Nafisa 19, and Fuseina 17 are sisters, both completed their Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) but could not graduate to enter the Senior High School level, not because of poor grades but the lack of funds on the part of parents.
In their quest not to idle about and expose themselves to the scourge of early marriage and sex trade in the Northern Region, these ladies journey their way to the Greater Accra Region of Ghana to seek greener pastures – as head porters.
Both sisters consider the head porterage business somewhat rewarding; “It is better than being idle,” 17-year-old Fuseina narrated.
I found these ladies during my interaction with some head porters in the Central Business District of Accra. Wanting to know how the business of head porterage is, ladies, both young and old, opened up on the monies they earn a day and what exactly they use them for.
The story of Nafisa and Fuseina stood out for me. They are one of many young ladies in the Central Business District of Accra who live on less than GH¢6 a day.
“In a day, aside from the profits or loss, I spend GH¢6. It is what I have and I need to spend it very well. I use GH¢2 in the morning, GH¢2 in the afternoon and GH¢2 in the evening,” Nafisa narrated as she wiped the sweat off her brow.
The cost of living in the Central Business District of Accra is relatively high. The capital city’s yearly inflation rate for 2019 exceeded the national average by 4.1 per cent. This means the cost of goods and services shot up by 12 per cent on average in 2019 alone.
I was curious in finding out what meal or services Nafisa and Fuseina indeed buy and seek with GH¢6. Using the 2-cedi analogy for morning, lunch and supper, they literally have had to cut down the number of times they have meals.
“Sometimes we buy Banku, no fish. That is what GH¢2 can buy for you, nothing more, and nothing less. In the morning, we use GH¢0.80 to pay to use the bathhouse. Using the restroom costs 30 pesewas per trip. So, on an unlucky day when you have a belly issue, you can spend your day’s earned money on it,” they giggled shyly.
Ghana’s welfare system is woefully inadequate with the aged and vulnerable often left to the mercies of financial inequity, cycles of poverty, unemployment and so on. The case of itinerant female load carriers is no exception as they are exposed to the threats of sexual abuse, economic deprivation and social inequality.
Aside Nafisa and Fuseina, I counted 40 other head porters who in some cases, spend less than GH¢5 on daily meals. Sheltering themselves from the blazing sun, these ladies poured out the monies they had made in a day – the summation of all 40 itinerant female load carriers was about GH¢150.
The government has expressed concern. In 2019, the Finance Minister hinted of the construction of some hostel facilities in the Central Business District of Accra to take care of the thousands of head porters who sleep under the mercy of the weather because they cannot afford to rent a decent apartment or cubicle.
"Government will construct the first 600-bed Kayaye hostel in Agbogbloshie next month (December 2019). Already, the government has abolished levies imposed on Kayayei," the Finance Minister disclosed during his presentation of the 2020 budget.
It is not the dream of any ambitious Ghanaian girl or woman to venture into the business of head porterage.
Even though hundreds of young girls and women travel long kilometres from the rural North to seek greener pastures in the capital city of Accra, Nafisa narrates how desperation to take care of hungry mouths back home leave most of these women and girls to subtle forms of exploitation and modern-day slavery.
“Aside spending on so much with just a little money, Kayaye like myself are often raped, abused and maltreated. Sometimes you carry a load for someone and they decide to pay less than the agreed amount. This is not fair,” they lamented.
But why can’t these ladies return home, especially when most of them suffer torment and social injustice? For Nafisa and Fuseina, “migrating to Accra has exposed us to various businesses like hairdressing. Going back will mean starting all over again and we can’t risk that”.