Nothing could have prepared a young woman for the tumultuous years to come in the late 1970’s Ghana, an era when every moment seemed uniquely important to the strides the country was taking away from the shadows of its pre-independence years. There were spells of uncertainty in a country that was quickly changing, and a people hungry for economic stability and social development. In the dizzying pace in search of progress, women had an incredibly significant role in society. They were the mothers and daughters standing alongside the men who stood at the forefront, while having to fight through the restrained expectations that culture placed on them.
At a very young age, Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings, whose name Konadu means “fight ‘til the end,” learned a striking truth that was to shape the rest of her life. The Asantehene (King of Ashanti) was the preeminent figure of the Ashanti and wielded tremendous influence over the destiny of the empire and his people, yet, as tradition would have it, it took a woman—the queen mother—to nurture his ascent to power.
Named after the valiant Ashanti Queen Mother, Nana Konadu Yiadom II, who ruled the Ashanti kingdom in the absence of the exiled Asantehene Nana Agyeman Prempeh I in 1896, Agyeman-Rawlings’ journey has been one with stunning subplots in a country where every man, woman, and child could find hope of a future. The lives of the women, and indeed, the men, who mentored her along the way became reminders of the urgency of service to the nation, despite the long and undefined road ahead.
It Takes a Woman retraces the early life of Agyemanâ€Rawlings who rose to prominence and served as the First Lady of the Republic of Ghana (1982-2000). She redefined the privilege of serving a nation and sought every platform to champion the causes of underserved citizenry and women. While her husband, former President Jerry John Rawlings embarked on a relentless pursuit of transforming Ghana into a model of African democracy, Agyeman-Rawlings founded the 31st December Women’s Movement, an organisation which played a pivotal role in the empowerment of women, and in addressing issues of systemic gender inequality, not only in Ghana but across the African region.
The narrative captures the family history of a spirited little girl, and as she walks us through the refreshingly detailed scenes from her childhood, we are transported to a hopeful and quintessential Ghana, where a sense of national pride resounded powerfully at the time of independence. But as she recalls Ghana’s struggles post-independence, we are also confronted face to face with her juxtaposed emotions of elation and frustration, hurt and joy, certainty and dread. She was not to know that her personal life being upended early one morning in 1979 would also become a turning point in the nation’s history and thrust her into the glare of international publicity.
Born in an era when women were overtly marginalised, Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings’ strong relationship with her father, mother and family elders formed the core of much of her formative years. Fortified by her unique family history, she was raised never to accept the notion that “there were some things she could not do, simply because she was a woman.”
Agyeman-Rawlings’ values, outlook and indeed, life itself, have been sculpted by the nurturing hands of strong female leaders in her life, from her grandmothers, her mother, to sisters and mentors. Her father stands tall as the patriarchal inspiration throughout her life whose voice echoed that of the women who encouraged her to fulfil her potential. Her journey of political activism and women’s empowerment is etched into a broader narrative of Ghana’s political history and destiny.
It Takes a Woman, written with unflinching candour, is an absorbing portrait of a life devoted to public service and shaped by heritage. Above all, it is an account of resilience. The voices of the women who stood tall will forever inspire Agyeman-Rawlings to stand for many more whose voices may not be loud enough to stand on their own.