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GHANA STUDIES / Volume 9 ISSN 1536-5514 / E-ISSN 2333-7168© 2008 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 151 TRANSCENDING GENDERED ECONOMICS Grassroots Women’s Agency in the Informal Sector of the Ghanaian Economy AGNES ATIA APUSIGAH Introduction The informal sector has steadily become an attractive part of Ghana’s economic growth. Its role as a production base, generator of incomes and employment , and an alternative economic site, has found appeal even under structural adjustment and globalization. Studies on that sector track the increasing informalization of the economic system to highlight the myriad disadvantages faced by operators (Hansen, 2004; Hutchful, 2002; WIEGO, 2002; Beneria, 2001). Hutchful (2002: 21), who defines the informal sector as spanning “an extremely diverse range of products and activities and involves unrecorded though open transactions, which are unregulated and non-legal rather than illegal,” positions it as a fall-out of the socio-­economic crisis under adjustment. He identifies its main features to include “its predominantly artisanal nature; its ease of entry and often (though not necessarily) marginal operation; the prevalence of non-contractual (and thus often highly exploitative) relationships; and the coexistence of waged, partially waged, and family forms of labor.” (ibid.) In particular, as an arena where vulnerable groups find space to support their livelihoods, the informal sector is subject to the machinations of socio-­economic systems that thrive on exploitation and domination (Chen, Vanek & Carr, 2004; WIEGO, 2002; Bangasser, 2000). Within the domestic 152 Ghana Studies • volume 9 • 2006 arena, this is manifested in the use of women’s and children’s free or unpaid labor and enterprise in the care economy and the household production system. Beyond the domestic, various studies are critical of the exploitative manner by which the growing informalization of economic liberalization in the form of contract work and home-based enterprises and their attendant job insecurity, forced labor, sweat shops and starvation wages, have become mechanisms for human rights abuses and unequal sharing of benefits (Hansen & Vaa, 2004; Chen, et. al, 2004, WIEGO, 2002; Beneria, 2001, Bangasser, 2000). In spite of the exploitative nature of economic informalization, especially with regard to labor relations, the informal sector remains an important complement to and even critical part of economic systems (Hutchful, 2002; Aryee, 1996; ILO, 1993). Undoubtedly, there are many weaknesses but also strengths in the informal sector. The evidence is clear on the problematic nature of that sector. While not denying the exploitative nature of the growing informalization of labor (but also production processes), this analysis shifts the focus from viewing the informal sector as a problematic site, to that of agency. It positions the informal sector as a site where women exercise socio-economic agency, although it does not assume that such agency makes them immune to the marginalizing and exploitative aspects that have been brought out in several studies (Chen, et. al; Beneria, 2001; Awumbila, 2001; Bangasser, 2000). Specifically, I examine the transcendental effects of grassroots women’s agency as they position themselves in the informal sector as key actors who complement actions and programmes in the formal sector. While some researchers have couched this as survivalist (Awumbila, 2001; Clark, 1994), I take the position that beyond survival, resignation and/or disengagement, women have actually exhibited a sense of agency in the kinds of entrepreneurial creativity or ingenuity characteristic of that sector. I examine the ways in which grassroots women, in spite of their socio-cultural limitations carve niches within which they exercise agency and support their livelihoods . I begin with an examination of the gendered nature of the Ghanaian Apusigah • Transcending Gendered Economics 153 economy to pave way for discussions on the transcendental efforts of grassroots women with a focus on their achievements and challenges in order to make proposals for change. The Gendered Nature of the Ghanaian Economy The Women’s Manifesto of Ghana, a comprehensive political document by Ghanaian women activists that sets out an agenda for promoting gender equality and women’s rights in Ghana, traces the challenges of women in the Ghanaian economy to discriminatory policy and gendered social systems that take undue advantage of, and under-reward, women’s labor , while limiting their access to equal opportunities. It...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2333-7168
Print ISSN
1536-5514
Pages
pp. 151-176
Launched on MUSE
2020-05-09
Open Access
No
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