The majority of societies the world over have a patriarchal structure. Ghana and the UK are no exception to this, and women continue to be an oppressed group despite making up just over half the population. Both countries are fighting to ensure women have equal treatment and equal opportunities, in life and in work.
On the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme, UK volunteers have had the opportunity to live and work alongside Ghanaian volunteers as part of a Ghanaian community in Accra. It has been fascinating to compare cultural experiences, and to explore the complex issues around gender equality, from childcare to healthcare to social expectations and stereotypes.
It is well known that women are under-represented in the workplace. This is particularly the case in sectors such as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), as well as in senior levels of management. Jobs traditionally reserved for women tend to be low-paid and labour-intensive, such as nursing or teaching. This gender divide is apparent from school, where girls and boys tend to choose ‘gender appropriate’ subjects- and many girls are also absent from the education system as a result of familial pressure to marry or help out at home.
Even when in the workplace, women experience discrimination in many forms. They are expected to manage homes and families as well as careers- but when they do this, they are often penalised for a lack of dedication to one or the other. Women often experience a gender pay gap, being paid a great deal less for exactly the same work, and tend to be promoted more slowly, with feminine traits being perceived as less suited to leadership.
Inequality for women is rooted deep in cultural norms and expectations, but there are a number of ways these can be challenged. In Ghana, new laws and better education work alongside campaigns from national and international NGOs, and many women, particularly those in the wealthier parts of the South, have benefitted from a great deal of change over the past few decades. However, as is the case in the UK as well, there is still much more to be done.
In this article, we have spoken to four Ghanaians- Leticia, Afua, Araba, and Alice- documenting their experiences as working women in Ghana. This is not a comprehensive survey, but we hope to be able to draw out some themes of a near-universal issue, as well as highlighting a few unique aspects of Ghanaian culture.
Leticia Donkor is a 25 year old Ghanaian lady from a Christian family of 9. She loves God and she always lets the principles of the Lord guide her decisions. She aims to become a successful entrepreneur and a philanthropist in the coming years, in event planning and also the food industry. She exhibits great understanding of issues around her society. She describes herself as melancholic in nature, but she loves to smile.
What was your education like?
My educational life was interesting, even though it has not come to an end and I hope to continue to greater heights as I go on in life!
I had the privilege of attending a private school which helped shape my academic future up to this level. I also had the opportunity to attend two types of secondary schools. I first attended Apam Secondary school where I was admitted to read General Arts, but that wasn’t my programme of interest so I had to start over in Accra Girls’ School where I was offered General Science.
How did you choose your university?
During my university search, I only had one university in mind- the premier university in Ghana that is the University of Ghana. That was the only university I applied to, and God being so good I was offered admission.
How did you choose your degree subject?
I had a love for humanity, so I was burnt on reading medicine, but due to the strict entry system I didn’t get to pursue that dream. I was given an equally important option of reading Chemistry or Biochemistry, but I objected because of the Chemistry component. I then decided on reading BSc Nutrition and Food Science- not because I liked it, but I later grew to really love that programme.
Was there any difference in the way boys and girls were treated at school?
There was no preferential treatment for guys during my stay at the university, and I don’t think there could be because of the ever-growing understanding of women empowerment among our elite societies. For this reason, ladies were the ones who were given some level of preferential treatment in order to encourage them to study hard.
What was the gender split at school and university?
The gender split was very obvious. There were more guys than ladies in my university and previous schools.
Were there any subjects which were overwhelmingly boys or overwhelmingly girls?
There were quite a number of programmes which looked liked they were mounted for only guys, such as Medicine, Pharmacy, Engineering, and Mathematics. These were hugely dominated by guys for obvious reasons.
Where do you think this imbalance came from?
It comes from our system. Why am I saying this? It’s because people have grown to see men doing some jobs so men have been naturally tagged to that job which has influenced what ladies study at university.
Do you feel that there are any jobs that are meant more for boys or meant more for girls?
