Photo by George J. Tanber
Letter from Ghana
Radio Personality Helps Lead
Ghana’s Feminist Movement
ACCRA, Ghana – I’m sitting with Ghana’s Queen of Evening Radio and feeling pretty good about it. It took me a week to track down Nana Akosua Hanson.
We’re in her office at a French school - Alliance Francaise Accra – where she directs the culture department. It’s 5 p.m., the end of a long day. But in one hour, Akosua [pronounced A-ko-see-ya] has to leave for Y 107.9 FM, where she hosts her popular show from 7 to 10 p.m. It’s a 30-minute drive from here to the station in traffic that makes Manhattan seem like a country town.
But I’m not here to talk about either of her two jobs.
Rather, it’s her role as a leader in Ghana’s relatively infant feminist movement that piqued my interest in wanting to meet her.
First question: “What are you?”
Akosua: “I’m an artist first, mainly a writer and a poet.”
Her answer does not surprise. During my research I saw that she has published a number of short stories, as well as a graphic novel series, one of which – “Moongirls” – was highly acclaimed for promoting diversity in a culture that is anything but. It’s Akosua’s artistry that, in part, defines her role as a feminist.
I table that discussion for now and ask how she got to this point at such a young age – 32. Akosua responds with some quick background.
She grew up in Accra, the capital, in what she says was a middle-class home. Her father is a banker, her mother a pharmacist. She has a younger brother and seven older step-siblings from her father's relationships with two other women.
In high school, Akosua demonstrated her leadership skills as she headed a club that assisted people with disabilities. In 2011, upon graduation from college, where she studied philosophy and theater, she intended to become an actor but took a job at another radio station to support herself. She began as a news editor and later became a producer. By 2015 she had moved to her current station, where she hosted her first show from 6 to 9 a.m.
Move toward activism
Ever ambitious, Akosua took advantage of her free time after work. She pursued a master’s degree, focusing on African philosophical thought and culture. Her studies delved into topics such as sex education, the rape culture and domestic abuse – tweaking her activist calling.
A high-profile case in early 2015 involving the country’s No. 1 media star, Kwasi Kyei Darkwah, and the alleged rape of a 19-year-old woman got Akosua’s attention as she had had her own, non-sexual encounter with the man earlier in her career. The case was dismissed after the woman, named by the media, declined to press charges and left the country.
“That really pissed me off,” Akosua says.
In 2016, she was awarded a Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. She travelled with 20 other Africans to the University of Illinois campus for a series of seminars and workshops, one of which was attended by former President Obama.
“I came back radicalized to some extent,” she says. “Also, before then I was just on the media side of things. There, I learned how to organize.”
By then she had narrowed her focus to sexual consent and the rape culture which, in her view, was closely connected to the lack of discussion about sex in Ghanaian homes.
“I never had any sex education,” she says. “All I was told was to stay away from boys and watch out for HIV.”
Motivated to act, Akosua in 2016 founded Drama Queens, which through theater, filmmaking, social media and the graphic novels mentioned earlier cover an impressive range of diversity and sexual themes.
Drama Queens sparked another idea. Akosua; her brother George Hanson; and a friend, writer and poet Apiorkor Seyarim Ashong-Abbey, created a series of workshops called Let’s Talk Consent. It took some persuasion on the part of Akosua, but eventually high school and university administrators welcomed Let’s Talk into their classrooms.
Long days and nights
As Akosua is talking I marvel at her energy. She’s a petite woman but her large personality fills the room. I had seen photos of her fully made up, which are striking. Today she wears little makeup, a man’s styled, short-sleeved dress shirt, fully open, with a black tee shirt underneath. Her braided hair is down. The casual look suits her better. She’s warm and friendly and displays not a trace of self-importance though she is an important figure.
I ask how she handles so many responsibilities.
“I’ve always been a multi-task person. It’s just how I operate.
Anyway, in Ghana, you can’t just have one job because the pay is so little. And I have a mortgage to pay.”
She lives alone in an apartment where at night, after a brutally long day, she’ll have a glass of wine, a small supper – “I’m not a big eater” – and listen to her favorite music.
Our discussion pivots to her successes.
“Well, I was the first to bring the topic of consent into the public light,” she says, noting that other advocates, such as film producers and writers, have since joined the campaign.
“It’s out there now,” says Akosua. “You can’t be on Twitter or other social media and not see it.”
She’s seen first-hand the change in attitudes. She tells the story of two male friends from her party days who used to post chauvinistic banter on Twitter.
“Today, they wouldn’t dare post anything like that. It’s as if they are different people. I feel like we are a part of that change.”
She also credits her group’s artistic activism on subjects ranging from feminism, the LBGT community, Pan Africanism and the environment for also changing attitudes in a culture long resistant to change.
“We’re the first ones in Accra to do this that I know of,” she says.
I ask how her parents feel about her success. She laughs. It’s a wonderful, engaging laugh.
“Well, my father wanted me to be an attorney. I think I became something better. When his friends tell him that they’ve seen me on TV, I know he’s proud. As for my mother, her biggest issue is marriage. She’s always asking: ‘What’s happening?’”
I wonder about her two main spheres – the activism and the radio show – and how she differentiates between the two.
She explains: “You do the heavy work with the activism. That’s important. The radio is fun - light talk, hip hop, a question of the day, nothing controversial.”
Yet Akosua admits that her radio persona pulls some listeners into her other world.
“I think if people have fun with you and are light with you then they will come with you to the other things.”
Our time is up. Akosua’s radio fans await. I snap a few pictures. And she’s gone.
Editor’s note: Sixth in a series of articles from a reporting trip to Ghana Sept. 15-22, 2022
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