“Inference from sampling within Ghana’s capital points that throughout the country, women are calling on the next president to protect women from sexual harassment in the workplace and fight employment discrimination.”
By Katrina Kalcic
On December 8, 2016, Ghanaians elected Nana Akufo-Addo as their next president. Shortly before the election, my research partner—Sheba Frempong and I traveled to Accra to ascertain the prospects of the election with some women from diverse socio-economic and religious backgrounds. We spoke with life-long residents of Accra, as well as recent migrants from various tribal groups including Ashanti, Ga-Adangbe, Ewe, Mamprusi, Dagbani and others. It was evidential that throughout the capital women called on the future president to address unemployment and sexual harassment against women in search for jobs.
It is difficult to pin down the exact rate of unemployment in Ghana, but a 2016 report by the World Bank estimated that 48 percent of individuals aged 15-24 were unemployed. Of this data, the burden of the female unemployed is uniquely precarious as compared to their male counterparts in the formal sector. Even people with tertiary degrees are unable to find jobs to utilize their acquired skills let alone being granted their deserving remunerations and employment compensations parallel to their qualifications.
Also, the high rate of unemployment has increased the risk of sexual harassment for female job seekers, and women are routinely confronted with unwanted sexual advances as they go for job hunts. Without mincing words, a lady lamented that “My Sister, whenever we [women]go for interviews, the managers demand that we sleep with them first before they give us the jobs,” explained Rita, a kindergarten teacher at a public school in Accra. “It’s very common… it happens to women all the time.” She added sorrowfully.
Despite the predicament of the women, Ernestina—a third-year student studying Finance at University of Ghana-Legon, added a different twist to the discourse. She expatiated that this abusive and discriminatory behavior does not only affect women, but their unemployed males bear the brunt as well. According to her, it negatively impacts the men because they fall victim to these lustful favoritism towards females during selections for employment. “For instance, if I go on a job interview with a guy, I stand a higher chance of being picked even if my certificate is lower than that of the guy, or my grades are not as good as his,” Ernestina said. “It’s because of what they [employers]want from a lady.” She emphasized.
What happens then if a woman refuses to trade sex for work, or if transactional sex fails to result in employment? Or more simply, what if she just cannot find a job in the highly competitive market? “Maybe she has to stay and help her mom at home,” Rita said, shrugging her shoulders. “…or maybe sell in the market, the roadside or engage in other menial jobs for survival”. Certainly, the poor lady will have no option than to indulge in selling anything ranging from sachets of pure water to peddling cooked food by the roadside both day and night.
Economically, high amounts of debt, inflation, uncertainty regarding commodity prices, and corruption have pushed Ghana into a persistent economic downturn over the past several years. As the pool of available jobs continues to shrink in this economic environment, managers have more power to barter for sex and employment with female candidates—a practice that degrade womanhood and renders their hard earned qualifications valueless before these poachers. That virtuous lady had to sacrifice her pleasures to attend schools, work hard to achieve top marks in view of incessant home-making ventures. Most of them had to take loans or get supported by family members to pay for their education. They hope to earn incomes not only to support themselves, but also to cater for their extended family members by way of providing food, clothing and support the education of younger siblings and cousins. After the grappling through the academic years, she blooms with flying colors and becomes ripe for the job market but sees her sacrifice and aspirations firmly stuck in the hands of unscrupulous predatory employers who view transactional sex as a standard part of the hiring processes.
In the neighborhoods of Accra with the lowest incomes, young women often see marriage as the one viable path to economic stability. Faizra, a lifelong resident of Accra, explained that young women feel marriage is the only way to carve out an economic future for themselves. Many young women value education despite the high costs associated with it. But, given the high unemployment rate and the prevalence of transactional sex for jobs, it is easy to understand why marriage is sometimes seen as a more secure option. That notion has led to unplanned marriages, teenage pregnancies and mostly single parenthood.
Nana Akufo-Addo and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) campaigned on the promise to create an economy that will work for all Ghanaians. Nana Akufo-Addo’s plan to build a factory in each of Ghana’s 216 districts aims to industrialize the Ghanaian economy and create jobs for people at all education levels. A variety of other incentives, such as tax breaks for companies that hire recent graduates from tertiary institutions aim to address unemployment issues specifically among young people with higher education. A promise to crack down on corruption regardless of political party or tribal affiliation also earned the respect of many voters.
In absence of doubt, the NPP’s pledges for job creation and fiscal responsibility resonated deeply with women from all socio-economic backgrounds. They yearned for economic liberation and equal employment opportunities having endured frustrating economic stagnations; hence they couldn’t hold back their excitement at the prospect of change—the change so yearned for!
Many women also remembered the caliber of public services they had enjoyed under the “ NPP 1” government led by former President John Agyekum Kufuor from 2001–2008, which included the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) and School Feeding Programs (SFP)for young children. Today, the NHIS struggles to function and many school feeding programs have been shut down throughout the country as part of cost-cutting measures. For example, Bernice Owusu, a women’s rights activist based in Accra, explained that many pregnant women desire for professional medical care but are afraid to go to the nearby healthcare delivery centers to deliver because it can be impossible to predict what insurance will cover her. They are afraid of incurring large medical bills they may never be able to pay back.
Bernice said she is frustrated to see women being forced to make trade-offs between their health and their finances, and believes strongly that the NPP will introduce the kind of fiscal discipline and political resourcefulness to fix the problems with the NHIS. Rita, the kindergarten teacher in Accra, said she supported Nana Akufo-Addo because she felt he was a well-educated man who would focus on job creation for all Ghanaians. This summer, Rita also participated in a city-wide teacher’s strike in an attempt to force the out-going National Democratic Congress (NDC) government to pay teachers their accrued wages.
Conducting this project in Accra offered me a foresight of victory into December 2016’s election judging from the wailing and enthusiasm of these women who were hopeful that the incoming NPP administration will defend their interests and implement the rightful changes they believe will help them achieve fair treatment in the workplace, respect the dignity of a woman, and address unemployment for all Ghanaians especially, the female job seeker.
Katrina Kalcic and her research partner—Sheba Frempong conducted these interviews while researching on women’s political participation in Accra, Ghana in the summer of 2016. All interviews contain original material. Ms. Kalcic studied political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She most recently served as a research analyst at the International Peace Institute, studying women’s participation in conflict mediation and resides in New York City.