More ladies gear their job interest towards home science, secretariat, nursing, teaching, and other fine looking jobs, while more guys opt for engineering, construction, and other sophisticated jobs which demand more abstract studies. But I don’t support that idea and I strongly believe women will be able to survive in those jobs too.
Are there any jobs that you would not do because you are female?
Maybe construction work- this is because of my physical strength ratio in comparison to what is needed for that job.
What was your first job and how did you get it?
My first job was an interesting one because it was a very well paid job. It was right after university but before National Service. This was a project on collection of data around children’s dietary intake, for children aged 6 months to 5 years. The interview for the job was a semi-formal one with my lecturers. This was after my friend Tracy turned down her slot for me- for which I greatly respect her.
What was the atmosphere like at your company? What proportions of the workforce were female?
My first job was related to food and nutrition aspects of my programme of study in the university. Interestingly, there were more females than males because the work involved administering dietary questionnaires to mothers of these selected children, so it was thought that the females would do better on that. The only male we had assisted in getting the anthropometric information on the kids.
Did you feel that men and women were treated any differently in the workplace?
Even though there were more females than males, we were treated equally and the males respected and protected us because we were lodging outside home.
How has your first employment influenced your quest of entering business?
My first employment got me to like those kinds of projects, but it didn’t change my dreams of starting up my own business in the food industry.
Would you like to have a family in the future?
Yes! I want a family in the near future, but how soon I don’t know. I believe God’s time is the best and I will start a family when it’s right.
Do you feel that there is pressure on women to have a family?
Generally in Africa there seems to be that pressure on young women who hit their early and mid twenties to start a family- that is, get married and start bearing children. This puts loads of pressure on young women who think otherwise and want to start their own career before starting a family.
Do you think having children and starting business is possible in Ghana given our conditions?
Many think it is not possible to start a family and do business. I see it to be a big challenge, but it is possible.
It would be very difficult but I am still learning from my older friends and some female mentors who have managed to blend family with business and have seen both being successful and flourishing. I believe I will be able to do the same, by God’s grace, but don’t expect it to be easy given our conditions and understanding of gender roles.
How do you plan overcoming any issues?
I will want to have a very flexible business schedule when I start having kids, so I am working hard towards that now that I am single.
I tried my own business in my early twenties, but before that I had started one with my kid brother when I was 22 years. Currently, I am planning on how to make my idea of an event-planning business work, and I would say it is on a “careful planning” stage because I want it to be a sustainable business.
So would you agree that family keeps most young women out of business?
Yes, family keeps a lot of women out of business but that trend is now changing. I grew seeing my mother leaving our kid sister to travel to the North to trade. I think many women really are into businesses, but not in bigger or recognisable scales due to pressures of family roles.
What role would you like your husband to play in terms of running the household and raising the children?
I would expect my husband to play a partnership role in my business as well as raising the family. I grew up in a set where both my parents were involved in raising the children, and for that reason I expect my husband to be ‘active at home’. The challenge would be the conflict of interest that may arise, but since I am not yet there I won’t say much!
Do you think most men would be happy contributing to this role in this way?
I think he would be very happy to contribute to my business by helping me out in the upbringing of our kids to ease up the pressure on me. Then I could give my business full attention and make it grow so that I can contribute to the financial needs of these same kids.
What role does culture play on your understanding of the role of a woman?
Culture does play a major part in my understanding of the role of women in societies and at home. Our culture as Ghanaians has embodied some natural roles for women, and we are to be submissive to our husbands, and to be the ones to take care of the home while men provide money for the family, from ensuring food is ready, home is clean, and kids are well kept. These are the roles our culture gives to women, but it is gradually changing.
Do you think the situation in Ghana is very different to the UK for women?
The situation in Ghana is different to that of the Western nations, particularly the UK. This is mainly because we have two different cultural beliefs and practices as well as different family settings. Even the level of economic and academic exposure differs.
What do you think holds women back from starting businesses?
