Kayayei Women of Accra

January 30, 2013 at 12:24 pm

I’m sure I’m not alone in finding images tucked away in the depths of hard drives. These scans of negatives seem hidden away, awaiting editing and post production. The longer they stay there the further away from your mind they seem to get, which is frustrating, especially if you haven’t got the luxury of an assistant making sure you don’t completely forget about these forgotten shoots.

This is one such image that I stumbled upon this morning, taken on my first trip to Accra in 2011. I’d been shooting a commission for an American University who wanted stills and video footage of one of their nursing students who had spent a year in Ghana as part of her nursing degree. The student, Rachel Rose, had been doing some remarkable work with the Kayayei women of Accra and had obviously developed a real commitment to their cause. The women come from all over Ghana, sometimes to escape outdated social practices such as enforced marriages or genital mutilation and seek refuge in Accra. These women often struggle though and usually end up as Kayayei traders selling anything and everything from the basin which they carry everywhere on their heads. They earn very little and have no permanent home, often sleeping curled up in their basin or simply on the floor. Sleeping in the open markets at night is a dangerous place for women, with the threat of theft, physical attacks and rape. Rachel set up the Kayayei Association to enable them to have access to health care and education for their children. The association also empowers the women through vocational training and this has had such an effect that some women have been able to leave their former lives of prostitution and return to their village.

This portrait was taken on a wet Sunday afternoon in Accra, the Kayayei women gather on their only day off to talk, sing and sometimes dance whilst they wash and cook with each other. It was very touching to spend some time with them, the women have such great spirit and determination despite their daily struggle to survive and provide for themselves and their children.