Feminist economics posts

The secret behind Ghana’s economic growth

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Ghanian women, June 2014. Photographer: Eric Brinkhorst (all photos)

I traveled 3000 kilometers through Ghana after the annual IAFFE conference. This resulted in several aha-erlebnissen, as is so neatly expressed by the inhabitants of the winning country of the World Championship football. In my journey, I strikingly recognized what I teach and write. Women carrying heavy head loads, pumping drinking water, selling products on the roadside, and urinating “free range” as one woman who owned a small eating place without a toilet joked to us. Moreover, I saw many young men hanging around, sometimes begging or washing our car without asking first, creating an uncomfortable situation around payment for unwanted services provided. But I also saw quite equal gender attitudes: women entrepreneurs proudly riding motorbikes, irrespective whether they were Christians or Muslims; a few women guides in tourist places; women using machetes just like men; and a beach resort effectively run by a Ghanaian owner with Ghanaian women in positions in all ranks. Women everywhere knowledgeable of the world’s major football players – not to show off to us, but talking among each other about Lionel Messi and Arjan Robben. The IAFFE conference, which brought me to Ghana, included a paper on career women in Ghana: not only on their own successes, but also on how they help bright young women they happen to meet get higher education and access to relevant networks to start a career.

What my two-week long Tour de Ghana has taught me most about gender and economics in Ghana is the self-esteem and confidence of Ghanaian women and the acceptance of this by men. I think that this is the little secret behind the steady and good economic growth of Ghana, more than the discovery of oil in 2007 and its dubious promises of many new but idle fuel stations along the roads.

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