I don’t think there are many reasons, but the few that I can highlight are the choice of business and probably the access to Business Capital, as well as family matters. If the business is one which will take women from their family duties, then it becomes difficult for them since their husbands will not be motivated to support them on that course. They expect their wives to be home early to manage the home and take care of kids. These are some of the major things that hold women back from starting a business, but I also believe I will get an understanding husband.
What do you think needs to change in Ghana in order to improve gender equality?
Our gender equality will definitely improve, but I doubt it will get to the stage of 50/50. However, more women empowerment through education needs to be initiated and supported by the state and the major stakeholders. Empowerment of women through entrepreneurship is also one major key of closing the gap on gender equality. Also a lot of forums on gender equality with men as the focus will help men to know that women empowerment doesn’t mean women will stop being submissive to them as the Bible want them to be.
Afua is the CEO and founder of Pink Panda Bakery, a business based in Accra. Afua founded the Pink Panda Bakery in 2013 after discovering a passion for baking, but she maintains a full-time job working for an oil and gas company. Afua is married to Kofi, who runs a farm and is also non-executive director of Pink Panda.
Have you had any struggles as a woman in setting up an enterprise?
In Ghana, it is male dominated so at times there are fewer opportunities for women. This is very challenging, and my biggest obstacle as a woman.
What role does your husband/partner play in terms of running the home?
My husband, Kofi, grew up in London, so he has experienced the British culture which is different to Ghanaian culture. He understands the challenges as a woman more; he has been very supportive and also helps out a lot.
In Ghanaian culture it is traditional for women to stay at home to look after the house and children; how do you balance that?
It has been very challenging to balance the two, but delegation at work and sharing of responsibilities at home has helped a lot.
At the beginning of setting up an enterprise it is very difficult because you are doing a lot of the work, so the employees we have here are a great. Employing the right staff is also tough, because you still have to micro-manage and train them.
I also have another day job which means my social life is almost non-existent. I have to have another job to support my home and business- the business is doing okay at the minute but we are not comfortable just yet.
What has been your motivation?
My motivation is witnessing the business develop, and I think we have the potential to gain a lot of revenue. Seeing our employees develop their skills with confidence gives me pride. Also, the feedback we get from customers motivates me.
What advice do you have for young women who have similar ambitions?
My advice would be to make sure you do your research- but more importantly, to follow your passion. You will need support from your family- for example, looking after children. Trust your instincts and take risks.
Unfortunately, in this particular field it is not well respected yet because you don’t need a degree- you can just become an intern and develop the skills. My advice to that would be to try and ignore that, and follow your heart.
What has been your proudest moment to date?
My proudest moment would be when I opened my first shop, because there was a lot of negativity when I first started my business, so to overcome that was amazing.
Do you think the attitude towards women working in enterprises is changing? Do you feel any pressure?
Recently, we had an enquiry about a university graduate wanting to become an intern; her father encouraged her to wait until after she had completed a bakery course. The fact that she changed her career goals to follow her passion with support from her family proves that society is beginning to accept and encourage young women follow their goals.
Finally, what is your opinion on gender equality in Ghana?
In Ghana, I don’t think we are equal and there are sometimes false perceptions on equality here. There are strong women in Ghana that are fighting for equality. I do think men’s opinions are starting change, which is great, but we still are a long way from becoming equal.
Araba is the office manager for Pink Panda Bakery. She joined at the beginning of the year so has been in the role four months. Araba also has a passion for baking cakes and combines that with skills in management. She is a single mother to a two-year-old daughter.
Have you had any struggles as a woman in working in an enterprise?
No not really, but the baking industry is normally seen as a woman’s world and therefore sometimes not taken seriously by people because it’s not a formal job.
What role does your husband or partner play in terms of running the home?
I don’t have a husband so it is very hard for me at times to work full time and take care of a two-year-old. I do get support from family but I have had to make arrangements with her pre-school so I can take her to school earlier and pick her up later. Ali goes to school at 5.30am and I pick her up at 7pm which is proving to be stressful for me and Ali.
