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Keywords:

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

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Youth and entrepreneurship in a globalising world
  5. Young female employment avenues in Ghana
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References

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.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Youth and entrepreneurship in a globalising world
  5. Young female employment avenues in Ghana
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References

Globalisation, economic restructuring and the transformation of labour markets have radically changed the employment opportunities of young people around the world (Jeffrey 2010; Ruddick 2003). In sub-Saharan Africa, shrinking public sectors and limited opportunities for gaining formal wage employment in the private sector have resulted in an increasing number of young people being obliged to create employment for themselves in the informal sector (Calvés and Schoumaker 2004; Chigunta et al. 2005; Langevang 2008). Unemployment and underemployment have become major development challenges and several international institutions have specifically identified the promotion of entrepreneurship among young people as a key solution (World Bank 2006; Africa Commission 2009). At the national level, a parallel discourse on entrepreneurship promotion providing the solution to the employment challenge has emerged and some governmental institutions in sub-Saharan Africa have developed specific youth employment and entrepreneurship programmes (Chigunta et al. 2005; Garcia and Fares 2008). Little is known, however, about how youth employment and entrepreneurship can best be supported.

This increased focus on entrepreneurship as a driver of economic development has come in the wake of a stronger emphasis on private-sector development. Women have been given a special position in this process as promoting female entrepreneurship is perceived to both empower women and reduce poverty (Minniti and Naudé 2010). There is little agreement regarding the impact of globalisation on female entrepreneurship, with some research concluding that women are ‘carrying the burdens of adjustment and globalization’, as their businesses have suffered from increased costs and competition (Osirim 2003, 535), whereas others assert that ‘the globalization process has progressively reduced barriers to entrepreneurship’ for women (Marković 2007, xi). As Spring (2009) notes, existing studies of female employment and entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa tend to group all women together, thereby missing differences among places, generations and sectors.

This paper aims to contribute to debates regarding young female employment and entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa by focussing on two of the main trades which young women have typically entered: hairdressing and dressmaking. Drawing on qualitative data from a 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 stagnated. These diverging trajectories can be attributed to three related factors: first, globalisation has affected the 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 formalisation; and third, the prestige associated with the two professions has changed, which affects the aspirations of young women to enter the professions and the abilities of those that do. As the paper shows, geographers potentially have much to contribute to employment and entrepreneurship debates through providing more contextualised studies which recognise the complex interplay between globalisation, institutions and individuals in particular places and acknowledge the ensuing diverse employment experiences.

The paper is divided into three subsequent sections. In the following section, some of the conceptual challenges involved in defining and linking youth, entrepreneurship and globalisation are highlighted. Subsequently, the case study of hairdressing and dressmaking in Ghana is introduced and the various ways in which globalisation, trade associations and individual perceptions have influenced the two professions analysed. In the conclusion the findings are summarised and the implications of the paper for geographers' contribution to studies of employment and entrepreneurship as well as for policymakers are highlighted.

Youth and entrepreneurship in a globalising world

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Youth and entrepreneurship in a globalising world
  5. Young female employment avenues in Ghana
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References

Youth is a much debated concept that varies historically and culturally and from one context to another. There is no consensus regarding its definition but youth is commonly used to refer to young people aged between 15 and 24, despite these ages bearing no correlation to any legal definitions of childhood or adulthood (Ansell 2005). In sub-Saharan Africa, the term youth generally covers young people aged from 15 to 35, although it is clearly a gendered concept with some young women experiencing youth as only a brief interlude between puberty and motherhood (Hansen et al. 2008). Such age brackets, however, are fairly arbitrarily placed and understanding the lives of young people requires examining the ways in which they are affected by socio-economic change as well as how they negotiate their position through their activities (Christiansen et al. 2006). The concept of youth inevitably involves a tension between the social significance of being young in a certain time and place and the social significance of other social divisions which differentiate young people from each other (Wyn and White 1997). While it is possible to identify some common key characteristics of young people's experiences, it is also important to explore how their experiences are differentiated by other identities such as gender, education and class.

Globalisation is impacting on the experiences of youth in numerous and varied ways (Maira and Soep 2005). As Wulff (1995, 10) notes from a cultural perspective: ‘When it comes to globalisation or transnational connections youth cultures are in the forefront of the theoretical interest; youth, their ideas and commodities move easily across national borders, shaping and being shaped by all kinds of structures and meanings’. From an economic perspective, young people around the world have seen their labour market prospects strongly affected by the changing economic conditions and the restructuring of labour markets. Globalisation and economic reform have had devastating effects on employment generation in many parts of the world, and increasing numbers of young people are being presented with neoliberal discourses of entrepreneurship as a route out of unemployment (Hansen 2010; Jeffrey 2010). At the same time, the meanings of youth itself are changing as dominant ideals of youth, originating in the global North, are increasingly being exported to the global South where the resources to live out these ideals are often missing (Ruddick 2003).

