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28.02.2007 General News

Women In Economic Development

Women In Economic Development

Women of Ghana have come a long way since independence. In times past, women in the Ghanaian society were seen as bearers of children, fishmongers and farmers.

In recent times, however, the contribution of women to the country's economy over the years has been tremendous. It is estimated that women make up about 85 per cent of the wholesale and retail trading business and form about two-thirds of the working population in the manufacturing sector.

Indeed, in Ghana, women are found working mostly in the informal sector. From small-scale farming activities, selling on table tops at markets to venturing into micro enterprises, Ghanaian women predominate.

At present, quite a number of women are managing big firms and continue to assert themselves as a force to reckon with.

Although women are active economically, there are cultural, educational and economic challenges which have hindered their progress and which, therefore, need to be surmounted.

A World Bank finding on women's role in improved economic performance in Ghana said some of the constraints included uncertain access to land and a history of losing land rights, poor understanding of the importance of savings, poor access to credit (especially at reasonable interest rates), lack of business knowledge, limited access to formal sector financial services, as well as the constant pressure of household responsibilities.

Adding to these are common perceptions that women's businesses should not be as large or successful as men's.

Despite these, hundreds of women have braved the odds and have recorded sterling performances in their businesses.

It is worthy to note that government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are also contributing their quota by providing credit facilities and training programmes to empower women economically.

As Ghana celebrates 50 years of independence, women of Ghana continue to ask that they be made more visible and recognised and that development policies should place more emphasis on their contributions to the economy.

In celebrating the contributions of women to the economic sector, The Mirror brings to readers profiles of a few distinguished women entrepreneurs among the lot.

Esther Ocloo

The late Dr Esther Ocloo was a highly successful entrepreneur, industrialist, philanthropist, international leader and the first woman to receive the Africa Prize for Leadership.

She was a model to women and men in Africa and world-wide, producing creative solutions to the problems of poverty, hunger and the distribution of wealth.

Dr Ocloo's own business has focused on those critical aspects of feeding Africa — food processing and preservation.

Esther Afua Nkulenu was born in Peki-Dzake in the Volta Region of Ghana on April 18, 1919. Her parents were poor farmers but she was able to attend high school, with the help of scholarships offered to young women by Cadbury, the chocolate company which was a major buyer of Ghana's cocoa crop.

Her mother, with tears in her eyes, sent her off to Accra with just a sixpence. After graduating, she lived with relatives in the city. An aunt gave her 10 shillings with which she bought sugar, firewood, oranges and 12 jars and made marmalade jam, which she sold for a shilling a jar.

"I was ridiculed by all my classmates who saw me hawking marmalade on the street like an uneducated street vendor," instead of seeking an office job, she said.

But she ploughed her profits back into the business. She also took some of her marmalade to her old high school and won a contract to supply the entire school. Soon, school officials asked her to supply orange juice from orange trees on its grounds.

She next got a contract to supply juice to the military but lacked the necessary funds to carry out the job.

Though she had no collateral, she persuaded a bank to give her a loan on the basis of the contract. The result was her company, Nkulenu Industries, which grew to produce products like canned tomato and soup bases.

After six years, she had saved enough money to go to Britain to study food technology, preservation, nutrition and agriculture. She also learned leatherwork and lampshade-making, in the hope of sharing the skills with rural women back home.

Even as she continued running her own company upon her return, she devoted more and more of her time to improving women's economic situation. For example, she established her own programme on a farm to train women in agriculture, preparing and preserving food products and making handicrafts.

She paid for the programme in part with her half of the Africa Prize, a $100,000 award she split with Olusegun Obasanjo, the current President of Nigeria, in 1990.

It was presented by the Hunger Project for their leadership in working to end hunger in Africa.

She liked to keep things simple, as when she taught business management skills to women involved in cooking and selling food on the streets.

"I have taught them to cost the things they sell and determine their profits," she said. "You know what we found? We found that a woman selling rice and stew on the side of the street is making more money than most women in office jobs — but they are not taken seriously," she once said.

Dr Ocloo had been a pioneering leader since the time of Ghana's independence. In 1958, she founded and became the first National President of the Federation of Ghana Industries.

In 1964, Dr Ocloo became the first female Executive Chairman of the Ghana National Food and Nutrition Board and in 1978 she founded the Ghana Chapter of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women.

Dr Ocloo had long been committed to providing two essential opportunities for African women: Appropriate training and access to credit so that they might start their own enterprises.

She accepted the request of the African Training and Research Centre for Women of the UN Economic Commission for Africa to assist in the training of women from many countries in processing and preserving food.

At a workshop in Mexico City preceding the International Women's Year conference in 1975, she put forth the idea of an international bank directed specifically to women.

The result, Women's World Banking, plays a vital role in the empowerment of women.

Historically, women have lacked access to credit because they did not, and often were not permitted to, own assets which would stand as collateral.

Women's World Banking provides guarantees for women who cannot provide collateral so that they are eligible for a bank loan.

Dr Ocloo became the first chairman of its board, serving in that capacity from 1980 to 1985.

She died on February 8, 2002 at the age of 83.

Compiled by Rebecca Kwei