WomenStrong International is an organization of bold women, from the brave girls in our Girls’ Clubs in Ghana, Haiti, India, and Kenya, to the women who face challenges each day, as they work to lift themselves out of extreme urban poverty. So the theme for International Women’s Day 2017 is one we can relate to — #BeBoldforChange. It would be hard to find a bolder, more dedicated, more innovative and passionate group of women than the Project Directors who run WomenStrong programs in our five Consortium member sites.
In honor of Women’s Day this year, we celebrate these bold women with a series of short profiles. We hope you find their stories as inspiring as we do and that these stories encourage you, too, to #BeBoldforChange.
Meet Abenaa Akuamoa-Boateng
Born in Kumasi and raised in Accra, Ghana, Mme. Abenaa Akuamoa-Boateng, the Founder and Executive Director of Women’s Health to Wealth, is a courageous advocate and leader for the health and development of the Ghanaian people, especially women and girls. Akuamoa-Boateng grew up in a household of discipline, determination, and love. Sending their children to the best private schools they could afford, her parents strongly emphasized the importance of education, dedication, and hard work. The phrase “I can’t” was not entertained in her household, Mme. Akuamoa-Boateng recalls, and any sign of slacking off or not being the best they could be was met with strong disapproval and loss of privileges, such as playing with friends. But Akuamoa-Boateng and her siblings understood that their parents’ discipline came from a place of love, and from a desire for her and her siblings to live better lives than their parents.
“The kind of discipline we had made me a better person,” Akuamoa-Boateng says. “I see it paying off in so many ways in my adult life. When I set a target, I make sure I achieve it. I’m able to do what I’ve been doing because of that training I had.”
This determination and drive enabled her to tackle tough issues that many thought were intractable, such as maternal and child health and nutrition in Ghana. On the first day of her first posting at the Child Welfare Center in Kumasi in 1985, Akuamoa-Boateng broke into tears at the sight of 20-30 malnourished babies with their bloated bellies and tiny legs. These children had Kwashiorkor, a type of malnourishment arising from a lack of protein in the diet. Their mothers, who had survived on leftover crops not good enough to sell, were not much better off. Every day, two to three of these babies died, and more and more malnourished children would replace them. With two children of her own under the age of three at the time, Akuamoa-Boateng could not allow her people to suffer any longer.
“This cannot continue,” she remembers telling herself. “I come from this region, so it hit me very hard. If I hadn’t had education, access to a good job, and married a man who could also work, this would have been my lot.” Akuamoa-Boateng harnessed her unstoppable discipline and determination and brought her case to the regional government. She showed the government official pictures of the dying children at the Welfare Center, just three miles down the road from their offices. After overcoming his disbelief that this could be happening in his city, one government official agreed to support Akuamoa-Boateng in finding solutions to this challenge.
Since that first day at the Child Welfare Center, Akuamoa-Boateng has traveled the world, learning, and sharing best practices about public health. But she says malnutrition is far more than a matter of health. It is the result of women’s inadequate education and inability to access jobs that pay a living wage. Ending malnutrition requires development efforts that allow women to address the interwoven factors that keep them in poverty. Akuamoa-Boateng took the development challenge to the United Nations Millennium Project Task Force on Hunger, Columbia University’s Millennium Villages Project and Millennium Cities Initiative (MCI), where she told former MCI/now WomenStrong Director Susan Blaustein, “I want to see what I can do to address some of the challenges that I see. People want to just look at one angle, but that can’t address the hydra-headed problem. Don’t think that you can just take one piece to solve the rest of the problems.”
And that’s how Women’s Health to Wealth was born. The organization she founded in Kumasi, Ghana, does just that — it focuses on a comprehensive approach to development, namely on improving the health, education, and wealth of women. “Women are the key to development, yet no one will give money to a sick, uneducated woman. It is only when a woman is healthy and has education–that’s when the doors for wealth open.”
It’s bold women such as Abenaa Akuamoa-Boateng, raised with loving discipline and determination, women who feel a great love for their people and country, who hold the key to women’s development, sustainable human development, and, someday, to ending global poverty.