One of the most widely-heralded developments of recent decades has been the growing participation of women in the workforce. In the developing world, some research suggests that this can be one of the strongest drivers of economic growth.
In the developed world, it is an increasing necessity as populations shrink and age. These are important components of women’s economic contributions worldwide, but do they capture the most important elements? What is gained – and what, if anything, is lost – as women assume an ever-larger share of a country’s economic burden?
There are many recent examples in Ghana’s history of women stepping into prominent public roles. We have had the fortune of our first woman speaker of parliament, Justice Joyce Bamford Addo. In 2007 Justice Georgina Woode was appointed the country’s first woman Chief Justice. Currently, we have women heading important public institutions like the National Commission of Civic Education and the Commission of Human Rights and Administrative Justice. These appointments are important examples of the advances women have made in Ghanaian society.
Yet, many women’s groups would say these are not enough. As important as these appointments are, they in part mainly serve as symbolic markers in the country’s evolving history especially when it comes to women’s place in society. So while they should be celebrated we shouldn’t lose sight of the other changes that must occur to create a less gendered society.
The high profile of the positions these women occupy in Ghana’s democracy as well as the fact that their qualifications have generally been accepted as exemplary means that their feats must be celebrated loudly.
Clearly they represent some gains of several initiatives that have been launched over decades for women to have more access to formal education and in turn be eligible for jobs in the formal economy which tend to be more stable.
Having symbols in these women is important and viewing women’s quest for full citizenship rights through the lens of public service or participation in politics is crucial because they could eliminate/erode the perceptions of women in professional positions. For young women, these are tangible examples of people who have attained the highest offices by dint of hard work and competence.
While celebrating though, it must be noted that even in the public sphere, there are still some challenges. Between the executive, legislature and judiciary, there is still a lot of room to increase the participation of women and tap into their experiences. From district chief executives, to members of parliament to ministers, there is still a gap in women’s participation that must be bridged. Different ideas have been mooted including an affirmative action plan.
The achievements in terms of appointing women to such high profile positions in the public/political space is important in a place like Ghana since government occupies such a large role in our daily lives.
Business or the private sector is always referred to in Ghana as ‘the engine of growth.’ If that’s the case, politics and public policy can be the vessel for rapid change. All levers of state can be pushed to effect rapid and monumental change to benefit women. From work at the ministry of women and child protection, to education to agriculture, a coordinated effort could radically alter the numbers of girls enrolled in school from basic to tertiary levels, more land could be owned by women among other things.
It is often the case that in our societies, political will is able to change attitudes and longstanding cultural practices more rapidly than the conservatism of business. Politics plays such a big role in our lives that often any changes in corporate Ghana will mirror those in politics. It is within this context that evaluating what society gains or loses as women continuously take greater roles in the formal economy and in effect alter their traditional roles.
What is gained?
Immediately, one of the important developments we experience by increased women participation is that there is a diversity of opinion in the public political sphere. For instance, when it comes to debating a bill like the Domestic Violence Bill, if there were many more women in parliament, these women might perhaps quicken the passage of the bill because not only would they add another voice as lawmakers, they would have a power the women’s NGOs who advocate for the bill might lack.
Historically, women haven’t had access to positions of power in business. Many CEOs and top management are men. The presence of many women might ensure that the rights of women in terms of how much they earn compared to men, are protected in their child bearing years and that they are not denied opportunities to rise because of their care giving responsibilities.
The benefits that accrue to a developing nation by encouraging women to contributing in creating a larger pie as it were of the country’s economy is immeasurable. By creating businesses women don’t only get recognition they add to the growth of the economy. Ghanaians have to look no further than industrialists like Akua Herbstein and Esther Ocloo to see examples of women who succeeded in industry.
Women clearly offer and have offered in the past a lot of dynamism to Ghanaian society primarily by trading. Certainly, they offer different perspectives to economically productive work and they will be integral in the next frontier of Ghanaian industrial growth.