The Porter (or ‘Paopa’, as they are referred to in the Kumasi area) women and girls of Ghana will be embarking on a long-term project with Arcadia University’s International Peace & Conflict Resolution program to achieve a successful transition from porters for hire to progressing professionals in occupations of their choosing (including cosmetology, sewing/seamstress, and so on — as the women themselves requested). These women and girls migrate from the Saharan northern regions to the south for work in the marketplaces of densely populated cities, like Kumasi and Accra. In Kumasi, many of the women, girls, and their children then reside in the areas of Aboabo and Zongo. Those who can afford residency are renting poorly ventilated rooms for 5 cedis per person, per week with at least 40 people sharing the space. These uncomfortably close quarters jeopardize their health and safety, especially in the age of COVID-19.
Other women sleep on the streets in the central market area where they work throughout the day for hire, transporting goods from one place to another to whoever may require it (for a fee). Those who have to sleep outside are left vulnerable to robbery and rape, which can result in pregnancy and further complicate their lives by adding trauma and more responsibilities to maintain while the circumstances of insecurity remain constant.
Furthermore, some of the women who later return to their husbands pregnant and are forced to confront the challenge that may bring to their marriages, creating more instability and responsibilities in their lives. It has also been reported that the Porter women and girls give birth to these children without proper healthcare coverage and have undocumented deliveries, thus also leaving them vulnerable to the theft of their children by the midwives who give them away, unofficially.
Upon visiting the Porter women and girls in Kumasi between 28 September and 9 October of 2021, their community disclosed to the IPCR representatives that improving the circumstances of their lives lay primarily in educational advancement — for both themselves and their children —and childcare. While they face many additional challenges that affect their livelihood and well-being, including their housing issue, a significant key to their advancement in the community is education. With education, they will be able to learn the vocational skills that they seek to make more money and increase their personal agency to obtain financial stability.
The community of the Porter women and girls will develop the skills to pursue more sustainable career opportunities, providing greater income and thus financial security for improved shelter, residency, medical coverage, and other standard needs for human security with the university’s help.
LaTaè Johnson is a 2021 graduate of Arcadia University’s International Peace & Conflict Resolution master’s program. Her natural inclination for inquisition has guided her to follow her every curiosity. Although this impulse was not always embraced in the high school setting, by the undergraduate and graduate periods of her education, she was been able to harness and rein in on this strength while studying the intersectional disciplines of international and peace studies that welcomed that curiosity and willfulness to analyze the interconnectivity of everything
-- often especially relating to identity, culture, and politics. The discipline and determination that blossomed through those formative years resulted in studying abroad, a year-long internship at the Foreign Policy Research Institute of Philadelphia, the creation of a documentary series The Local-Global History of Philadelphia which focuses on representation for immigrant groups in Philadelphia and aims to connect local and global community, and gaining experience in political organizing. Post-grad, LaTaé currently finds herself a high school teacher by day during the fall and winter, but a journalist by night -- year-round! Both of which satisfy her undying attachment to incessant learning and analysis.