Feminism and Freedom in Ghana: The Ms. Q&A With Nana Akosua Hanson

Akosua Hanson said she is a “deep believer in the power of pop culture as a transforming tool.” (Courtesy of Nana Akosua Hanson)

I traveled to Ghana, West Africa, in March for a global leadership summit hosted by Northeastern University, where I work. While I had been to Accra multiple times, this was my first time being there during International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. The timing had me thinking about how feminists are advancing gender justice in Ghana today.

I spoke with Nana Akosua Hanson, feminist activist, journalist and founder of Let’s Talk Consent to learn more about her vision for a feminist future, the importance of art and media, and her activism that is based in Ghana—but is having a truly global impact.

Taken together, Nana Akosua’s comments reminds us that feminism is ultimately, an expansive and inclusive freedom project. Indeed, the idea of feminism as a freedom project is not to be taken lightly in the context of Ghana—which, in 1957 became the first Black African country to gain independence from British colonial rule. The work of building a feminist future that is more just and most invested in communal care is slow and important work that requires multiple approaches. From her local organizing, use of contemporary art and media presence, Nana Akosua Hanson is leading the way to advance feminism and freedom in Ghana.

Régine Michelle Jean-Charles: Tell us more about yourself and the feminist work you are engaged in.

Nana Akosua Hanson: I’m an African feminist who believes deeply in the power of art and artistic expression in changing the world. My feminist work has largely been centered on pan-African, feminist and environmental activism.

In 2016, I launched a sex ed workshop in Accra, dubbed “Let’s Talk Consent,” which sought to end an endemic rape culture by introducing a sex-ed curriculum for students and adults centered in gender and building a resilient consent culture. This later evolved to become Drama Queens, a youth-based artistic activist organization that aimed to use theatre and other art forms for feminist, pan-African and environmentalist activism.

I’m a deep believer in the power of pop culture as a transforming tool. Thus, in my work as a television and radio presenter, I aim to bring an African feminist perspective to the mainstream with news, commentary and analysis of popular culture and social issues.

I am also the creator of the award-winning graphic novel series, Moongirls, which follows the adventures of four women superheroes fighting for an Africa free from the violence of patriarchal systems, rape culture, corruption, environmental destruction, neo-colonialism, etc. Moongirls was created to contribute to creating a more diverse palette of pop culture that people consume. 

Founded in 2016 by Nana Akosua Hanson, Drama Queens is a young feminist organization working to create a culture of consent in Ghana. (Courtesy of Drama Queens)

Jean-Charles: I really love this campaign to initiate conversations about consent, which also reminds me of the work of A Long Walk Home, whose “Got Consent?” campaign similarly helped to reframe how we think about sexual violence by urging us to focus on power and consent and underscored sexual violence as a feminist issue.

Can you tell us more about your own feminist evolution/awakening/coming into consciousness?

Akosua Hanson: I think my earliest memory of a sort of feminist coming-into-consciousness was in the literature of African feminist icon and Ghanaian literary legend, Prof. Ama Ata Aidoo. The literature of Ama Ata Aidoo—who was a poet, playwright, novelist and feminist activist—raised my consciousness to finding freedom, defining it for myself and living courageously in my freedom, in spite of a violent and patriarchal society that dictated otherwise.

When I entered adulthood, particularly the workforce, the harsh realities of an endemic system of violent patriarchy really hit home. My freedom is hinged on the freedom of all women in society. Sexual violence became the very first feminist issue that pulled me to start my activism and to use my art to push cultural change.

When I entered adulthood, particularly the workforce, the harsh realities of an endemic system of violent patriarchy really hit home.

Jean-Charles: In your work as a journalist, you have steadfastly taken on topics related to gender justice—from gender-based violence to the pay gap for women.

How do you think media and journalism help to advance feminist causes?

Akosua Hanson: Media and journalism are avenues by which feminist causes can be mainstreamed, brought into the public arena to raise awareness, to bring up for public discourse, to push for change, and to envision freer societies as a collective.

The media is a crucial public forum by which society views itself, examines itself, discusses itself. We must have diverse voices in the public arena to ensure a truly democratic and free society. And those voices must include women’s voices in the diversity of our stories. It is through the media the social invisibilization of women in the public and private arenas takes place.

So it is important to me to claim space in my journalism, on radio and on TV to advance feminist causes and stem the tide of the public erasure of women’s stories and realities, to draw public attention to violence against women, to serve as a fact-checker in a misogyny-biased arena, and to challenge sexist ideology which is mainstreamed in Ghanaian media. Most importantly, media and journalism can be used to push for social reform.

