Kayayo Girls of Ghana

Photographs by Veronique de Viguerie

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This feature was shot in August 2010. A full edit of 53 images available on request. The following text is available with the images. A separate dedicated article by journalist Manon Querouil also available from the journalist on request.

A social problem which faces Ghana and its intended development is that of the 'market-carrier', the Kayayo. The Kayayei (plural) are Ghana's 'market girls' who find themselves moving from the North, where sustenance is hard to come by, to Ghana's capital Accra to work. Most of the Kayayo girls find themselves in Accra as a last resort, in order to sustain the most basic of livings.

To the market sellers, these women prove to be a vital asset, but the reality seems to be that they have become extremely vulnerable to pickpockets, armed robbers and kidnappers. Despite the inherent danger of these markets, they become a sort of respite for the Kayayei who use the markets as shelter for their night's sleep.

Sadly, the fact of the matter is that these women have little option but to stay. The tribal conflicts and wars in the country, as well as the meagre standard of living in their hometowns mean that the markets are the only feasible option if they are to sustain themselves and their families, and at least it provides some solace from the threat of death from militias in the North. Moreover, they fear the hostility and rejection they face if they were to return to their homes after leaving to work in the city.

The jobs which these porters partake can be carrying a traveller's luggage or someone's shopping. In most instances, the women carry more than their own weight, on their heads. There are male Kayayei that work mainly in construction. For many of these Kayayei, the journey to the south signals a sort of affirmation of adulthood, a rite of passage, a transition between tradition and 'modernity'. In some ways, the Kayayo culture is spurred on by a sense of rebellion.

Some see the Kayayo culture to be merely a necessity, as their family dynamics dictate that they are all required to sustain one another, and the North is more often than not an unsuitable environment. You will notice this reaffirmed by the Kayayei's choice to migrate mainly between farming seasons.

It befalls the Ghanaian government to act on this situation. Many citizens feel that the Kayayo issue is one that stands in the way of their progression, and lobby government to act on the situation. These people hope that with the help of government aid and funding, the current status in the northern regions can improve, quashing any further conflict and subsidizing farming so that these often young boys and girls can live and work without fear of abuse and death, and further belittling the desire to move south to seek seemingly-appealing opportunities in the city's markets.