The Formidable Queen Mothers of Ghana

Queen Mothers are traditional female leaders, drawn from the relevant royal lineages, who are mostly responsible for women's and children's issues.

In the south of Ghana, this tradition has existed for centuries, along with chieftaincy, the pre-colonial institution of governance with judicial, legislative and executive powers.

Queen Mothers were respected and powerful. But while chieftaincy survived the colonial and post-colonial rule, women traditional leadership didn’t. After the independence, the new government didn’t include Queen Mothers in the institutions representing the regions and their role became mostly ceremonial.

Recently, as they are getting better educated and connected, Queen Mothers have started to reclaim their traditional role – and modernize it. They see it as a powerful tool for women's empowerment and for bringing social and economic changes in their communities and the whole country.

Today, most villages, clans and regions have a Queen Mother – a staggering 10,000 of them across the country.




The Lawra Traditional Area near the border with Burkina Faso, is one of the largest rural territories in the northwest part of the country. It is an area routinely neglected by politicians with poor roads, no factories, little infrastructure and a mediocre land. It is also a region where men own the land and take all the decisions.

Unlike in the south, Queen Mothers were only formally recognized in the north ten years ago, following sustained women’s campaigning.  There they are called Pognamine: the plural of Pognaa, which means woman chief.

Although very traditional, Lawra, is one of the first areas in the region to have formally embraced the Queen Mother or Pognaa concept.

Poverty is very high in the region, especially amongst women as they cannot own land or property in these patriarchal communities. To help women gain independence, Pognamine have created small income-generating activities based on their villages’ natural resources and their own skills.

Shea nuts are processed to make cooking and skincare products. The shea trees are plentiful in the region and women have gathered the nuts for a long time. But the Pognamine have given them funding and training to develop shea-butter making into a major source of income for the communities in the region.

Queen Mothers have their own visions and priorities for their communities. In addition to income-generating activities, they work on climate change, girls’ education, child labour, sanitation, HIV and many more issues. At regional and national levels, Queen Mothers devise strategies and campaigns.

Over the past few years, they have formed associations at all levels and learned IT skills and social media to better communicate among themselves. Their remarkable networks disseminate information and effect changes across the country.

After years of lobbying, Queen Mothers are finally gaining formal and legal recognition. Recently in Accra, for example, 10 Queen Mothers were sworn into the National Council of Women Traditional Leaders in front of government’s ministers and chiefs.

“Queen Mothers have come together and mobilised themselves to support the nation’s development. It is something that other nations of Africa can study. They have become a model association of women tradition leaders - a force for change, culturally, economically and politically,” says Professor George Hagan, former director of the Institute for Research, Advocacy and Training (INSRAT) in Accra, which trains Queen Mothers.

Two years ago, Ghanaian Queen Mothers have reached out to other African countries and formed a pan-African network of women traditional leaders, who can speak with one voice on continental-wide issues and have a real impact. The network now counts 20 countries and hopes to have all African countries on board soon. They are planning an international durbar next year on the theme of child protection and are working toward eliminating FGM within the next five years.

Yet for all their achievement, Queen Mothers are still fighting for full representation in the regional and national Houses of Chiefs, where all major decisions are taken. So far, women leaders can attend the Chiefs’ meetings, but don’t have yet the right to vote, even on decisions affecting women and girls.

Irene Odotei, INSRAT’s director says: “When Queen Mothers will be able to vote in the Houses of Chiefs on issues such as land ownership and women’s rights, they will be unstoppable. They will be formidable.”

About this project

The project was funded by a European Journalism Centre (EJC)’s Innovation in Development Reporting Grant Programme (IDR). Here is our project’s entry on the IDR website

For more information, read “Meet the Queen Mothers: 10,000 amazing women taking back power in Africa” in the Telegraph Magazine.

See photo galleries of Queen Mother portaits, Life in Northern Ghana and the Susu project. (opens in new window)

Filmmaker: Dominique Chadwick

Researcher, filmmaker and media trainer who uses film and media projects to advocate and bring social change to the most deprived and vulnerable.,

Journalist: Veronique Mistiaen

Award-winning journalist, writing about international development, social issues, human rights and the environment.
LinkedIn,, @VeroMistiaen

Photographer: Nyani Quarmyne

Freelance photographer whose work centers on humanitarian and social justice themes.,

Location production/technical assistance/ logistic: Abibata Mahama

A documentary filmmaker and trainer in media participatory projects with background in Education. Now working on documentaries for GBC TV.

Design and hosting: Social Films