“I hadn’t used contraception before Marie Stopes. I said to myself this will change my life, and it has.”
Gifty is 37 years old and has three children. For the last nine years, she has been working as a market porter – carrying heavy goods to and from markets in Ghana’s capital, Accra.
Originally from northern Ghana, Gifty was studying catering at the local college when she fell pregnant with her first child.
“When I was living up north, I didn’t hear much about contraception. The first pregnancy spoiled my schooling. My father had just died and nobody could help me.”
Unable to support herself, Gifty turned to an uncle for help. “He said that he’d take care of me, to help me get back to school, but he was lying. He was pushing me into marrying an older man. Every day I was forced to have sex with the man, and so I got pregnant again and I ran away to Accra.”
There are around 50,000 porters, known locally as ‘kayayei’, working in greater Accra. The vast majority are women and girls, some as young as 10 years old, who have fled to the city to escape the poverty and hardship of their hometowns and villages. Sadly, they often find themselves isolated, homeless, and in an even more desperate situation than the one they’ve left.
“Working as a kayayei is hard. Sometimes we go home with no work or money, and if you’ve got to eat it’s a problem. Sometimes the women are raped and if you fall pregnant, what are you going to do?”
Gifty has family in Accra but, with their own problems, they were unable to help or support her. So, with no qualifications and two young children to feed, she started work as a kayayei.
“Working as a kayayei is hard. We don’t get enough work. Sometimes we go home with no work or money, and if you’ve got to eat it’s a problem. Sometimes the women are raped and if you fall pregnant and don’t marry them, what are you going to do?”
The meagre and unpredictable income of the kayayei means that many women sleep on the street, where they are vulnerable to sexual abuse. Tragically, but not unexpectedly, some women resort to unsafe abortions. The director of the Kayayei Association knows of 25 kayayei who died from unsafe abortions between January and June 2016.
Gifty was lucky enough to hear about Marie Stopes International and learn about family planning while pregnant with her youngest child.
“I found out about the service through the Kayayei Association. I hadn’t used contraception before Marie Stopes. Since moving to Accra, I’d heard about it through the TV and radio, but I’d never used it. I said to myself this will change my life, and it has.”
Gifty had a five-year implant fitted and is happy about the security it gives her. “Family planning is good – I can live my life without pregnancy. I don’t want to give birth again as I don’t have good work.”
“Family planning is good – I can live my life without pregnancy. I don’t want to give birth again as I don’t have good work.”
Marie Stopes Ghana is working in partnership with local HIV and AIDS organisations, women’s support groups and the police to provide family planning and reproductive health support to kayayei women and girls of all ages.
Through discussion groups, film shows and health clinics, we are empowering women like Gifty with the right to choose whether and when they have children.