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Day 11 of 16: An insufficient response to violence against female migrants in Accra, Ghana

by Samantha R. Lattof, AWC Berlin member

Why was she beaten? Did she steal something?” asked the triage nurse as we arrived in the Accident Centre. I was well aware of the stigma and insults that female kayayei migrants experience in Accra; it was a common theme that arose in the interviews we conducted. But I was shocked to witness such behavior at one of the largest health facilities in Ghana when a badly beaten, unconscious woman required urgent medical attention.

My research involves girls and women from northern Ghana who move south to Accra, where they work in markets as female head porters (kayayei) who are hired to carry loads. I conducted a study through the Kayayei Youth Association (KYA) office with the assistance of seven data collectors who identified as kayayei. Violence against women came up daily in our work. Violence against women is both a driver of migration among this population as well as a consequence of their migration to Accra.

One afternoon just before 4pm, a group of distraught women ran to the KYA office to report that their friend “Taani” (not her real name) had been beaten unconscious in the market. Several men beat Taani while her baby was tied to her back. The friends had been able to rescue Taani’s baby, but no one stepped in to stop the attack. Her body was left in the mud, and a large crowd had formed. The responding police officer left her outside on the ground. He did not call an ambulance or attempt to provide any assistance. No one was arrested.

The KYA team rushed to the market and into the crowd to locate the young woman. With the help of two men, we got Taani to the roadside. As a white researcher from the UK, I recognize that I have a certain amount of privilege in Ghana. One of the ways that privilege manifests is that taxi drivers will almost always stop for me when I flag them down. On this occasion, no one would stop. Empty taxis kept passing us by when they saw Taani. Finally, a group of men stopped a taxi to take us to the hospital ten minutes away.

Accessing healthcare in Ghana can be “pay to play,” even in emergencies, with care provided after payment for the services. The triage nurse had quickly picked up on the fact that Taani was a poor kayayoo migrant from the north when she suspected that Taani was a thief. Before the physician would see Taani, we had to pay for a folder. For her to have a bed, we had to buy an old bed sheet. Before they would consider giving her an x-ray, the Matron made us walk to the x-ray building to pay. When Taani needed medicines, we had to walk to the pharmacy building to purchase them. In order to transport Taani to the x-ray building, we had to arrange for her own ambulance transportation. To stay focused, I started scribbling down notes on the only paper I had in my bag—the backs of several “Report Abuse” flyers. The expenses added up quickly and cost more money than many kayayei make in a month. It would take over four hours before the physician assessed Taani’s x-rays for injuries to her skull, chest, spine, and foot.

As we waited at the hospital, we learned of additional details about the assault. While carrying a heavy load on her head, Taani accidentally bumped into another woman in the market. Taani apologized, but the woman was outraged. The woman orchestrated the beating that was delivered by her three male family members. No one who witnessed the attack stepped in to stop it. A source said that local authorities were hiding so as not to get involved. Later, we were told that the responding police officer did not appear at the hospital to take her statement because he assumed that Taani was dead. As a kayayoo, she was treated as if she was worthless.

The director of the KYA called Ghana’s Domestic Violence & Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) to report the attack. The office reported that its four staff members were currently outside of Accra and would not come to the hospital. We stayed at the hospital until Taani’s condition stabilized and her brothers arrived. It was a relief to know that she was not alone in Accra. Weeks later, when Taani was better, she came by the KYA office before returning to the north. The entire team breathed a sigh of relief to see her alive and her condition much improved.

Many participants in this study shared their stories because they hoped that sharing them would lead to change, and it is in that spirit that I write about this incident. But while I hope for change, Taani’s beating leaves more questions than answers. Despite a joint-initiative publicizing the importance of reporting abuse to the police and DOVVSU, the police and DOVVSU failed to mount appropriate responses in this situation. Why did the responding police officer not seek urgent medical attention for Taani? Why did DOVVSU not have back-up staff in Accra who could have responded? Why was emergency medical care withheld until after we paid for Taani’s treatments?

Taani survived this assault, but changes are needed to ensure that violence against women and girls in Ghana is properly addressed. Do organizations and donors working on gender-based violence have a responsibility to ensure a program’s sustainability continues beyond the project/funding’s end date? How ethical is it for a program to encourage kayayei to report abuse when the systems in place ignore or overlook this violence? That said, without the “Report Abuse” program and its flyers that we disseminated during this study, Taani’s friends might not have returned to the KYA office that Thursday afternoon. Although the police and DOVVSU’s responses were insufficient, Taani’s friends ultimately found people ready to advocate on her behalf and to support her through this ordeal.


1. Learn more about Ghana’s kayayei phenomenon by watching:
“Carrying the Load: Kayayei in Ghana”
“Kayayei: Young Mothers Surviving The Open Skies And Dark Streets”
“Empowering Kayayei – Ghana’s Market Women Take Control”

2. Learn more about approaches for the protection and empowerment of women migrant workers by reading:
“Working to Prevent and Address Violence Against Women Migrant
by the International Organization for Migration

The AWC Berlin participates in the 16-Day-Campaign against Gender-Based-Violence.  Each day, we highlight an aspect of GBV to raise awareness and call on our membership to take one small action to fight against violence against women.

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