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Keywords:

  • Ghana;
  • youth;
  • women;
  • employment;
  • entrepreneurship;
  • microenterprises

Shrinking public sectors and limited opportunities for gaining formal wage employment in the private sector have resulted in entrepreneurship being promoted as a means of generating youth employment. This discourse is being widely promoted within sub-Saharan Africa despite little being known about how best to support youth employment and entrepreneurship. This paper focuses on two of the main trades which young women in sub-Saharan Africa have typically entered: hairdressing and dressmaking. Through drawing on a qualitative case study of hairdressers and seamstresses in Ghana, it is shown how the two professions have fared quite differently in recent years: whereas hairdressing has boomed, dressmaking has been stagnating. The paper shows how these diverging trajectories can be attributed to three related factors. First, globalisation has affected the two trades differently; second, their respective trade associations have reacted differently to the new constraints and opportunities generated by globalisation and their training systems have undergone different degrees of professionalisation; and third, the prestige associated with the two professions has changed affecting the aspirations of young women to enter the professions and the experiences of those that do. As the paper shows, geographers potentially have much to contribute to employment and entrepreneurship debates by providing more contextualised studies which recognise the complex interplay between globalisation, institutions and individuals in particular places and acknowledge the ensuing diverse employment experiences. Such studies are highly relevant for policymakers who are facing the difficult challenge of how to create employment and stimulate entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa.