How to empower women in Africa
When I was in Senior High School about two decades ago, my tutor asked each of us to describe the life we wanted to live in the future. At that time, the possibility to rise above such limitations and inferiority complex to think above the culturally determined role of a woman was often a mirage. I too, got entangled with the realism that a female’s place was in the kitchen and learning a trade. I was so exposed to the plight of women around my community who lacked access to capital to expand their petty trading business.
Today, after over eight years of working, I choose to add value to myself and help empower women through providing innovative financing. The quest to achieving this vision led me to the Small Enterprise Promotion and Training (SEPT) MBA Programme run by the University of Leipzig, Germany with scholarship by the DAAD. This scholarship has opened me to connect with co-awardees from other institutions, professional trainers and Professors. This scholarship is providing me an opportunity to develop and customize low-cost training tools in managerial and financial literacy, and to support and interpret legal and technical framework within the environment in which small and medium enterprises (SMEs) operate. These pre-conditions will make SMEs financially viable.
My passion to provide innovative financing for women motivated me to read business related programmes at my Senior High school and further pursue a business accountancy course for my undergraduate. Soon after completion, I was employed as a Customer Service Officer at Opportunity International Saving and Loans, a financial institution positioned to addressing the plight most women in the world especially in developing countries go through to make ends meet through giving out of loans. Our customers were largely women who do not want to be tagged as “lazy folks” and hence were willing to take loans to trade without knowing what implications await them. They lacked basic financial literacy and management training to access the loans, trade, repay and make profit. The reason for these knowledge gaps has deeper causes.
Marginalization of girls has a long history
Until date in the 21st century most girls in their teen-age years are still marginalized in formal education despite government-sponsored initiatives such as the free Senior High School education which aimed at reversing this tendency. The Figure shows the progressive gross school enrollment for secondary females and males in Ghana.
The majority of girls who drop out of school end up as traders or worst become unemployed. According to Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) in 2018, the current unemployment rate within sub-Saharan Africa was expected to increase from 29.1 million in 2018 to 31.3 million by 2019. A World Bank (2018) study likewise underscores that youth account for 60% of all African’s joblessness - while the rate among young males is slightly lower than that of girls. The International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2018 even predicted that Africa’s youth unemployment rate is likely to exceed 30% in 2019. This point has been reiterated by Statista (2018), which confirms that the rate of unemployment in Ghana is highest between the youth within 15 and 24 years of age. This trend in unemployment is likely to increase in developing countries of which Ghana is not an exception.
Entrepreneurship offer opportunities for women
In bridging the income inequality gap, one fundamental development agenda of the next decade is to provide entrepreneurship empowerment to the youth and other vulnerable and marginalized groups especially women through providing requisite skills and resources. To achieve this sustainable and inclusive development through entrepreneurship, requires strong institutions capable of effectively and efficiently utilizing resources for the common good. This calls for building institutions with the ability to influence policy planning.
In Ghana, the informal sector constituting small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) plays a crucial role. The SMEs comprises about 85% of all enterprises and contributes to about 70% of Ghana’s Gross Domestic Product, as the Ministry of Trade and Industry stated in 2019. An efficient private sector has the potential to contribute both directly and indirectly to decrease unemployment, increase wages, generate revenue and increase wealth. Considering the challenges and potential opportunities SME’s face in Ghana, any attempt to revamp the sector will require considerable amount of effort to understand the nature of business operations in order to build resilience.
Better education is key
I hope that my contribution will help to make this happen - and will especially have a positive impact for women. Kwegyir Aggrey, a famous educator born in Ghana once said: ‘’The surest way to keep people down is to educate the men and neglect the women. If you educate a man, you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a whole nation."
I want every woman out there to take advantage of all opportunities to further your education. The first thing to do is to break out of any limitation, to believe in the strength you have. You have the power to rise above every limitation. If you are a young woman aspiring to rise higher, keep your head high, being a woman is not a curse or a punishment as the world might make it seems.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Owusuah Sarah is a SEPT MBA student at the University of Leipzig through a DAAD scholarship. She has worked as a Customer Service Officer and Acting Branch Operations Manager at Opportunity International Savings and Loans Ltd, Ghana. She also participated in the Arqus Virtual Company Creation Challenge 2022 in France. In the past she also participated in mental health facilitator ASAP program by the National Board for Certified Counseling International USA in Ghana. She got her Bachelor’s degree in Accounting (Business Administration) from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana.
How pronounced is the equality of women and men in your home country? Do women have the same opportunities as men?