Jean-Charles: According to one newspaper, you are among the women “leading a feminist revolution in Ghana.” What does this mean to you?

Akosua Hanson: Frankly, it’s a big title I can’t claim. The work I do is as part of a movement of African feminists and artistic activists all over the African continent and in the diaspora. But I do recognize this as a sign that the impact of the movement in Ghana is being felt. This gives me hope that the dream of a Ghana with better, freer, kinder societies will come to reality.

Jean-Charles: How did you spend your International Women’s Day?

Akosua Hanson: On IWD day, I was co-organizing the launch of the Women in Motion Film Festival, a joint initiative between Alliance Française Accra, the Goethe-Institut Accra, and the U.S. embassy in Accra that sought to celebrate film made by, for and about women as part of the International Women’s Day festival. This was a week-long festival held in different locations in Accra and featured a diverse range of films from Ghana, France and Germany, from narrative films, documentaries, short films, animation, avant-garde, to experimental film. It was a success!

Public discourse around gender and sexuality has been framed by religious leaders who preach a religious patriarchy where women’s existence is hinged on men, and LGBT+ people are dehumanized.

People take part in the Women’s March in front of the U.S. embassy in Accra on Jan. 21, 2017. Protest rallies were held in over 30 countries around the world in solidarity with the U.S. march in defense of press freedom, women’s and human rights following the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of U.S. (Cristina Aldehuela / AFP via Getty Images)

Jean-Charles: In your view, what are the most pressing issues facing feminists in Ghana?

Akosua Hanson: The rising viciousness of Ghanaian homophobia, headlined by the anti-LGBT+ bill currently in consideration in parliament, is a pressing feminist issue.

Ghana has always been a very religious country—Christianity being the largest religion, with 71.3 percent of the population being a member of various Christian denominations. This has meant that public discourse around gender and sexuality has been framed by religious leaders who preach a religious patriarchy where women’s existence is hinged on men, and LGBT+ people are dehumanized.

The insidiousness of this, coupled with a growing hunger of religious leaders to infiltrate the political and legislative space, has culminated in the introduction of an anti-LGBT bill to parliament, which seeks to criminalize LGBT+ existence and all forms of advocacy for the rights and dignity of Ghanaian LGBT+ persons. Pushed by the same anti-LGBT forces with links to far-right U.S. evangelical movements, we see a similar moves in countries like Kenya and Uganda. Uganda’s parliament has just passed a similar bill criminalizing LGBT+ existence and even imposing [the] death penalty for some offenses.

Ghana’s bill would criminalize even sympathy and proposes potentially a range of human rights violations that, if passed, would institute state-sanctioned violence and terrorism against the LGBT+ community in all spheres of life.

This is a very urgent feminist issue on all levels which requires a critical engagement with discourses of religion, culture and tradition in Ghana.

Jean-Charles: In light of what we have seen [with] the increase of U.S. tourism to Ghana and some of the problems that accompany it, how can Black feminists from other parts of the world practice solidarity in ethical and meaningful ways with feminists, women, girls and nonbinary people in Ghana?

Akosua Hanson: By moving from the fluff and superficial, to having real conversations with each other, connecting our shared struggles and increasing the spheres of our activism.

For instance, the issue of the anti-LGBT+ bill in Ghana is connected to global religious movements and Black feminist solidarity in the face of this is even more crucial. Solidarity also looks like fostering and sustaining strong collaborations and building together freer, kinder systems. However, to do this ethically and meaningfully, this has to be in the spirit of mutual respect with honest and open discussion of difference and similarity; of care and mutual support.

Attendess of the Northeastern Global Leadership Summit at the Kempinski Hotel in Accra, Ghana. (Alyssa Stone / Northeastern University)

Jean-Charles: Please share more about some of your current projects and where you see your work going in the future. 

Akosua Hanson: Moongirls is my latest creative project. This is an adult graphic novel series that follows the adventures of four women superheroes with varying superpowers who are fighting a philosophical and physical war for an Africa free from the violence of patriarchy, religious intolerance, corruption and environmental destruction. This year, we launched the third season of Moongirls. We’re calling this the Moongirls Origin Stories and it delves deep into pre-colonial African societies and African folklore and mythology. Read all chapters at moongirls.live and drop us a word in the “Chapter Afterthoughts” section!

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.


Régine Jean-Charles (@reineayiti) is professor of Africana studies and women, gender and sexuality studies at Northeastern University. She is the author of Conflict Bodies: The Politics of Rape Representation in the Francophone Imaginary and A Trumpet of Conscience for the 21st Century: King's Call to Justice.