This is the second post in the "Imagine a world …" series from Marie Stopes International.
In Ghana, where I was born and where I have the privilege of working every day, we see a bright future for the women of this country. But the reason I am working here is because that future is still some way off for a huge proportion of the women of Ghana. Today, though, I wanted to tell a story of hope and empowerment from our capital, Accra.
For some women here, choices about reproductive health are something they take for granted. Like most women in the US and Europe, if they are affluent, if they have had an education, they can make choices about contraception that allow them to plan their lives, dream of a future full of possibilities and be in control of those decisions.
But other women in Ghana--indeed most--are not able to do this, and organizations like ours exist to serve them. We do imagine a world where every woman is equal: our mission is to help them imagine a Ghana where every woman has these choices, no matter what her economic status, education or family background. So, with our partners, we work hard to give more women equal access to contraception and sexual and reproductive health services, right here, with our own countrywomen.
One of the most desperate groups are the “head-carriers”, popularly known here as Kayayei. These Kayayei - girls from the poorest families in the north of the country - move to the south to become ‘porters’ for wealthy families and merchants. Most have limited education, no marketable employment skills, and so end up carrying goods in the markets and trading hubs of Accra, for 12 hours and more a day.
These girls often sleep in groups outside shop fronts and inside the markets. They have to pay for the space they sleep in however, if they are unable to pay, sex is often used as a form of payment. It is hard to describe how desperate the lives of these young women can become. These women can become chattel, with no way of negotiating with their employers. These vulnerable young women, perhaps inevitably, can end up pregnant – and with sexually transmitted infections such as HIV.
But with the Vice-President of Ghana and the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, we are daring to imagine a world where these women – and the 80% of the rest of the women in the country who do not have access to contraception – will have the same chances in life as their more fortunate sisters. Every day, we go out to serve these young women: to educate them, and to counsel them, to increase access. A mobile service delivery team provides services within the marketplaces. And once a month, our own outreach team - a midwife and a nurse aid - visits the markets to offer Kayayei women counselling and a choice of high quality, family planning services. In this way, we support them in making their own choices about their reproductive health, and imagine a world where they can continue their education, and perhaps start a family. A future as a woman with choices, away from the marketplace.
I began this post by saying that the future is bright for the women of Ghana, and it truly is. We are a young, vibrant country with much potential. But even so, that future is not currently available to everyone. I hope that as we look to the London Summit on Family Planning, the women of our country who don’t have equal access to counseling and family planning will be top-of-mind for our leaders gathered there. And here in Ghana… we’ll continue to imagine, and believe.
Do you believe every girl and woman should have the opportunity to determine her own future? Spread the word that contraception is not controversial. Take the pledge, share your own story, and ask your online communities to do the same!