I still have to do all the cooking and cleaning in the house which makes it harder, but I have to do it so I can support my daughter to give her the best life possible.
What led you to take this job?
My motivation in getting this job was that I am really passionate about cooking and I love baking cakes. Also, after studying HR at university I have a good set of skills but I would like to develop current skills further. I feel I am good at dealing with people but I would like experience of a management role.
What advice do you have for young women who have similar ambitions?
Everybody thinks that once you leave university you should get a ‘white collar job’, which sometimes can be quite boring. You should always follow your passion, do something that you are passionate about and that way you are most likely going to enjoy it and also be good at it.
But you shouldn’t play around with a job; you should always take it seriously because you need to make a living.
What has been your proudest moment to date?
My proudest moment so far is without question when I had Ali!
But in terms of work, it would have to be when I organised a radio slot to advertise the business. It was for the Valentine’s season and we offered them vouchers in exchange for advertisement and an interview with our CEO. This really tested my negotiating and marketing skills so I was really happy when it became a huge success.
Do you feel any pressure as a women working in enterprise?
No, not really. I am so focussed on supporting my two-year-old, and this is the only pressure I get because if I don’t work I can’t look after her which is sometimes sad because I would prefer to be with her more.
How would you want your daughter to grow up? What hopes do you have for her?
I would like my daughter to drive for her ambitions, whatever it is as long as she is happy. I cannot tell her what to do in life, I can only be a source of direction.
Finally, what is your opinion on gender equality in Ghana?
At the moment, I don’t think we are equal. I think we should complement and support each other instead of competing with each other. We are all unique. We are equal but we are not the same.
Alice Boateng is now retired, but she worked supporting small businesses as a civil servant, before setting up a business of her own. She also spent four years in the UK. She now lives in Nungua with one of her sons, and continues to be very active in her church and community.
How did you start your working life?
I went to the University of Ghana, and I did History and Political Science. Then afterwards, in our time we did not do National Service, but went straight into government work.
I started straight into the Ministry of Economic Planning- which is now no more! It used to be the Ministry of Economic Planning. That’s where they set up the Office of Business Promotion, to promote indigenous Ghanaian business, small scale businesses, and SMEs.
How did the Ministry of Economic Planning support small businesses?
So at that time they passed a decree reserving certain areas of the Ghanaian economy for Ghanaians. For example, small scale businesses in service industries like tyre repairs, barbers and hairdressing, small restaurants, chop bars and food vendors on the wayside, bakeries, taxi operations and trotros. International companies could only operate in these areas if they had a certain amount of capital.
Our office was set up for this, and also to encourage small scale businesses to expand their operations. For example, for a Ghanaian shito manufacturer or cosmetics manufacturer, we would offer them advice to help them grow. And then we were also to register the non-Ghanaian businesses, to ensure that their capital and operations were within the law, so big companies came to our place to register, and we assessed them to register them. And we were advising Ghanaians, and getting more Ghanaians involved in the economy in the manufacturing area. Even if it was small scale, in the house, we wanted them to have proper accounts, and a proper operational plan, so that they can move forward. So many small scale businesses started with us, and they are now big businesses, I see them in the news.
And how did the Ministry support women in business?
We realised most Ghanaian women are very hardworking- the backbones of the homes. They were running the homes, as single parents or married ones, and they were all helping. The least a Ghanaian woman would do would be roadside retailing, even with just a small tabletop, selling gum or frying yam, and it would all go to help the house. And many women went beyond that, and started small chop bars, and cooking facilities, for example near offices or building projects where there was need.
So we encouraged this, identifying areas where their services were needed, and they were coming for loans from us. Those who needed capital, and those who needed advice, and those who needed business plans, we would help them
And this has gone on to serve so many Ghanaians. I know many Ghanaians are doing well, and many Ghanaian women are doing this sort of thing, with guest houses, and small bars and restaurants. And also in the area of manufacturing garments. It went beyond sewing for individuals- they got into dressmaking, or african cloth manufacturing.