Although entrepreneurship is increasingly being promoted as a means of employment generation and economic growth, entrepreneurship in the global South remains an understudied area (Lingelbach et al. 2005; Bruton et al. 2008; Naudé 2011). Despite there being no common definition of entrepreneurship, it is generally agreed that at the heart of the entrepreneurial process is the creation and/or recognition of opportunities followed by an initiative to seize these opportunities (Chigunta et al. 2005; Naudé 2008; Olomi 2009). Shane and Venkataraman (2000, 218) have highlighted how entrepreneurship involves a nexus between two phenomena: the presence of ‘enterprising individuals’ and the presence of ‘lucrative opportunities’. They define the field of entrepreneurship as involving ‘the study of sources of opportunities; the processes of discovery, evaluation, and exploitation of opportunities; and the set of individuals who discover, evaluate, and exploit them’ (Shane and Venkataraman 2000, 218, italics in original). Inherent in this definition is the notion that entrepreneurs are not just responding to static opportunity structures but are able to change and mould structures through innovative behaviour and thereby create opportunities. By emphasising ‘enterprising’ individuals, the definition also stresses the importance of entrepreneurial abilities, i.e. the skills and resources needed to identify, seize and exploit opportunities.

Entrepreneurship has traditionally been associated with men and until recently women's businesses have largely been ignored in the literature on entrepreneurship (Hanson 2009). Businesses run by women have been considered insignificant because they are perceived as too small and typically located in sectors of the economy (services and retail) that are considered to contribute little to economic growth. In recent years, however, women's businesses have been growing more rapidly than men's businesses and setting up a business has become a major livelihood strategy for women around the world (Hanson 2009; Minniti and Naudé 2010; Strier 2010; Eversole 2004). Although the limited opportunities in the labour market in sub-Saharan Africa have forced men to cross gender barriers and enter female domains, very few women break through gender barriers (Overå 2007). Consequently, an increasing number of young women seek employment opportunities within a few professions typically setting up their own informal micro-enterprises (McDade and Spring 2005; Amine and Staub 2009; Spring 2009). Gender ideologies, understood as assumptions about what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour of women and men are, as Overå (2007) highlights, time and place specific and are moulded in a complex interplay between local and global forces and relations.

The emerging research on employment in the global South has highlighted the need for more contextualised considerations of the conditions under which entrepreneurship is practiced and has pointed to the importance of institutions (Naudé 2011; Bruton et al. 2010). Institutions, understood as both formal rule sets, and informal codes of conduct and norms of behaviour, define what is appropriate and legitimate action (Bruton et al. 2010). The role of the economic and social environment in valuing and promoting certain activities, while devaluing and even discouraging others, needs to be afforded greater attention (Blake and Hanson 2005). Acknowledging the importance of institutions implies challenging the focus on the independent individual entrepreneur which permeates much mainstream entrepreneurship thinking and recognising the various factors that influence the meanings and practices of (female) entrepreneurship in particular contexts.

Young female employment avenues in Ghana

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Youth and entrepreneurship in a globalising world
  5. Young female employment avenues in Ghana
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References

Although Ghana has exhibited growth rates of around 5–7% during the past decade, this growth has not generated sufficient employment, hence youth unemployment and underemployment have become key challenges (Baah-Boateng and Turkson 2005; ISSER 2010). In recent years policymakers in Ghana have responded to the unemployment challenge by introducing a plethora of measures. A new private sector strategy and employment strategy are currently being drafted which have job creation for young people and entrepreneurship as their focal points. A National Youth Policy was launched in 2010 which includes policy priority areas on employment generation and entrepreneurship, and the government is currently implementing a Youth in Employment Programme which includes entrepreneurship elements. However, although economic policy reforms, strategies and programmes have recognised the need for employment creation and improvements to the entrepreneurial environment, there is still very little to show in terms of employment created (ISSER 2010). The majority of young people still have to find/create employment for themselves in the informal sector.

