Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Ghanaian Women: Are They Backbone Of The Economy Or Saboteurs?

Elizabeth Ohene

The argument has often been made in Ghana by male and female alike that Ghanaian women need no liberation. They have always been liberated and economically independent, people have always said.

Strict feminists will of course reject the argument and plead that the Ghanaian woman faces far too more than her fair share of the burden.

She has never expected nor demanded any preferential treatments and is head of household in more homes than there are male heads.

She became a legend and attracted international fame in the person of the "makola woman," which came to personify the person with the highest business acumen.

The "makola woman" is not only the woman who sold her wares in the makola market in Accra. The makola woman ranges from the woman in the little hamlet who goes to the nearest town and buys a gallon of kerosine and retails to her neighbours in 5oz bottles, to the big time UAC passbook holder whose turnover would make ITT proud.

From both sides of the spectrum and including those who sell the odd bunch of plantain as and when their farm has more than they can eat immediately, they all have one thing in common: they have almost total responsibility for looking after the children of Ghana.

There is hardly anybody in Ghana who has been to school who will not testify to either his fees or his kit having been provided by a mother, an aunt or grandmother who sells pepper in the market or roasts plantain for workers.

A poll said to have been taken in a 1966 undergraduate class in Legon indicated that of the 24 students in that class, 18 of them depended on a female member of their family for a sizeable proportion of their upkeep.

When people started saying half in jest that the day all makola women withdraw their money from the Ghana Commercial Bank, the Bank would collapse, the women should have realised they were becoming an endangered species. For hell hath no fury as men whose incompetence is shown up by the success of women.

From the day that Ghana's economic woes started, the result of incompetence and negligence at the male dominated political front, the women of Ghana have been under constant and unrelenting siege.

The retail and distribution business which the women have conducted with such eminence for years suddenly became the scape-goat for the economic disaster.

Every politician who ever opened his mouth attacked "profit-conscious makola women who exploited the poor workers''. But nobody considered, or maybe they chose to forget, that for years the makol a woman was more interested in quick turnovers and smaller profit margins than in making huge profits. For years, anybody who was willing to shop around could find anything in makola at a cheaper price than in any supermarket.

No government ever gave any thought to how food was distributed in Ghana, the women went to the remotest and most inaccessible parts of Ghana to bring food to the urban areas and other commodities to the rural people.

When it comes to how the country's wealth is spent, nobody can accuse these women of belonging to the group that spends the foreign exchange. They do not buy flashy cars, most of them don't even own cars no matter how rich they are, they do not go to restaurants to eat T-bone steaks or Cordon bleu.

Ghanaian women are the backbone of the retail trade.

They spend their money on looking after children, and husbands and the fathers of their children, they build houses and they boost the egos of the men by slipping the odd one hundred cedis to them when they need to make a donation.

The constant barrage of attacks on the women has led to a totally blinkered view of economic life in Ghana. In the mistaken belief that these women make easy money in their trading, successive governments have introduced many regulations aimed either at limiting their activities or driving them out completely.

The result has been the chaos that commercial activity has been within the past ten years in Ghana, culminating in the dynamiting of Makola market and the public stripping and caning of women traders on the streets in 1979.

The hope had been that with the destruction of makola, the very soul of the women will be destroyed, but since they have always had to face the responsibility of looking after house holds, they have always found a way out of every predicament placed in their way.

It surely must count for something that they are prepared to undergo the indignities they endure simply to get commodities to sell in Ghana.

There is no amount of money that can ever compensate anybody for the terrible dehumanizing conditions that Ghanaian womanhood is forced to endure at the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Nigeria for example. They have come to accept as inevitable and unavoidable being shoved around, abused, physically assaulted by all and sundry.

She does not complain if she has to spend three days sitting, crouching and sleeping on the two cartons of washing powder that she had bought to go and sell in Ghana.

Since the government of Ghana appears to have abdicated all responsibility towards providing goods for the population, surely those who are prepared to endure so much indignity and hardship to bring some commodities should be allowed to conduct their businesses in peace.

If the women joined in the PDC and WDC meetings and also spent their time lecturing on revolutionary ethics, the hunger that is in Ghana would undoubtedly be worse, the dirty clothes that have become the norm would smell through to Togo and Ivory Coast.

These women might not have the academic degrees that those who claim to have answers to the country's economic problems have, but they have proved by example that they understand economic reality much better than any Economic or Finance Minister or Adviser that the country has ever had.

They have been the economic backbone of the country and there is no reason why their undisputed experience, talent, and resourcefulness should be discarded while the country gropes through economic mumbo jumbo. If the siege were lifted off the women traders, their talents could be utilised and some order would be put in the commercial activity of the country.

It is most ironic that those who owe all their existence, education, upbringing and claim to nationality to their mothers should subject Ghanaian womanhood to such indignities.

As they used to say, man's ingratitude to woman!

talking drums 1983-10-17 Houphouet-Boigny Ivorian stability - Ghanaian women economic backbone or saboteurs