Ghana Gender Study

Background

Ghanaian women have a long history of work outside the home, mainly in the informal retail and agrifood sectors. However, the extent to which Ghanaian women’s work is empowering is still an open question—one with particular urgency in a digital age that offers new opportunities for work but that is also changing the content and context of work.

Methods

Based on qualitative analysis of data from in-depth interviews with 10 experts and 40 young Ghanaian women (between 18 and 35 years) engaged in the platform livelihoods, this report answers the following questions: 

  • What are young women’s experiences of working on platforms? 
  • How have these experiences been shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic? 
  • What are the enabling and constraining factors for meaningful and dignified platform livelihoods that will empower young women in Ghana?

Key Findings

  • Which women engage in platform livelihoods?: Given the resources and skills needed to participate in platform livelihoods, many women in this line of work live in urban areas and have completed at least secondary education. In particular, those involved in e-commerce are often professionals with day jobs who do platform work on the side, mirroring online what many Ghanaian women do offline.
  • What motivates women to choose platform work?: Unsurprisingly, money was the major motivation for taking up platform work. However, money meant different things to different women: a main or supplementary source of income, financial independence, or a means of asset acquisition. Another common motivation was the intrinsic satisfaction of engaging in a passion or hobby, or of being challenged to learn and grow in specific ways. The flexibility of platform livelihoods was another attraction, especially for women with young children, and having more time or greater control of time was also considered valuable. However, online traders in particular found that satisfying customer needs impinged quite heavily on their ability to control their time.
  • What helped women in their entry into platform work?: To enter into platform work, the forms of support women found most useful came from other people. This included moral support from family and friends to take the plunge into platform work. Business support groups and informal mentorship from women already pursuing platform livelihoods were also important.
  • What support do women wish they had in their initial entry?: Women identified a number of skills they lacked initially. In particular, many women in platform sales mentioned marketing and social media use, among others. Further, women engaged in unconventional activities, such as ride-hailing, found that social norms governing expectations about women’s occupations were transferred to platform work. These women would have benefited from encouragement from family and others in their close networks to balance out social opposition to their choices.
  • What are the challenges women experience in platform livelihoods?: Most of the challenges identified came from women involved in platform sales. These included logistics (obtaining supplies and arranging delivery), along with the cost of delivery and electronic payments. Inadequate infrastructure (e.g., consistent internet and electricity supply) continues to be an issue, even for those in urban areas. The presence of online fraud also makes the work of online traders more difficult, as it undermines trust between customers and business owners.
  • What motivates women to keep going, despite the challenges they face?: In general,women cited the factors that initially motivated them to enter platform work as the same factors that helped them to keep going, despite the challenges they experienced. These include a network of support, income earned, the inherent satisfaction of their work, and the prospect of growing their work or gaining other opportunities in the future.
  • How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted women’s platform livelihoods?: The pandemic motivated a number of women, mainly in sales, to move into social commerce. Women who had been in platform sales prior to the pandemic and, therefore, had a basis for a before-and-after comparison, pointed to an increase in the use of online services, particularly for retail goods. At the same time, the pandemic has cut into some of this potential for profit by disrupting global supply chains and increasing the cost of imported goods.
  • What have women gained from platform work? Is it empowering?: Women reported various forms of empowerment from platform work, including the “power to” carry out their decisions. Women reported gaining the technical and life skills to meet their goals, including social skills, time management skills, leadership skills, and financial planning skills. “Power within” was also frequently mentioned; women expressed increased confidence, self-esteem, courage, and resilience, which they attributed to their engagement in platform work.
  • What are the costs to women of engaging in platform livelihoods? One of the major costs was the stress of meeting work targets or satisfying demanding clients, a reduction in social activities, and, for those who were self-employed in e-commerce, the absence of employment benefits. 
  • Overall, do women find platform work valuable?: Overwhelmingly, yes. For many, it provides an avenue for self-employment (and for income) in an economy where formal jobs are few and far between. Women also value the non monetary benefits of platform work, including flexibility and control over their time, as well as opportunities for discovery, growth, and fulfillment.

Policy recommendations

  • Practitioners and policymakers should consider expanding work opportunities for a wider range of women, not simply recreating online the unequal access to opportunities that exists in the offline labor market.
  • To ensure that women can take advantage of the available opportunities for platform livelihoods, STEM education, including ICT training, for girls needs to be enhanced.
  • Training institutes offering courses in digital literacy should turn their attention to traders/entrepreneurs and offer basic ICT and digital marketing skills customized to their specific needs.
  • There needs to be more education about the possibilities of (self-)employment available, including for women.
  • Expanding infrastructure across the country is key to ensuring that women beyond the urban and middle-class can take advantage of the available opportunities to engage in

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