What drove you to set up your own business?
I had reached my retirement age officially in the civil service, and this was the experience I had, and I wanted to use the experience I had dealing with small businesses. i realised most companies didn’t have good distributing outlets- they just manufacture things and sell them one by one. So this was an area which was not fully covered, so I felt there was room for me to operate there.
So when I retired I set up my own company. I was a distributor for Unilever- they manufacture household soaps, fats and oils for cooking, most household items. Then nestle too, i was a distributor mostly for beverages like milks, and I expanded to include other things like Cadbury.
I finally retired fully from every other activity in 2010- just recently!
Did you ever feel that you encountered problems in trying to set up your own business that related to the fact you were a women?
Somewhere, but we refuse to accept that! There were a few problems. Because you are a woman, you meet that problem, even going to a fellow woman you will meet it, but you have to know what you are about and you have to be confident.
Do you feel that men and women were treated any differently in the workplace?
Oh yes. It is a tradition, especially in Ghana. Our tradition especially supports that, but you, the woman, should know what you are about, improve yourself, and be on top of all these issues.
A lot needs to be done by the Government and other organisations. From Ghana’s view, you have to positively assist women, because they have been down for so long. It’s not easy for them to come up by themselves, so there should be facilities to help them rise up more quickly.
Now they have set up the Ministry of Women and Children, but it’s not really making the impact you know, they have a lot of work to do.
What role does a husband play in terms of supporting his wife- both running the business and running the home?
It depends on the kind of husband. If he is a liberated one who knows that women are also important and that they should be assisted and encouraged and helped to reach their goals, then you will have it. Some men are doing very well. They don’t even mind being at the back seat for their wives to move forward. But it’s a few- the percentage is not much. Just a few enlightened ones!
So the tradition is there, that the women should come second. And also I think part of it is from our religious beliefs, our faith. Especially Christians, and even I think the Muslims too, felt that the woman should take the back seat, and it is the husband who should be the head, so if even the women has to do something to help it shouldn’t be the major thing- it should be just secondary assistance.
Do you think the situation in Ghana is very different to the UK for women?
Oh yes, I think so. The UK has gone further, advanced more, and they have had some women who have made it in the system and been an example to other women. Also there is the women’s movement to advance other women.
But in Ghana it is now coming up. Those who have been able to make it may not have the courage to take the forefront and bring up the others. There are a few very articulate and strong women who are leading the women’s fight for equality, but we haven’t got there yet.
If you had a daughter, what advice would you give her as she started her own business?
The first thing is that I will advise her to know the kind of business she wants to do. She should be knowledgeable. She should be well informed, and have a plan, so she knows where she is going, and have a plan for all the hurdles, so she won’t be discouraged.
Many women go into business not knowing much about the business and then they get discouraged- so I will advise her to really know so much about it, and have the passion, and have settled in her mind that that is what she wants to do.
But I know women can do anything they want to do! Our time, we didn’t have the encouragement. It was not so common- sometimes you were even ahead if you wanted to venture into certain areas, and women would be discouraged. But now there are so many examples everywhere, heads of states, top politicians, even in areas like clergy, now women are going.
So the pace has been set, the examples are there; if you want to do it, have the passion and the knowledge and just get going!
In many ways, Ghana is making a great deal of progress in terms of gender equality.
Women such as Joyce Adeline Bamford-Addo (Speaker of the 5th Session of Parliament), and Georgina Theodora Wood (Chief Justice), have prominent leadership roles. Campaigning has led to the Government banning Female Genital Mutilation, a practice once customary in the North of the country. Organisations such as the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Programme are helping women to go into business as a way of tackling other women’s issues such as child marriage.
Those we spoke to recognised the prejudice and discrimination that exists on the basis of gender, in business and every other area of society. However, with strong women like Leticia, Afua, Araba, and Alice, we can be confident that Ghana will continue to make progress towards equality.
By Charlotte Roberts, Kofi Obed Imbeah, and Rhys Picken