It is 5:00 am and one of the largest open markets in Ghana – Makola – is already inundated with hardworking traders. They are mostly women and they all have one big expectation in mind as they embark on their daily journey to this market: economic security. It is their greatest desire to secure a financial framework that will allow them to provide food, shelter, education and other basic necessities of life for their families. In a patriarchal society such as Ghana, where women and girls are constantly marginalized, their ability to exhibit their entrepreneurial skills by engaging in different types of business ventures provides them a level playing field with their male counterparts in society.
In Ghana and many other developing countries across Africa, women are not hesitant to exhibit themselves as savvy business people as they conduct transactions in the market place. On a daily basis, these market women engage in a great deal of advertising and selling of their products. Some women creatively arrange their products on a wooden pallet and carry it on their heads, parading through every corner of the market. You will also find women in shared spaces where they openly bargain with customers, sell their products, and make profits. There is also the category of women that own and manage their own shops within the market area.
My mother is one of the women who owns a shop. Her desire to become an entrepreneur began at an early age. As a teenager, once she got off school, she would stack her wooden pallet with handfuls of roasted groundnuts (peanuts), wrapped in pieces of old newspapers, layered with white paper. She would then navigate her way through the neighborhood, selling them to her loyal customers and other passersby. My grandmother beams with joy and with such great pride every time she recounts stories of my mother’s loyal customers’ adoration of her hardworking spirit and desire to be economically independent at that tender age. In addition to the fact that people were fond of her, she was also known for her fearless attitude towards the bullies who tried to steal her groundnuts or bought on credit and attempted to elude her when it came time to pay. This fearless attitude earned her the nick name asem be si which translates to “no nonsense.” This nickname remained her moniker throughout her adult years as she became a savvy and respected business woman among her peers.
Over the years, my siblings and I saw my mother rise through the ranks, from sharing spaces in the market area to owning her own shop. She eventually became the sole distributor in Ghana of Sure deodorant for a British company. With her economic success came many opportunities for both herself and her family. Her economic security allowed her to be assertive at home, especially when it came to making decisions with my father about the future of my siblings and me. Her invaluable input enriched the choices that she and my father offered me and my three siblings from childhood through adulthood. One very significant example was my mother’s success at convincing my father (who was very protective of us, especially his three girls) to allow us to go study in the West since there were limited options in the universities in our home country. My siblings and I are forever grateful for the opportunity of experiencing the best of both worlds. The experience has molded us into the responsible dual citizens that we are today.
As I write this blog post in celebration of International Women’s Day, I am overwhelmed with a deep appreciation for women like my mother whose persistence to be economically independent has enriched their lives and their family. Her desire, commitment and dedication are replicated all over the world, including here in the DC region. I am strongly convinced that by working for Washington Area Women’s Foundation, which focuses on ensuring economic security for women and girls in the Washington DC area and beyond, I honor my mother and all the women around the world who strive every day to remain economically independent. To all of them, I say AYEKOO! (Well Done!)
Julliet Boye is the development associate at Washington Area Women’s Foundation.