Black American women bring empowerment to Ghana

How start-ups and social enterprises launched by African-American women and Africans who have lived in the States help expand gender equality and spread black women’s rights

Decoding a black woman’s right to take up space is not a new experience for black American women. However, recently a number of non-Ghanaian black women have relocated to Ghana, a historically all-black country, to start businesses and non-profit organisations and experience a new way of living.

Ghana is a great country for black women to own a business. The Ghana News Agency reports that Ghana placed third for countries with the most women-owned businesses, and Trading Economics says Ghana’s GDP is expected to reach US$78.75 billion by the end of 2023. The data shows that the West African country could be an ideal location for women business owners.

What is the main motivation for American black women deciding to relocate? Encouraging women’s empowerment, it would seem. A cross-section of expats and a Ghanaian-born woman now living in the United States explained why and how they hope to contribute to the lives of women in Ghana.

Questions of access

Zaina Adamu, from Yonkers, New York, is an award-winning journalist and communications expert and is working as a policy consultant for the European Council on Foreign Relations. She experienced what she describes as an epiphany that pushed her to move to Accra and start a non-profit organisation to address the gender gap in education in Ghana.

“What I noticed when I first moved here was the disparities between young men and women, as a young woman in this country,” Adamu said.

“Across Africa, girls have a hard time gaining access to an education because culturally there’s a mindset that the woman’s role is to cook, clean and to make babies. It’s not advocated for them.”

Zaina Adamu/black women
Zaina Adamu is campaigning to expand access to education for Ghanaian girls

The United States has not entirely rid itself of antiquated ideas about what defines a “girl’s role”. Still, the country is universally viewed as more culturally progressive than Ghana.

“Not being able to have access to an education is not a Western ideology,” Adamu said. “I do not ascribe to anyone who says you should keep that in the West. I will never do that.

“I will never, for as long as I live, stop doing the work that I’m doing, because girls should have access. And that’s that. That’s the end of the story for me.”

Soft landing

According to data collected by the United Nations, there is a higher percentage gender gap in education in Ghana than the average regional score for Africa. In addition, a study by UNESCO found that “many teachers in Ghana have been socialised in cultures so that they either look down on women in general or on girls in particular”, which prevents the students from getting the encouragement and support they need to succeed in school and develop a sense of belonging in an academic environment.

Education is not the only sector in which black American-born women aim to contribute to the empowerment of Ghanaian women. For example, the Texas-born founder and executive director of Serenity House Ghana, Chaz Kyser, has developed a “women-centred social enterprise” around a co-working space with a bed and breakfast, café and events space.

The activities at Serenity House Ghana are geared mainly towards women. And Kyser explains that the bed and breakfast is meant solely to accommodate women.

“I wanted a place where women who are solo women, travellers – like, let’s say you’re coming by yourself for the first time, solo – have a safe and soft landing pad where they know it’s safe,” Kyser said.

Focus on women

Kyser’s decision to create a space specifically for women where they can live freely and safely responds directly to the increase in numbers of women travelling internationally.

One of the key findings of a United Nations World Tourism Organization study released in 2019, Global Report on Women in Tourism, supports Kyser’s belief that creating a woman-centred space will empower women in Ghana as well as women living in the black diaspora who wish to contribute economically in Ghana.

“Women can be empowered politically and socially through tourism when links are made with the broader community and civil society organisations,” Kyser said.

In 2019 the Ghanaian government started its “Year of Return” campaign, which encouraged black Americans to vacation in Ghana in an effort to drive an economic boost and position the country as a go-to travel destination.

According to Ghana Business News, the campaign added $1.5 billion in revenue to the economy.

So, when it comes to using her business to focus on the needs of black women, Kyser says she is “just trying to fill a niche”.

Common interest

While there are many benefits in black non-Ghanaian women moving to Ghana, one must question whether or not their presence and influence will help or hurt Ghanaian women.

There are many cultural differences between African-American women and Ghanaian women. For example, both countries are patriarchal societies. But a black woman raised in the United States may feel more emboldened to speak out against misogynoir, a term coined by Northwestern professor and author Moya Bailey to describe the specific type of misogyny directed at black women.

In both countries, however, black women experience gender gaps and discrimination because of the colour of their skin. So, what do black women have to offer Ghanaian women when their home country has yet to overcome these obstacles themselves?

Madonna Owusu Asabre is a Ghana-born-and-raised African woman who moved to the United States to pursue a college education. She supports non-Ghanaian black women relocating to Ghana, noting that no matter which country they are from, black women are always willing to offer sisterhood.

Owusu Asabre argues that having been exposed to both cultures, she appreciates the presence of black American women and is happy that they are working to empower Ghanaian women. She says that black women moving to countries such as Ghana can help in an “enlightened sense”. “I feel like the world is always evolving,” she says.

This presence of non-Ghanaian black women starting businesses and organisations here in Ghana could be viewed as an economic investment in a developing country, which it is to a certain extent. Still, the primary motivation behind this alignment appears to be the same thing that has helped black women survive the constant displacement at the bottom of social hierarchies.

Black women show up for each other

“I feel this sisterhood, and I just feel like I’m home,” Owusu Asabre said. “I grew up here [in Ghana], so there’s always been that system. I see some basic similarities specifically for black women.”

So, with Ghana Girls Rising, Serenity House Ghana and many other black women-owned businesses launching in Ghana, what could this mean for the future of women here? First, it could mean that more Ghanaian girls receive access to education and increase their chances of attending college.

It could mean that with new safe spaces to work, Ghanaian women can network and become business owners, or maybe just have safe places to work and live freely. It could also mean that more Ghanaian women could develop the ability to interact with black women from different countries and pick up on cultural differences that may appeal to them.

Finally, it could mean that Ghanaian women can reflect on Ghana’s development and happily remain in the life they are already living, as is their right.

The presence of black women in Ghana only means more opportunities for black women. And what could be better than that?

Kiara Timo

Kiara Timo is a postgraduate student at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California. She served a Maymester internship in Ghana at Asaase Radio

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