Thursday, January 16, 2020


Kwei Quartey

There have been several "years of the woman," including 1984, 1992, 2012 and 2018. I believe 2020 will be my personal Year Of The Woman.

By the end of 2017, I had completed my fifth Darko Dawson novel, Death By His GraceIn it, Darko's new sidekick is a young female cop, Mabel Safo, who has been transferred to the Criminal Investigation Headquarters in Accra after she has been sexually assaulted by her commander. My original idea was to have Mabel continue with her own series while Darko was in the background or on a parallel track. However, in what would turn out to be a wise decision, my editor urged me to develop a new series separate from Darko. I don't believe it was by accident that I created a female detective. She had been developing in my subconscious, and although I didn't know it so early on, she was to be shaped by the events of 2017-2019.

Many important women's moments occurred in the period between 2017 and 2019. Time magazine's 2019 Person Of The Year is a diminutive but fierce Swedish teenage girl called Greta Thunberg. Beginning in August 2018, she made the world sit up and pay attention to climate change in a big way.

YEAR OF THE WOMAN: The steely-eyed gaze of Greta Thunberg (Shutterstock/Aaron-Schwartz)
The steely gaze of Greta Thunberg (Shutterstock/Aaron-Schwartz)

In politics, Spain’s new Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez  appointed a majority-female cabinet in June 2018. In that same year, more than 100 women were voted into office in the U.S. House of Representatives. New Orleans swore in LaToya Cantrell as the first female mayor in the city’s history.

In entertainment, Ava DuVernay, director of A Wrinkle in Time and a close collaborator with Oprah Winfrey, joined the “$100 million club” of directors with films surpassing $100 million in earnings, and Jennifer Lee, the Oscar-winning screenwriter and codirector of Frozen, is named chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Year of the woman: Ava Duvernay and Oprah Winfrey, two powerful women in entertainment (Kathy Hutchins /
Ava Duvernay and Oprah Winfrey, two powerful women in entertainment (Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock)

The Me Too Movement

Undoubtedly, this was the most powerful of women's moments. Me Too (or #MeToo) exploded onto the scene in 2017 when The New York Times (NYT) and The New Yorker first reported that dozens of women were accusing American film producer Harvey Weinstein, formerly of The Weinstein Company (TWC), of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse over a period of at least thirty years. In fact, credit for the name Me Too goes to Tarana Burke, a black female activist and advocate who created the term more than 10 years ago in 2006 to remind women, in particular those of color, that they were not alone in their experiences of sexual assault.

Year of the woman: Tarana Burke (lev radin /
Tarana Burke (Lev Radin/Shutterstock)

On October 15, 2017, American actress Alyssa Milano, crediting Burke for the origins of Me Too, tweeted, “If all the women who have ever been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, then we give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

On January 1, 2018, as a crushing tsunami of sexual abuse allegations against Weinstein and many other powerful men broke the dam, Hollywood celebrities founded the Time's Up movement against sexual harassment and gender inequality in the workplace.

Later, in September 2018, during a particularly cringeworthy congressional hearing, an anguished Christine Blasey Ford testified to allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her in high school.


(A tidbit of interest: J.K. Rowling, has once again topped Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s highest-paid authors. Rowling, the fantasy author and well-known outspoken feminist, raked in $92 million in 2019, the magazine reports.)

Cultural shifts are reflected not only in real life--news, articles, and non-fiction books--but also in fiction. Three recent novels, Milkman, by Anna Burns; His Favorites, by Kate Walbert; and Those Who Knew, by Idra Novey, have Me Too episodes within their pages. No doubt, there are other books that tackle sexual assault and there will be more to come. Fiction in the right hands--from Morrison to Atwood--can awaken us to ideas, experiences, and truths about which we heretofore knew little or nothing.

Writers of fiction should be sensitive to cultural phenomena, which may play major or minor roles in their novels or contribute to the milieu of the work in subtle yet important ways. Me Too planted a seed of new awareness. As I wrote The Missing American, in which Ghanaian protagonist Emma Djan makes her debut appearance, that seed grew and began to flower. In an interview with Terry Gross, Meryl Streep observed how women have learned to look at the world through male eyes, but men have difficulty doing the same thing through female eyes. With Me Too, I found the impulse to learn to do that compelling. 

Things happen when the time arrives, when we are ready. Five years ago, the Emma Djan of 2020 could probably not have been created, but she's here now. I like Emma a lot. I find myself relaxed and soothed around her while in retrospect I realize I was tense and jumpy with Darko--perhaps the inherent male tendency to compete with another male--a remarkably prevalent characteristic across many animal species.

What will happen to Me Too in 2020? I believe the movement will progress and mature into something much more powerful than we have seen. From 2017 to 2019, the ground was being prepared for 2020, and Emma Djan arrives at the perfect time early in the year. It's no wonder that 2020 is my Year Of The Woman.

Kwei Quartey


  1. Some forty years ago a friend of mine wrote a non-fiction work titled, "The Emerging Role of Women in India." Today, we have terrific fiction writers like our own Sujata addressing the same concerns in a "novel" way. One would certainly hope that the tide has turned--if for no other reason than selfish concern for my granddaughters. I just hope we're not going through another sacrificial lamb experience, where select egregious perpetrators are pilloried, public outrage is mollified, and things go on as usual.

  2. Very timely and relevant comments, Kwei. And congratulations on the launch of The Missing American this week! Not only is Emma Djan a great character, but The Missing American is a great inside look at the internet scam industry.