Ghanaian women have long been known for their high labour market participation and vibrant entrepreneurial activity (Clark 1994; Dzisi 2008; Overå 2007). In the 2010 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey, Ghana is the only country of the 59 participating countries in which the rate of female entrepreneurship (37%) exceeds that of men (31%) (Kelley et al. 2011)1. Whilst women work in a range of sectors, and are especially dominant in the trading sector, two of the most common professions for young women to enter are hairdressing and dressmaking, which form the focus of this paper.

The fieldwork on which this paper is based was conducted in Accra from January to June 2010. First, the formal institutional environment for entrepreneurship was mapped. This involved conducting semi-structured interviews with representatives from institutions that have an impact on entrepreneurship, and/or are involved in promoting youth employment and entrepreneurship, including government agencies, NGOs, educational and vocational training institutes, enterprise development agencies and trade associations. For the case study of the hairdressing and dressmaking sectors, in-depth interviews were held with young apprentices, business owners and employees. A total of 46 hairdressers and seamstresses were interviewed, and of these, 30 young business owners were asked to narrate their life stories, including how and why they established their businesses and their future aspirations. The hairdressers and seamstresses had similar backgrounds: most were born in Accra, their mothers tended to be petty traders, and they were generally from low-income households. Subsequently, in-depth interviews were conducted with key informants from the hairdressers' and dressmakers' associations and training institutions. Informal conversations and extensive observation at association meetings and at hairdressers' and seamstresses' workplaces were also carried out over the 6-month period. Interviews were held in English where possible, though in cases where the interviewee was not able to, or was uncomfortable speaking English, the assistance of a female research assistant was required. The interviews lasted between 45 and 90 min and the majority were taped and subsequently transcribed.

Changing opportunities: the impact of globalisation

In recent decades the structure of the Ghanaian economy and labour market has undergone remarkable changes (Aryeetey 2005). The Government of Ghana introduced structural adjustment programmes under the auspices of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) from the mid 1980s onwards. Subsequently Ghana has implemented a range of economic reform programmes aimed at increasing the role of the private sector, liberalising the economy and better integrating Ghana into the global economy. A number of policy measures, including the abolition of the import licensing system, a reduction in tariffs, the lifting of restrictions on access to foreign exchange, and subsidy cuts to public enterprises have been put in place (Anyemedu 2000; Aryeetey and Ahene 2004). These economic reforms and attempts at globalisation have continued into the twenty-first century. Since 2001 the Government of Ghana has proclaimed a ‘Golden Age of Business’ to attempt to ensure that the country takes advantage of opportunities in the global economy.

Globalisation has had a direct impact on both the hairdressing and dressmaking professions but, as will be shown below, while the former has largely benefitted the latter has mainly suffered. In relation to hairdressing, trade liberalisation has resulted in the importation of new products which has facilitated the introduction of new techniques. The most important is the hair-relaxing technique which uses chemical hair-relaxing perms to make the hair softer and straighter, making it possible to create a greater variety of styles identified as being Western. Hair relaxing was introduced from Europe and America and has been popular among Ghanaians since the late 1990s. After the hair has been relaxed and shampooed it has to be set in rollers, dried and treated with a range of products. Since it is difficult for women to do this by themselves, many go to hairdressing salons on a weekly basis for shampooing and additionally have their hair ‘touched up’ every six weeks, i.e. have the outgrowing roots treated with hair products (Oda 2005). The importation of artificial hair has resulted in other techniques such as ‘weave on’ and ‘corn-roll’ becoming widespread, both of which are time-consuming activities for hairdressers. Many hairdressers have also added a range of other beauty services to their salons, such as pedicure and manicure, massage and cosmetics. While many of these products are imported, the establishment of foreign and locally owned hair-product manufacturers in Ghana from the mid 1990s has also been a catalyst for the boom. These companies have not only been important in making hair products more accessible to Ghanaians, they have also introduced hairdressing shows and competitions which have contributed to innovation and creativity in the practice of hairdressing.

