Kayayei: All You Must Know About Female Porters in Ghana


The issue of Kayayei is not new to majority of Ghanaians, but there’s still a lot to know about the menial business…

Kayayei is the general local word for porters in Ghana, especially the females among them. The word was derived from two different words – ‘Kaya’ which means goods/luggage/load/burden in the Hausa language, and ‘Yei’ which means females or women in the Ga language.

To explain further on the etymology of the word; Kayayei is actually the plural form of ‘Kayayoo’. This simply means that ‘Yoo’ in Ga is a woman or female while ‘Yei’ are women or females. Kaya alone, is also used to refer to the use of manual labour to convey goods (usually agricultural produce) to and from market places.

Most often than not, the porters bear the loads on their heads using large basins, the reason why they are commonly called “Head Porters”.

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Talking about loads, it’s not just any little or manageable goods; but LOADS INDEED!

These porters usually come from hinterlands and rural communities, to search for menial work in the more developed towns and cities of the country. Statistics however, reveal that most of them are natives of the three northern regions of Ghana – Upper East, Upper West and Norther Region.

Kayayei – A Social Menace in Ghana

The striking and pathetic part of this kayayei business is that majority of the women are of child bearing age and often have their [malnourished] babies strapped to their backs with wrappers and exposed to any sort of weather prevailing on each of the days, while they do the ‘heavy-load-tour’ to and fro wherever their destinations may be! Also, the income of these “human donkeys” are so minimal that it is never worth the toil and sweat.

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The increasing numbers and massive influx of these women and teenage girls into big cities like Kumasi and Accra has also become a cause of serious worry as to the kind of foundation and future they are preparing for themselves.

It was once revealed through an interview by Daily Graphic, that some of these kayayei are school dropouts, debtors, victims of extreme poverty and unemployment, as well as young females who had escaped bizarre socio-cultural practices such as forced marriages, initiation rites and female genital mutilation.

Moreover, they usually operate on poor hygiene and very low living standards that are generally pose a threat to their health. Since majority of them do not afford decent homes, with many living on the streets, they are also exposed to all forms of hazards and social abuse.

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This business is therefore deemed unacceptable; especially as it concerns the well-being of women, children and families in general.

What has been done so far to curb Kayayei

The menace of Kayayei has been condemned by various governments in Ghana. While some of them made moves towards minimizing or eradicating this issue of concern, some others did close to nothing about it.

The Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) which was established under the John Mahama administration would have gone a long way to alleviate the sufferings of the porters, but it ended up amounting to nothing but a scandal.

However, some Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have made significant moves towards bettering the lives of head porters in the country. Marie Stopes International (MSI) who got the support of USAID, is recognized among them.