One market woman in Accra was worth any dozen Achimoto graduates……”
Driving through the streets of Accra, just as we’re approaching traffic, we drive by a lady bellowing her offer of sweet fresh pineapple for sell. Unable to resist I stick my head out of the car and wave my hands to get her attention. She runs over, [effortlessly might I add] with a large metal tray containing at least 9 whole pineapples on her head and a young child on her back. The sun is bellowing down. To avoid the tooting of impatient drivers behind me, I quickly hand over 5 cedis and receive back a sweaty two. Transaction complete, two women continue on their days tasks. I run round town with my driver and she runs in the sun.
The presence of the market woman is hard to go unnoticed, her days work as a street/market trader is not an unusual sight. For where past traditional divisions have dictated that the woman’s primary role is of a subordinate one to men, it cannot be denied that the role of the market woman is of one of an
obvious, yet silently essential role to the Ghanaian economy
Market women are everywhere, at the top of the junction selling kelewele, or on the corner with their own minimart of home essentials.
Some would say that despite the economic development and growth Ghana has seen in recent times, these women are the backbone of the economy. Operating collectively in huge markets is not uncommon. One which has most recently hit the headlines is Kantamano market, one of Ghana’s iconic markets. Set in the business district of central Accra, over 30,000 traders operated from here, and on the 6th May 2013 reports spread of a fire destroying many of these women’s businesses and their livelihood. As the women’s
wails echoed through the air,
the devastating aftermath of the fire initiated a declaration of “mass suicide” from the female traders, as this seemed to be the only way to deal with being unexpectedly catapulted into destitution. Losing their business and facing the possibility of permanent eviction from the market with no hint of support to facilitate an unexpected change.
For some, the fire is seen as opening doors of opportunity to change for the better the landscape of one of Accra’s busiest markets. Rebranding and advancement of trade sales are now within reach on the site of Kantamano market. So will the recovery from this wreckage, present the ongoing battle of tradition vs modernisation?
Unfortunately, the recognition of the market woman’s contribution to the economy has not wholly translated into working side by side with the change that Ghana is going through. In an ideal world, a plan of mutually beneficial reconstruction could be considered, but is this too much of a pipe dream? The market woman represents millions of women contributing to the economy on a daily basis, so how is it the
voice of the trader has no say, yet plays such a significant role,
so much so she is portrayed on that 50 pesewa coin?
One organisation which strives to foster change and support women in Ghana by creating sustainable income opportunities, is Global Mamas. This organisation has been in operation for 10 years helping women uphold traditional market trader practices, yet
embracing new skills in becoming business women with access to international trade.
The organisation teaches skills such as practical training in quality control, business management, strategic planning and book-keeping. So mutually beneficial reconstruction isn’t so much of a pipe dream then? The question may be, how can the efforts of the organisation be rolled out to benefit more women?
Without this programme could this be the beginning of the end of the traditional and iconic figure of the market woman? It remains to be seen.
As Kwame Nkrumah once said
“We face neither East nor West; We face forward”
As Ghana goes through a renaissance, it can only be hoped that the woman that has carried the water to quench the thirst of many, and the weight of importance of the economy on her back, her role will not be forgotten but embraced with the continuous change that Ghana goes through.