Globalisation has also impacted directly on the work of seamstresses in Ghana but in rather a different way. Ghana has a tradition of custom-made clothing and has long had a substantial seamstress population. The roots of the seamstress profession date back to the missionaries in the second half of the nineteenth century who made sewing a basic part of their educational programmes in West Africa (Gott 2010). ‘Traditional’ clothing styles include the kaba (fitted top), slit (fitted long skirt), boubou and kaftan (loose-fitting, long, often embroidered garments), and smock (also called fugu – a male garment made of hand woven strips of cloth). A combination of factors related to globalisation and trade liberalisation has contributed to a decline in the demand for locally made clothes. Through globalisation Ghanaians have been increasingly exposed to Western styles of clothing. Consequently, since the mid 1990s consumer preferences have gradually moved away from ‘African style’ to ‘Western style’ clothing. Whereas previously seamstresses were the main provider of clothing there are now several alternative sources. Trade liberalisation has resulted in the importation of ready-made clothes, especially from the East, which not only provide the style of clothing in demand but are also cheaper than local custom-made clothes. Another source of ready-made clothes is the booming second-hand clothing industry, which imports clothing from Europe, America and Korea (Gough and Langevang 2010). Second-hand clothing is often preferred to new clothing as it is generally of higher quality; it has been estimated that around 95% of Ghanaians purchase second-hand clothing (Baden and Barber 2005). These alternative sources of imported clothing have resulted in a severe drop in the demand for custom-made clothing because although seamstresses can make western-style clothing, the cost is generally higher and the quality may be lower. Trade liberalisation has also impacted more broadly on the textile and garment industry in Ghana; whereas the textile industry employed around 25 000 people and accounted for 27% of total manufacturing employment in 1977, employment had declined to 7000 in 1995 and to 5000 by the year 2000 (Quartey 2006).

Globalisation has thus impacted on the two professions in very different ways. Although both professions have been affected by the importation of new products, in the case of hairdressing these products have resulted in an increase in the demand for the skills of hairdressers whereas in the case of dressmaking the new products have led to a fall in the demand for garments made by seamstresses.

Seizing opportunities: the role of trade associations

Since the late 1980s the Ghanaian government, in partnership with international development partners, has focused on increasing access to basic education, i.e. primary school and junior high school (JHS). As a result, the intake at the basic education level has increased significantly (95% enter primary) but access to secondary and tertiary education remains limited (ISSER 2010). Consequently an increasing number of young people search for post-basic training and employment opportunities outside formal institutions, many through informal training institutions. Informal apprenticeship training is the largest provider of skills in Ghana and is responsible for about 80–90% of all basic skills training. It is estimated that about one out of every three young people in the 20–30 age group has experience as an apprentice compared with one in four 15 years ago, and the percentage of young women doing an apprenticeship has doubled (COTVET 2009). Training for hairdressing and dressmaking has predominantly been undertaken through the apprenticeship system. Following a written or verbal agreement, apprentices are trained by a ‘madam’ for a period of 2–3 years; in exchange the madam receives a sum of money (and in some cases also gifts) on top of the free labour provided by the apprentices (Hanson 2005). Most apprentices then have to pass an exam before they can become paid skilled workers or establish their own business. Young people with and without formal education pass through the apprenticeship system but in Accra it is a particularly common avenue for JHS graduates. Increasingly trade associations are starting to impact on the training of apprentices and, as will be shown, can have a major impact on the operation of the trade in general2. This is part of a wider trend of the proliferation of civil associations in sub-Saharan Africa, including the emergence of a new generation of collective organisations around informal livelihood issues (Lindell 2010).

As well as benefiting from globalisation, the hairdressing profession has also been promoted by the highly proactive and entrepreneurial hairdresser associations; the Ghana Hairdressers and Beauticians Association (GHABA) formed in 1972 and the National Association of Beauticians and Hairdressers (NABH) established in the late 1990s. The organisations are structured into regional, district and zonal groups and all members pay monthly dues. The associations aim to reduce members' production costs by negotiating tax and utility rates with the government; streamline the profession by providing a standardised education for hairdressers; and create and preserve the good image of hairdressers in order to legitimate the profession (Essah 2008). The associations run weekly meetings where members discuss their daily work, as well as means and ways of moving their profession forward. Workshops are also held where resource persons are invited to talk about entrepreneurship, record keeping and customer care etc. The executives of some zonal groups visit members' salons several times a year to check on their salon arrangements and assist them with their book-keeping, as having appropriate salons and keeping financial records are considered vital for running a proper business. Alliances have also been made with hair product manufacturers who attend meetings and workshops to introduce new products and teach members their proper application. The associations have also joined transnational hairdressers' networks and have cooperated with hairdresser unions in Denmark and South Africa to exchange ideas and styles, and advise on the importance of proper business management and the safe use of chemicals.

