“I always wanted to be a fashion designer. The thrill of transforming fabric into pieces of art was one I wanted to pursue as a full-time career. But as it were, I found a different thrill in helping women get a voice in society” says an enthusiastic Mercy Owusu-Duah.
20 years after first joining City Educational Complex to study fashion and design, Mercy Owusu-Duah is now the fulfilled First National Vice President of the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) Ghana.
Mercy attended Juaben Secondary School where she took her O’Levels moving on from there to City Educational Complex to study Intermediate Fashion Design and thereafter, to Accra Polytechnic to pursue Advanced Fashion Design.
Her journey with YWCA began when Akua Gyimah Kwapong, the then headmistress of City Educational Complex asked her to participate in a YWCA programme on behalf of the school as the Dining Hall Prefect.
“My interest in empowering girls and women developed when I attended the programme where the first training was on "Peer Pressure and Abstinence from Sex". I was very moved by this experience and I credit my entire career at YWCA and the course my life took to it”, asserts Mercy.
Mercy has held various positions at YWCA for the last two decades with the fundamental mission of giving women a stronger individual and collective voice on important issues through various initiatives. She is also the Chairperson for the hostel committee at YWCA.
She has implemented various advocacy programmes such as Early Child Marriage, Right By Her campaign and the ‘Kayayie project’ an initiative to get kayayei (female head porters) off the streets and impart them with life skills. Whilst it hasn’t all been nice and easy, it has certainly been rewarding and impactful.
“Empowering girls and women to make decisions that affect their lives cannot be overlooked in any society. Girls and women continually need empowerment at all stages of life to become agents of change for socio-economic development” she adds.
It is the Kayayie Project which won the heart of many as well as the golden opportunity to attend ExxonMobil’s Global Woman In Management Programme (GWIM), an initiative that aims to help women in developing countries fulfill their economic potential and become catalysts for economic and social change in their communities and workplace. GWIM is designed for mid-career women working in civil society organisations (local NGOs, cooperatives, business women’s associations, micro-credit organisations, etc.) and entrepreneurs—women who support the economic advancement of other women in their communities through business development, vocational skills, and income generation projects or social enterprise.
Recounting her experience at the GWIM programme in the USA, Mercy describes it as phenomenal and power-packed.
“I was amazed by the scale of the programme with 26 participants from different countries taking part in this life-changing experience. The programme gave me a sense of purpose and was an eye-opener to the many avenues and possibilities I have as a woman and a leader” she says.
The one-month training offered a wide range of topics ranging from leadership, management, financial control, proposal writing, fundraising, business proposals, public speaking, and presentation skills. Amongst the topics, she found ‘Managing the Odds’, and ‘People Management’ very insightful and helpful in understanding different perspectives as she constantly has a need to build effective working relationships with a wide variety of people.
One of her highest moments at GWIM programme was when her group won an award for developing the best business plan during the economics week celebration.
“The GWIM programme taught me that a hallmark of effective leadership is the ability to share your vision with your team and stakeholders engendering a sense of inclusion, engagement and ownership that will drive results for the entire organisation. I also learnt that embracing other people’s ideas and opinions is key to effective leadership”, Mercy adds.
Mercy believes strongly in the value of sharing knowledge with others for development and making an impact in the World; she has already began applying the knowledge gained from GWIM programme at YWCA and her community.
The lessons on proposal writing helped her to put together a project dubbed “Move the sexual consent from 16 to 18 years”: a project that advocates a policy change to move the age of consent of sexual relations from 16 years to 18 years. The proposal has received funding from International Planned Parenthood Federation Africa Region. In line with the project she has started advocacy in schools in the Greater Accra and Ashanti regions.
She thanks ExxonMobil for the immense knowledge and valuable skills acquired at the GWIM programme and urges other women to take the opportunity to participate in future.
In Mercy’s opinion women’s leadership is creative and effective, “If you give a woman an empty house she will create a home and empower all that are in it.” She continues “When women in leadership have the needed support they perform excellently”.
Mercy is a shining example of her own belief. Her hard work and passion to empower women has earned her various accolades the most recent being an award under the “RightByHer” campaign for the “Move sexual consent from 16 to 18 years” project.
As we celebrate International Women Day in 2020 under the theme #EachforEqual, Mercy has this inspiring message: “As women we are not limited, we are not created by chance but we are here for a purpose; with affection and determination a woman, impacts families, society and the nation as a whole.”
Women in leadership must create opportunities for other young women to rise to high positions by providing the necessary guidance, mentoring and support needed. “If someone helped you with a ladder of opportunity to success, you must create nine further ladders to enable others raise to the pinnacle as well”, she adds enthusiastically.
On achieving overall empowerment for women, Mercy believes that by promoting access and opportunity for women and girls and building their skills and confidence it is possible to enable women achieve their potential and have agency and control over decisions that affect their lives.
“It takes all of us. We can do it, together”.
Happy International Women’s Day!!