Independence Day on the 6th of March every year reminds us of our freedom from colonial rule and the beginning of a journey to managing our own affairs as a country and controlling our collective destiny as a people. After 65 years of independence, however, many have argued that we cannot claim independence when we are still dependent on foreign aid and assistance that sometimes come with stringent conditions in management of the country. True independence, they contend – the freedom to make your own choices – is a consequence of financial and economic independence. The question that constantly plagues us is: how do we as a nation achieve financial and economic independence?
In her recent article, ‘Recognising the efforts of women; the backbone of the Ghanaian economy’, my colleague Linda Aryee Ebale highlighted the significance of women in our socio-economic development, and the fact they are the essential glue that holds the economy together through their economic activities. It therefore makes very good reason that if Ghana can achieve financial and economic independence, we need to first ensure that those who hold the economy together – women – are financially independent themselves. From excelling in areas like the arts, sports, business and governance to pursuing the professions of their choice, women have come a long way in empowering themselves. Yet when it comes to handling their finances, a lot of women still leave it (either entirely or partially) to the men in their lives.
Socialisation of women and systemic structures in society have contributed over time in tilting the control and management of finances in favour of men. Some women have come to accept this status quo, and as such lack the confidence in their own ability to manage their own finances well. Financial independence is not autonomous and does not happen in a vacuum – it is anchored on confidence and ability to manage one’s own finances. Financial independence not only provides a source of confidence, but also gives women the credibility to participate in important matters of decision-making across all levels; personal, social and at the national level.
When women earn for themselves, they are immediately more in control of the state of their affairs and livelihoods. We suggest that our quest for a truly independent country will forever be on the horizon if women are not financially and economically independent. If you find yourself asking the question ‘But why women?’, the following statistics will be of interest to you.
According to the latest census data, women account for approximately 50% of the labour force and are found in almost all kinds of economic activities including agriculture, industry and services. Also, within the small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) sector, women are the main actors. In Ghana’s micro sector, – a sector that is known to be the anchor on which Ghana’s economy hangs – women are the primary participants. According to the World Bank, 44% of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Ghana are owned by women. On the African continent, apart from Uganda, Ghana has the most women entrepreneurs according to the 2019 MasterCard Index of Women Entrepreneurs. These indicate the significance of women within Ghana’s current socio-economic development and the need to give them more support.
Politically, our history is replete with loads of examples featuring empowered women whose contributions cannot be forgotten in Ghana’s independence struggle. The story is told of Rebecca Naa Dedei Aryeetey (popularly known as Dedei Ashikishan) – a businesswoman, political activist and feminist who is known to have provided funds and campaigned for Dr. Nkrumah to win the Accra-Central seat and subsequently become president of the country.
We also remember the exploits of Susanna Al-Hassan, an author and politician who became the first female Member of Parliament in the Northern Territory. History remembers her as the first Ghanaian female to be appointed a minister and the first African woman to hold a Cabinet portfolio. Her fearless activism during the colonial era caused her to rise through the ranks in politics. The bravery of Mabel Dove Danquah is also not forgotten in Ghana’s struggle for independence. As a journalist in the colonial era, she made her voice heard through her articles which urged Ghanaians to keep fighting for independence – and also urged women to play an active role in the independence struggle. In 1954, Mabel Danquah became the first female member of Ghana’s legislative assembly. She is also the first woman to be elected into the African Legislative Assembly.
There are many more in the likes of Theodosia Okoh, Hannah Cudjoe, Gloria Amon Nikoi, Agnes Oforiwaa Tagoe-Quarcoopome, Esther Afua Ocloo who were strong, empowered and financially independent female figures in Ghana’s struggle for political independence and the continued efforts at achieving economic independence. As we mark Ghana’s 65th independence and celebrate all women across the world in this month, let us be reminded of the immeasurable contributions women make to our economy and put deliberate interventions in place to push them forward. After all, true independence will be achieved only when our women are financially and economically empowered.
The author is the Head of Legal and Governance at Stanbic Bank.