The hairdresser associations have actively transformed the training of hairdressers in recent years linked to the new opportunities generated by globalisation, resulting in the institutionalisation of the mode of skills acquisition. The adoption of new techniques has resulted in the work becoming more specialised, for example, the chemicals used in the relaxing technique must be applied carefully according to the instructions so as not to damage the client's skin or the hairdresser's hands. The hairdresser associations run weekly classes for apprentices in their final year. These classes focus on the more theoretical aspects of hairdressing, including entrepreneurship (how to start and run a business, including record keeping and customer care) and technical hairdressing skills. They follow a preset syllabus which has gained accreditation by the National Vocational and Technical Institute (NVTI) as well as the international accreditation board, City and Guilds. As part of the NVTI exam, the apprentice has to set up a salon and go through the process of receiving customers and treating their hair. Afterwards a written or oral test is conducted which focuses on the theoretical aspects of hairdressing. Special classes for ‘madams’ have also been introduced to make sure that they are in tune with the latest developments and are able transfer new techniques and proper conduct to their apprentices.

In contrast to the hairdressing sector, the Ghana National Tailors and Dressmakers Association (GNTDA) has not been able to stimulate the demand for locally made clothing or attract young women to the dressmaking industry to the same extent. GNTDA was formed in 1979 and has a similar organisational structure to the hairdresser associations apart from the regional offices being staffed with employees paid through membership fees. Currently the association is experiencing falling membership, which the executives link to the increase in garment imports. Despite frustration at the government for not restricting garment imports, GNTDA has attempted to improve the image, prospects and working conditions of their members by introducing new initiatives. The association has worked with the Ghana Standards Board in an attempt to introduce quality standards in the trade and some zonal groups have introduced workshops and seminars where new sewing techniques and styles are taught. Executives of GNTDA also work with the Pan African Competitiveness Forum which has a cluster group known as the Garment and Textile Cluster Initiative. The association has been highly supportive of the ‘National Friday Wear’ campaign, which urges government employees and office workers to wear locally made clothes on Fridays. The campaign was introduced in 2004 to spur demand for locally made clothing and has been remarkably well received by those in employment. GNTDA has also led campaigns to try to persuade commercial banks and other companies to make the wearing of locally made suits compulsory. According to the association, these campaigns have been quite successful and the general interest in Ghanaian-made clothing has started to increase again in recent years.

Despite these attempts to boost the industry and create new opportunities, dressmaking is still a highly fragmented, uncertain and unregulated sector for young women to enter and the dressmaking apprenticeship system has not been altered to the same extent as the hairdressing system. Although new mechanical sewing, knitting and overlock machines have been introduced, and new styles and materials are constantly evolving, the training of the seamstresses is still very much focused on practical learning and the reproduction of skills. GNTDA is attempting to regulate the apprenticeship system and has introduced a common registration form, a syllabus which includes some theoretical aspects and a common exam for apprentices. However, the teaching and the exam are still focused on reproducing longstanding practical free-hand cutting and sewing skills. During the exam the apprentices have to make a dress based on a paper drawing but there is no testing of theoretical or entrepreneurial skills. Some factions within GNTDA have argued that there is a need to introduce more theory, new skills and methods, as well as better testing systems to improve the quality and the image of seamstresses. A leader of one of GNTDA's zonal groups lamented that ‘dressmaking has become like a third-class job’ and many apprentices ‘learn to sew anyhow because the madams are not well trained’. She also claimed that the problem the profession faces is not only the volume of clothes being imported but the quality of the clothes being made by seamstresses since, ‘The market is now open, and people realise that some of what is sewn here is of a bad quality.’ Negotiations are currently taking place with the National Vocational and Technical Institute to see how their trade testing can best be combined with GNTDA's examination. Despite these changes, parts of the association are holding on to the view that seamstresses are trained for self-employment and that the old hands-on ways of doing things are good enough.

Both the hairdressing and dressmaking professions have active trade associations which are attempting to promote their trades, though the former has been more successful especially in reforming the training of apprentices. These cases show how important the role of trade associations can be for promoting informal sector work (Lindell 2010) and that entrepreneurship does not only take place at the level of the individual. A drawback for hairdressing is that too many young women have been attracted into the business. Members of the associations are concerned about the large numbers of apprentices who graduate every year and are doubtful whether, despite entrepreneurship and innovation, it will be possible for all the new aspiring entrants to remain in the profession. Consequently, some young people chose not to complete an apprenticeship, preferring to specialise in one task, such as braiding, typically working in the home or a marketplace.

Perceiving opportunities: the experiences of individual hairdressers and seamstresses

Paradoxically, while opportunities for formal education and secure employment have diminished, young Ghanaians have become increasingly connected to global ideas, products and practices through migration, mass media and the movement of goods. These socio-economic changes have had a profound impact on the perceptions of young people and the kinds of futures they aspire to. National governments encouraged by international organisations have been successful in inculcating the idea that education is the prerequisite for individual social mobility (Langevang 2008; Langevang and Gough 2009). The media also promotes ‘images of successful adulthood based upon education and professional employment’ (Jeffrey 2010, 496). These images impact on the types of employment that young people envisage entering.

Despite the training for hairdressing still being predominantly via the apprenticeship system, through globalisation and the activities of the hairdressing associations young women have come to see hairdressing as a relatively attractive, modern and regulated occupation with lucrative opportunities. Previously when the training focused on practical aspects and simple techniques, many young people regarded hairdressing as an occupation for ‘low-brains’ and ‘school drop-outs’. However, as Oda (2005) also found, the modern image of hairdressing attracts young women to the occupation. As a 30-year-old hairdresser explained:

When I was in school, I wished to become a bilingual secretary or a journalist or a newsreader, then I will be shown on the television screen. When I found out that I couldn't go to the school that I wanted, I found out that hairdressing is also good work . . . I have to come out as somebody. I was thinking, when you are a journalist you have to be looking smart. OK, I can see that hairdressers also look very smart. So I decided to start that.

Unlike hairdressing, dressmaking is still struggling with the image of being a dull occupation for school drop-outs or weak students and has not been able to improve the image of seamstresses and legitimise the profession as a ‘proper’ business to the same extent. For many young women becoming a seamstress was clearly more a matter of necessity and limited agency than seizing a lucrative opportunity. A common explanation among seamstresses as to why they had entered a business was that they had finished JHS and were unable to continue their education due to financial constraints. Some felt that they had been forced by their parents to go into dressmaking. In the words of a 27-year-old seamstress:

Frankly speaking, I have to tell you, I never liked it. I never liked this work. I wanted to go to school but due to certain things I had to go into this. There was no money. At that particular time my dad lost his job and my mother also lost her father, so things were very rough, so I couldn't continue with the schooling. I even sat at home for about three years because I was telling friends that if I can't continue then I won't do anything. I was telling them [parents] that I don't want to go into dressmaking so they shouldn't waste their money. But I thought of it and I said, OK, let me go into dressmaking, even though I don't want it.

Ironically, setting up a business is generally more expensive for hairdressers than seamstresses. Most seamstresses acquire a sewing machine before or during their apprenticeship, whereas on qualifying, hairdressers need to obtain at least one standing hairdryer as well as a range of styling tools and products. Generating the needed start-up capital is a major challenge faced by both hairdressers and seamstresses wanting to establish their own business. Common strategies include working for someone else for a couple of years; working on their own after hours; engaging in petty trading; and being sponsored by a family member or friend. However, many young women are unable to find the resources needed to set up in business and leave the vocation in search of other income-generating opportunities, often in petty trading. Some ‘madams’ estimated that only one out of three apprentices is actually able to start their own salon or dressmaking shop. Finding a place to practice is also a challenge for both professions. Until recently the most common kind of structure for hairdressers and seamstresses was ‘kiosks’ made of plywood. Increasingly these are being replaced with more expensive ‘containers’ made of iron, which are considered to be modern, better resistant to the weather conditions, and easier to maintain and secure. Kiosks and containers are often placed in the vicinity of homes; if they are not placed on family land or are illegally sited, monthly fees have to be paid to the land owner. For those who are unable to pay for a kiosk or container, practicing from the home is a common alternative (Gough 2010). However, most business owners aspire to have a kiosk, a container or even better to rent a store, as this is a way of being recognised as a professional and legitimate business owner.

The young people who had succeeded in establishing their own businesses spoke with excitement and pride, indicating that even where the occupation had not necessarily been their first choice, the fact that they had actually been able to start something up on their own was regarded as a great achievement. Having a place of their own provides them with their own domain, an independent income and respect. As a 23-year-old hairdresser who had recently opened a salon explained:

Many people, they won't believe that a small girl like me can have a place like this. At times they will be coming to ask me whether this place is really mine or I am just holding it for somebody. And I tell them it is mine. When I opened it, fresh people will be telling me after they have seen it and they then meet me ‘so you are the one who has been doing it!’

Young seamstresses, however, although proud of their achievement, struggle to persuade their peers that dressmaking is a worthy career. A 26-year-old seamstress recounted:

I was very proud [when I opened the business]. I was very happy because sometimes some of the friends around you, when they see that you are doing your own job, they look down upon you. Because they have been to university and all those schools they think you don't have anything, your work is not something you can help yourself or your husband with. And it hurts. It is very hurtful. But I don't take it hard because it is my work. It is what I do to make money. Sometimes when I sit here I always pray that I have to prove these people wrong. I have to work and get my money and also for people to see me and say, ‘Eh! I thought that there is no money in it!’ I have to prove them wrong.

Having started their own businesses, a major challenge for both hairdressers and seamstresses is to build up and maintain a customer base. The first customers are often taken from their madam's business clientele or are gradually built up while working on the side during the apprenticeship. Being new in the market and relatively inexperienced, young women have to be entrepreneurial and employ cunning tactics to maintain and grow their customer base. To be young on the market can also be an advantage for both hairdressers and seamstresses. Hairdressers who have taken their NVTI exams will often sell their services based on their education and ability to talk about their work in a professional way. In the words of a 23-year-old hairdresser:

My business here is different because I am having a professional work here. If you come here, I know the three different types of hair. When you have coarse hair, fine hair and middle hair, I know the type of relaxer that you should use, and the leave in and setting I should be using for you. But as for the other people, they have been mixing everything together. They don't know many things, so at times when people come here I have been mentioning the products and all these things to them, so they love to come here.

The growing access to mobile phones in Ghana has contributed to creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs (Overå 2006). Using mobile phones to send birthday greetings to customers as well as reminding them to come for a ‘touch up’ are novel practices used by the hairdressers to maintain their customer base. These and other techniques are disseminated through the associations. Seamstresses, however, without a professional identity to draw on or a strong, creative collective forum to rely on are more likely to sell their services based on their innate creativity and ability to make new styles. For seamstresses merely to reproduce what they have learnt through their apprenticeships is inadequate. They often distinguish themselves from the older generation based on the assertion that new times require new styles and ways of practicing business. As a 26-year-old seamstress explained:

The difference is the skills. You know madams they will always be madams. The difference is that what she taught me and what I am doing now are not the same. You know, nowadays styles are coming and if you say that what your madam has taught you is what you are using all the time, you will be lost, you won't get customers. You have to create your own thing. You have to look around you, on the television, at the people around you, in magazines from Ghana and outside, and everywhere.

As Grabski (2009) similarly finds in Senegal, success in dressmaking is based on more than technical skills. It requires an innate creativity and the ability to adapt and incorporate new fashion trends from around the world based on the resources at hand. Rather than perceiving imported clothing as a threat to their production, some seamstresses actually see it as an opportunity and use it as a source of inspiration in the process of making new products. One seamstress, for example, proudly showed how she had copied a ‘Western’ looking imported top from China on to African print material, which had resulted in a completely ‘fresh style’, as she put it. Similar to Hansen's (2000) findings in Zambia, some seamstresses are also involved in the alteration of second-hand clothes to better fit size, taste and fashion. They thereby directly turn the challenge of second-hand clothing into an opportunity by making a business out of re-sewing and re-styling the clothes. At Kantamanto, the market for second-hand clothing in Accra, hundreds of seamstresses and tailors are involved in adding value to used clothing by re-sizing and re-styling them (Gough and Langevang 2010).

The above discussion has highlighted how, having benefited from globalisation and active trade associations, the hairdressing profession has evolved to being one that is attractive to young women who are able to succeed due to their modern training and youth. Dressmaking has become more of a profession young women enter due to necessity rather than choice and, being disadvantaged by globalisation and not receiving much support from their trade associations, seamstresses need to be entrepreneurial and innovative in order to be successful.

Conclusions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Youth and entrepreneurship in a globalising world
  5. Young female employment avenues in Ghana
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References

This paper has illustrated how two seemingly similar professions for young women to enter have fared very differently in recent years, affecting the young women's entrepreneurship opportunities and abilities. The impact of globalisation has differed markedly between the professions; while the hairdressing vocation has benefited from the influx of products and the increasing exposure to global styles, the clothing industry has suffered from these same trends. The imported goods used in hairdressing and associated ‘modern’ hairstyles have resulted in an increased demand for local labour, whereas in the dressmaking trade imported goods have replaced the need for locally made clothes by seamstresses. The role of trade associations, which to varying degrees have been able to seize new opportunities and support their members, has also been shown to be central to how the two professions are faring. Whereas the hairdressing trade associations have been successful in regulating, professionalising and modernising the profession, making it an attractive pathway for young women, the dressmaking trade association has been less able to respond to the open market and the quest of the present generation of young women to appear modern, fashionable and in touch with global trends. Consequently, young hairdressers have a relatively strong, entrepreneurial association they can draw upon to acquire vital skills, whereas seamstresses have to rely to a larger degree on their own innate creativity to survive. Reflecting these global and local influences, hairdressing has become a profession which young women perceive as being modern and aspire to enter whereas dressmaking is being relegated to a profession that young women with limited options take up.

