For the majority of West Africa’s women, home ownership is something that happens after they marry. A single woman renting an apartment to live alone is rare, a single woman trying to build a home or buy one is even rarer. First off there are financial barriers to home ownership; what bank is going to loan a single woman money to build or grant her a mortgage? Secondly there are the socio-cultural implications. We are told that a single independent woman will scare away prospects of finding a husband if she has a house. What African man will want to marry a woman and live in the house that she built all on her own?
So while our single sisters in the US represent 18% of homeowners as compared with just 10% of single men, single women in West Africa are relying on marriage to facilitate homeownership, or in many cases a sugar daddy to fund one. One woman that is not waiting for marriage or any man to provide her with a home is Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, a 35-year-old writer in Ghana. We met her at a construction site in Tema, an hour’s drive from the capital city of Accra. There Nana has not only secured the land and laid the foundation for her townhouse, she was standing in not a Master but “Mistress” Bedroom (Yes Mistress Bedroom! That’s what she had written on the blueprint).
Nana is best known for her writings on feminism in Africa and sexuality. Her blog; Adventures from the Bedroom of African Women, encourages women in Africa to discuss sex openly. There are not many women here in Ghana who would dare to take on some of what Nana has attempted and accomplished. She holds a Masters Degree in Gender and Development from the London School of Economics, a Bachelor of Science in Communications and Cultural Studies from the London Metropolitan University. She is co-founder of the fashion label Maksi, and she serves as communications guru at the African Women’s Development Fund.
Nana spends all her time juggling work, writing and lately building her first home. Her loyalty to feminism is one of the first things you will notice about her when you sit down to talk to her. “Feminism is my religion,” she proudly proclaims. This is why when you go to Nana’s house you will not find a master bedroom. Instead you will find a great space labelled “Mistress Bedroom”. Though she is satisfied with her work and life, Nana says that building her own home is the icing on the cake.
Like any GoWoman, Nana believes that she must be self-reliant. It is this quest for independence that motivates her and makes her determined to own a home.
However, in Accra where the rent is a high lump sum expected in total for a year or two in advance, Nana has decided to save her money and build a house instead. It means living at home with her family over paying rent which she would never be able to recover.
” I would rather invest the money in myself than put it in someone else’s pocket,” she says.
She puts away money from her salary every month, and any earnings from her other gigs like Maksi goes into her building fund as well.
In a year or two Nana expects to finish building her home. She is very excited at the thought of being a home owner. She knows it is not easy to get yourself on that first step of the property ladder but building a home in the Greater Accra region is a secure investment. She chose to build her house in the Tema Development Community area to stay close to her family. This is where she grew up. Part of the land on which Nana is building her home was gifted to her by her mother. This was a tremendous boost to Nana’s dream of home ownership as being able to secure land is the most important part of the building process.
It is on this plot that Nana is building her first semi-detached home. The community also has basic amenities like water, electricity and good road networks. While power cuts happen everywhere Nana says that the availability of water, and electricity are much better there than in Accra. . So having this location for her first home is an added plus. Naturally, she is very hands on with the building process, so she only hires certified professionals.
Building a home is a big responsibility so for first-time homeowners, having certified professionals on the project, ensures experience and reliability. Not hiring the right people will make the road to building a home bumpy with time-consuming potholes, as well as boulders of emotion and stress. Navigating the process is much easier when you have the support of a great team which also includes family and friends. For Nana, it comes down to having Tony Asare, very good friend, who is also an architect working on her home project.
Building a home is exceptionally expensive. You really need to be there physically, unless you have a top of the line foreman or overseer. And even then, there is still a chance that you might have to deal with overcharging or building materials miraculously disappearing from the worksite. Nana considers herself to be very lucky to have Asare help her through this process. He makes sure everything runs smoothly for her. “Things just happen for me”, she smiles. Building isn’t getting any cheaper but with sound judgement and planning, Nana knows she will soon have the home she desires.
Women like Nana may not be many yet, but she believes that the home building market should not ignore unmarried young women. She hopes that more 21st century African women will not wait to find a husband before becoming homeowners. They should go out and like her get their own home.
As she reflects on her life she is proud of what she has been able to achieve thus far. “Content” is a word she uses often to describe how she feels about where she is in life today, but this is not the end of Nana’s real estate adventures. Her long term goal is to build a house on the beach where she can spend her days writing. If what she has been able to do far is any indication, we have no doubt that this two shall one day come to pass.