursing mother of twins who happened to be a tenant in our house.
I suffered as a child for being non-conformist and was described as “rowdy” at home. I felt neglected at home and so found solace in hanging out with friends on the streets, playing with other kids, roaming the Koforidua township. My mother used to curse that I was going to be a victim of teenage pregnancy because of my “stubbornness” and non-conformist attitude. I was to prove my mother wrong!
I copped it once for my supposed “rowdiness” and “street” lifestyle when I was taken to the police station by my mother to be punished corporally. I stayed at the back office of the police station for two weeks being laden with big log books too weighty for an 8 year old, until the intervention of my father, whom I have never known! I went to live with my father in Kumasi from then on, and under my father’s strict code of discipline, my performance at school improved steadily, but not without dire family issues.
In my teenage years, I would accompany my politician step-father on his national political campaigns. There were times when we were shot at and pelted with stones by political opponents. We were also sometimes almost lynched but our tenacity was unshaken. My step-father was a victim of the military revolution of 1976, when he was publicly lashed and inhumanely treated for his opposition to military dictatorships. He also suffered brutalities by political opponents as member of the 1992 presidential campaign team of the opposition party. This harrowing experience gave me a strong desire to brave the odds in politics and to make a meaningful contribution to national development someday.
My father had a couple of women in his life as well as other wives apart from my mother, and one of them appeared to be of the same age as me. She made life really hellish for me. As school prefect at middle school, aged 18, I would wear my stepmother’s old, binned, and patched-up brassiere for school. She chose the venue of a big awards ceremony in my school to disgrace me in front of my peers. She reported I had stolen her brassiere and so stripped me of it in the full glare of the entire school. The school saved the situation by making donations towards buying a bra for me! I was undaunted.
I passed the common entrance examinations three times but my parents simply failed to send me to secondary school because they did not see anything good in me. I was even advised to take to petty trading or early marriage as opposed to pursuing education which was seen as the preserve of men! I therefore stayed at home for one year after completing middle school. I told a friend about my desire to continue my education. Moved by my former head teacher, she brought teacher training college application forms for me since she thought it was the cheaper option. Learning that my parents had finished with me as far as my education was concerned, I chose a college very far away from my parents in Tamale, the Northern regional capital of Ghana, though I knew no one there. My decision was borne out of my wanting to not have anything to do with my parents again, but rather fight for my own future.
Realising I was going to need a helper and a ‘mother’ to help provide my financial and parental needs, I told my story to the matron of the college. I offered to be a house help to her in return for my upkeep. This trick worked for the four years of my time in the college during which the matron proved to be more than a mother to me. I owe a lot to her to this day! The joy of it all is that I have been able to reciprocate the benevolence of that ‘mother’ of mine until her death.
In the early days of my working life as a teacher, I bumped into an eminent chief, a teacher and a trade unionist, who gave me the priceless advice that “the way for a poor person to achieve in life is by ‘marrying’ associations and making positive friendships”. This admonition has been my motivation for a cumulative four decades in politics, teaching, student and labour activism, and gender advocacy and lobbying.
I juggled family life and further studies rigorously, and graduated at aged 42 and 50 in my undergraduate and postgraduate studies respectively, albeit within the backdrop of a tragedy - the loss of my husband midstream. I was able to brave the odds by single-handedly bringing my three children through. I had several suitors coming along, but they would discontinue their interest because I won’t quit active politics.
The scary bit of politicking struck when I received death threats by text message at dawn after declaring my intention to run for the parliamentary candidacy of my party in 2008. I refused to be perturbed. Even today, I have not been able to find out who those faceless persons were. Through sheer grit and determination, and hard work, I was able to win the parliamentary seat by a landslide 13000+ votes - the first ever woman to be MP in the Koforidua / New Juaben Constituency.
All in all, here I am, a woman of lowly birth and family background, having achieved what I set myself to be - a servant to my people!