Developing a just society based on equity and equal opportunities for all with respect for diversity.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Unknowns: Moving to Ghana and Kayayei

RAINS Cohort 9 meeting the Chief at Nanton-Kurugu

Two weeks ago I threw off the chains of an easy-going English suburban lifestyle and jumped into the unknown life as an ICS volunteer in Ghana, working for the charities International Service and RAINS. To get this far I had to overcome a lot of fear and anxiety; the amount of unknowns surrounding where I would be living and how well I would be able to cope scared me, but by pushing past my anxiety the rewards have been plentiful. Here I want to focus on one of those rewards: the education I have received from the previous RAINS cohort concerning Kayayei in Ghana.

Unless you have lived in, or are very familiar with Ghanaian culture it's probably a safe bet to say the term Kayayei is very foreign to you. Hopefully by the end of this blog you will have a basic understanding of the term and will understand why RAINS' "Safe Choices" project, which concerns sexual health education in rural communities, is taking action to raise awareness around the issues surrounding Kayayei.

Kayayei in Accra

Kayayei is the term used to describe the women and girls who make a living by carrying goods on their heads in Ghana's big cities. Estimates suggest that over one million Kayayei work throughout Ghana, many originating from rural towns and villages, migrating to the big cities in the hope of finding a more prosperous life.

Unfortunately most find life as a Kayayei a gruelling and dangerous one. Days can last up to 16 hours and the work can lead to crippling back problems. Additionally, many Kayayei live on the streets as they often arrive to the city with very little and so are extremely vulnerable to sexual assault, prostitution and extortion.

So why do so many women choose life as a Kayayei? The unfortunate truth is that the women migrating from rural communities rarely know the dangers they are getting into. Also, once they arrive in the city many become trapped trying to earn enough money as a Kayayei just to survive.

Much needs to be done to empower Kayayei so they can lift themselves out of poverty; however our RAINS project works with rural communities, so we must be proactive. Therefore this cohort shall be working to educate three rural communities on the struggles Kayayei face by running sensitisations (consisting of presentations, group activities and dramatisations).

Many women in rural communities chose to become a Kayayei in an effort to fund the furthering of their education. But many others are fleeing the fierce obstacles they face living in rural Ghanaian communities. For starters, income sources in these regions are highly dependent on farming, and so are very unstable. Other difficulties arise due to cultural norms and practices, such as teenage pregnancy, child marriage, female genital mutilation, widowhood rights, and girls having a higher school dropout rate than their male counterparts. These issues need addressing and the Safe Choices project has already begun tackling teenage pregnancy by educating young people about contraception and introducing non traditional condom distributors in rural communities.

These issues push women away from their communities, leading them to choose to throw off the chains of a hard-going Ghanaian rural lifestyle and jump into the unknown life as a Kayayei. My education on Kayayei since arriving in Ghana has certainly offered a lot of perspective to the now seemingly insignificant challenges I have faced in getting here. Now as volunteers we aim to help educate rural communities on the realities of life as a Kayayei, allowing women to make an informed choice as to whether they wish to choose the Kayayei lifestyle, which in turn will hopefully reduce the number of women choosing to abandon their local community to become a Kayayei.

A picture of me posing in our beautiful RAINS office

By Andrew Spiers (ICS Volunteer)

To read more on Kayayei, please visit: