By Mariana Chambel
Kayayei or Kaya Yeia Ghanaian term that refers to a female porter or bearer, who has usually migrated from a rural community to any of Ghana's urban cities in search of work.
They are improving local economic development. The kaya business significantly contributes to improving the standard of living of young female migrants and their families. After a heavy rain one morning, I headed to Madina market, wishing to find a group of women and girls taking a break from their duties to get the chance to interview them. Navigating the market between crowds, motorbikes, goats, and numerous kayayei (carrying big pots) I found a group of women gathered in a circle sitting on their upended pots; some eating, some feeding their babies or simply taking a rest.
Making the decision to travel
Fati comes from Wa. She is 22 years old, divorced and has one child staying with her mother back home. This day was her first day working as a Kayayei and she had found her place among other women that came from the same region.
Salamatu also comes from Wa. After arriving in the city she looked for people from her home town as a part of her ‘network’. They assisted her in finding a place to stay in Accra. She is married but has made the move to Accra alone a year ago. Salamatu came to Accra to help to support one of her siblings to stay in school, after the person who was sponsoring their education passed away.
Amina is from Tamale. She is married and her husband is in the north with their four children. She arrived four months ago and is planning to go back home by December. Amina came to the city to assist her husband in paying for their children’s education.
It is no coincidence that these three internal migrants – Fati, Salamatu and Amina –all came from regions in the north. In Ghana, there is a high level of income inequality between rural and urban areas, with a disproportionately high percentage of the poor living in rural areas. Since independence, the rural areas of Ghana have been neglected while urban areas have been developed attracting migrants from rural areas to come to Accra.
The interviews of Fati, Salamatu and Amina reveal that they have opted to migrate as a strategy to improve their livelihoods. They migrate looking to improve their employment opportunities. Fati, after arriving only five days ago, has found a place to stay. She bought a pot in the city and started her first day of work as a kayayei. She aspires to raise funds to learn hair-dressing and practice it back home. Salamatu has been settled in Accra for a longer period and is not sure when she will return to her home town as in Accra she has a job and is able to support herself, her infant and family back home. Amina is an example of someone who has entered into the informal sector to improve her family’s livelihood, by providing remittances and school items for her children, ensuring they stay in school.
Having little to no safety net, the three of them find in each other the strength to persist with their goals:
- They stick together both in housing accommodation and during daily work.
Fati and Salamatu are living together with 10 other women, most of them from the same ethnic and cultural background. Amina is also staying in the same place, even though she comes from a different region. Her reason is simple: “… because we are all kayayei”.
The three of them mention that they feel safe surrounded by women working in the same business and being inside locked doors at night. They do not fear for rape nor robbery inside their rooms – “No I am not afraid of rape because of the doors but for the money, none of the room-mates would steal money” (Fati)
- They help each other financially
Salamatu explains that their community group of seven kayayei has formed a “Susu group” (informal loan club) which aims at rotating 50 GHC (Ghana cedi) a week among the women. This collective strategy protects each one of them in case of financial need - “…should anyone have a financial problem, we would be able to help her… we would be helping each other out financially if someone becomes sick or bereaved etc.” (Salamatu). Then, she adds, on Sundays, seniors organize meetings to discuss issues related to work.
Amina reinforces the idea of companionship when she says – “If someone is really sick, we can contribute to take the person to the hospital and even contribute more money if the need arises and then transport the person back home”.
Migrant care and support
The kayayei have been identified as one of the vulnerable groups who need social interventions, including: access to free healthcare, shelter, scholarship grants for their children, and the establishment of response centres to protect their rights and to protect against gender-based violence.
Yet, according to the interviews, the government of Ghana barely supports them, nor recognizes the pathways through which the livelihoods of these young female migrants contribute to development. The kaya business has been labelled as a part of distress migration. In my opinion, this view focuses exclusively on the negative aspects of their migration. There is a gap in migration policies, research and evidence around the links between rural-urban migration and poverty reduction, as well as, in the documentation of migrants’ coping strategies.
Are kayayei vulnerable? Yes, but they're also determined, brave and resilient. Migration allows them to play important roles: in the economy, within their families, within the kayayei community and in their personal lives. They feel these opportunities would not have been available if they had stayed back at home. It is time to recognize their strength and contribution to all these different spheres, and to make policies to support them and protect their rights.
Mariana Chambel is a Migrating out of Poverty Communications Research Assistant based at the University of Ghana, Centre for Migration Studies currently working on issues related to the Migration Industry, in particular Kayayei and domestic workers.