Diary - Jenni Murray
In the studio for Woman's Hour, the Prime Minister appears edgy and perhaps a little nervous. Maybe,
It's 10 o'clock on a Monday morning and I'm facing the Prime Minister across a green baize table for a half-hour grilling on what Labour will have to offer at the next election for the 52 per cent of voters who are women. He appears edgy and perhaps a little nervous. Maybe, like me, he doesn't like Mondays. He seems unsure about what role a father should play in the 21st century, but concedes he may look back on little Leo's early years and wish he'd spent less time at the office. It's a start, I suppose.
I find myself explaining that one thing the government could offer in the battle for equal pay is a legal requirement for the private and public sectors to carry out pay audits, so at least there's transparency about the extent of the gap.
And might he be seduced by the Lib Dems' plans for a citizen's pension to save women losing out because of a broken contributions record? He's interested in the former, but dismissive of the latter.
He is bullish about proposals for house arrest of suspected terrorists, despite Barbara Follett's impassioned pleas to the House that this country should not go the way of apartheid South Africa. Her first husband was shot dead in his home, in front of his children, after five years of such confinement. Blair is unrepentant on Iraq. In the closing seconds I slip in a "So when is the general election?", but he spots the ruse. Sorry, folks, I did my best. I just hope the entire electorate isn't bored rigid by the time it does come around.
A mad rush to Heathrow for a 2 o'clock flight to Ghana, and within 24 hours I'm interviewing sex workers on the streets of Accra. Ah, variety; the spice of life! The women are amazing. With funds from Comic Relief, they have access to free condoms and regular health checks. Rates of HIV/Aids are coming down as a result. They're a formidable bunch, working as a co-operative. They watch out for each other, and any punter not prepared to use a condom is hounded out by the group - beaten up, if necessary, they proudly announce.
Afua is the most voluble. We guess her age to be about 50. She staggers us by telling us she's 81 and still does 14 to 15 clients a month. She's been on the game for a long time. Her husband died, leaving her with nine children to raise. Her sons can't find work and she doesn't want her daughters to follow in her footsteps. It's a similar story all round: women selling themselves for as little as 50p to feed and clothe their kids. Their project is teaching them batik, tie-dye and sewing, but self-sufficiency in a different trade seems a long way off.
To the Ghanaian politicians next. Ghana is now Africa's most stable democracy and struggling to develop itself. We talk to the minister for tertiary education - desperate to improve schooling all round, but particularly for girls - and to a "queenmother", a traditional matriarch who is responsible for nominating her community's chief. It's clear the two systems have to work hand in hand: the democratically elected to determine policy, and the royalty to convince their own towns and villages of the need to embrace change. Education, they agree, is the key.
Ama Ata Aidoo, one of Africa's best-known literary figures, welcomes us to her centre for women writers and explains the difficulties of getting funding. Unsurprising, it seems to me, when poverty, unemployment and a parlous basic infrastructure are such pressing problems, but she is insistent that a nation's cultural life is as crucial to its development as meat and drink.
She's unimpressed by western politicians' pronouncements on the Africa question, particularly the one that says "Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world". "What world?" she demands, and she's right. In Accra you can only feel terrible shame at what your own small part of the world did to countries like Ghana. Hundreds of thousands of human beings were shipped from its shores as slaves, along with its gold and diamonds. "We can," she says defiantly, "only help ourselves."
And so, after a few short days, I leave the heat and humidity and arrive home. It's freezing and I'm stuck at Heathrow for three hours waiting for my flight to Manchester to take off. We're in a queue for Terminal One's sole de-icer to reach us. Typical! Mother's Day goes better: tulips and breakfast in bed. I only hope Afua's kids are as appreciative as mine.
Jenni Murray presents BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour