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Creating Cash Madams in Tamale

2007-07-30 23:06:42
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Safura Ibrahim was a middle level official of a State Enterprise, which was diversified, in the early 1990's. Like many of her colleagues, she became jobless and had to start all over again after some 20 years of loyal service to the Republic.

Rather than depending on her husband who was also struggling as a civil servant, she set up a bend down boutique selling "folks" for many years. Slowly she built up capital and regained her confidence and dignity. She says 'the good thing is that I have educated all our six children, three to the university level'.

Now she is a contractor. But this success is what has made her, the husband's number one enemy. 'He does not want to hear about my business at all.' He just cannot bring himself to understand how I can succeed this far.

'His relatives and friends say many negatives about me just because I have become successful in their eyes.'

Safura's story is like many others in the Tamale Metropolis of enterprising women who suddenly meet unexpected opposition from home when they are "doing well".

This finding was one of the many observations made by a research team put together by Diamond Fm, a private radio station in Tamale in collaboration with the BUSAC Fund and the Center for the Empowerment of the Vulnerable in Sunyani to find answers to socio-cultural barriers to women entrepreneurship in the region.

The research was confined to Tamale, the regional capital, as it is also the most commercialized town in Northern Ghana. Diamond Fm observed that of the people who come to place advertisements in its offices, none was a woman. It noticed also that no woman in the Metropolis can be properly identified as big time businesswoman-The type called Mama Benz in Lome or Cotonou or Cash Madam in Lagos.

Many reasons were given including cultural and religious obstacles. The project was therefore to find out the extent of these problems and how women could overcome, says Ernestina Appiah, the project manager.

The executive director of enterprising women in development, Hajia Azara Telly said many of our women lack the capacity because of illiteracy.

In addition, Fati Alhassan, a gender activist and media expert says women do not use the banks effectively. Many think the banks are beyond them preferring susu collectors who sometimes disappear with their money.

'They seem to be doing well but one wrong investment usually on the prompting of friends leads to disaster to their businesses.' Another point canvassed vigorously at a community dialogue involving opinion leaders, markets women, religious leaders and chiefs was the lack of the support from husbands or male relations to women in business.

The women blamed the men for borrowing heavily from them and not paying back thereby eroding their capital. "Sometimes, they even use the money to go and bluff at the funerals of our rivals, one woman complained.'

Some even talk of their husbands using spiritual means to collapse their businesses out of jealousy about their successes.

There are other women like Safura Ibrahim who have become the "enemies within" to their husbands because of success. "You are branded a prostitute or witch otherwise how you can have so much money as a woman', another woman said.

Hajia Azara Telly says women must discuss their businesses with their families. "We must be transparent and respectful then all shall be well." Coming from a well known trading family Hajia Azara has had no problem over her business.

Fati Alhassan identifies another area of discrimination against women- the banks. She said while men can go to a bank and secure billions, women however well they qualify will never get such quantum of assistance since the men working in the banks are the same people in our various homes who have funny perceptions about women in business.

The banks deny this accusation and say loans are granted according to the rules. "You have to provide collateral and convince the bank your project is viable".

But this is the area when many men shy away from helping. Alhaji Sule Dramani, a well-educated opinion leader nearly fainted at the question of providing collateral for his wife. "How?' which man would do this in the north. So that she will later make you her chewing stick.

"I will not do it and I know my friends will not, neither will my relatives. Another man, Baba Sumaila says further "women should only limit themselves to buy and sell tabletop or kiosk business." He argues, "If you allow them to go beyond that, they will become tyrants. You will lose your grip in the house.'


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