These findings have implications for both entrepreneurship theory and policy. As Spring and McDade (1998) also indicated, there is a need for a broad and inclusive concept of entrepreneurship that can account for the multitude of entrepreneurial dimensions and expressions in Africa. Professions cannot be neatly divided into ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ occupations, which has implications for both how entrepreneurship is conceptualised and the provision of support for entrepreneurs. By conceptualising young female hairdressers and seamstresses as entrepreneurs, we acknowledge them as creative agents who try to seize the available opportunities to improve their positions. It is important, however, that their activities are not celebrated or romanticised as the young entrepreneurs face considerable challenges. As we have shown, although being a young female entrepreneur in contemporary Ghana means being exposed to a global world of opportunities and competing in an open market, for the majority it means carving out livelihoods using limited resources in a few sectors where the competition is high (Overå 2007).

The importance of context in understanding entrepreneurship has also been illustrated. The differential experiences of young women in two of the most popular vocations in sub-Saharan Africa have illustrated how the study of women's entrepreneurship needs to be contextualised to avoid sweeping generalisations (Hanson 2009). A complex interplay of factors related to the economic environment, associational engagement as well as social and cultural preferences has resulted in one profession thriving while another is struggling. Consequently, entrepreneurship should not be equated with the notion of free-floating, isolated endeavours by individuals. In this respect geographers, with their attention to different scales of analysis, are in a strong position to conduct studies which highlight the complex interplay between globalisation, institutions and individuals in particular places and illustrate how these result in diverse employment experiences. Whilst this paper has focused on an urban Ghanaian context, further research is needed that addresses these issues in other contexts, including in rural areas.

In terms of policymaking, it is important that greater attention is paid to the institutional environment in which individual entrepreneurs are embedded (Naudé 2011). As large numbers of young people are acquiring training through apprenticeships, these systems need to be better understood and novel ways of providing support developed. In the past, informal training, and the apprenticeship system in particular, received little attention from policymakers and the few attempts to improve informal workers' conditions and develop their skills have proved ineffective (ISSER 2010; Palmer 2007). Skills development interventions have tended to be top-down planned and led with limited coherence between the activities of the different actors involved (Palmer 2007). One key actor which has been largely excluded from policy discussions in the past, but which this paper has shown can play an important role in moulding opportunity structures and providing skills training, is trade associations. The major advantage of trade associations is that they are in tune with the differential aspirations, demands and challenges of their members. Clearly, working with trade associations is not a panacea and may be problematic as associations can be fraught with tensions and may not necessarily encompass or represent all entrepreneurs (Lindell 2010). Governments and development partners, therefore, need to work with associations to strengthen their capacity without compromising their dynamism or amplifying any divisions and exclusions. Promoting entrepreneurship as a solution to the employment challenge in Africa has its limitations. As Hansen (2010) stresses, believing that micro-enterprises can provide the answer to the lack of employment for young people wrongly assumes that the informal economy can absorb ever-increasing numbers of newcomers. Despite the entrepreneurial practices of individuals and associations, there is a limit to how many self-employed hairdressers and seamstresses Africa can accommodate. Supporting entrepreneurship should thus not be celebrated as the only way of generating youth employment. It should rather be one element of a comprehensive employment and development policy which addresses the complex factors and relationships that influence young people's access to meaningful employment.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Youth and entrepreneurship in a globalising world
  5. Young female employment avenues in Ghana
  6. Conclusions
  7. Acknowledgements
  8. References

This research forms part of the ‘Youth and Employment: the role of entrepreneurship in African economies’ (YEMP) project funded by the Consultative Research Committee for Development Research (FFU) under Danida (project no. 09-059KU). We wish to extend our thanks to all the hairdressers and seamstresses who participated in the research, to Leo Laryea, Patience Thompson and Charlotte Kumi for their invaluable research assistance, and to the editor and anonymous referees for their constructive comments.

Notes
  • 1

    Measured by Total Early-stage Entrepreneurial Activity, which includes individuals (18–64 years old) in the process of starting a business and those running new businesses less than 3½ years old.

  • 2

    There is no available information on the membership numbers of hairdressers' and seamstresses' associations or on the percentage of hairdressers and seamstresses who are members of associations. The influence of the associations, however, extends beyond their immediate membership group. Around half of the research participants in this study were themselves members and some had previously indirectly been members through their madams' membership.

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