Special Series: Young Women and the Future World of Work in Ghana & Senegal – Part II: Barriers

July 29, 2022
Special Series:


This article is part of the ACET Special Series on Young Women and the Future World of Work in Ghana & Senegal.
Also see: Overview | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Many common traditional gender barriers persist within the predominantly patriarchal societies in Ghana and Senegal. Gender roles are rigid, with women bearing the burden of reproductive work and unpaid care work in households and not having equal access to opportunities—including access to education, capital, and land.

Interviews with young women and Senegal and Ghana revealed six key barriers. The first barrier relates to the high and unequal domestic burdens faced by both girls in school and women in the workforce. The second barrier covers skills development challenges, including poor access to appropriate education and training. The third barrier of financial hardships and lack of access to capital covers the way economic and financial constraints affect women’s access to education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The fourth barrier covers workplace stereotyping and harassment, and the fifth barrier is the lack of career guidance and mentorship networks. The final barrier looks at the impact of COVID-19, which has generally exacerbated the effect of the other five barriers.

High and unequal domestic burdens

Key findings
  • A disproportionate burden of domestic work for school-aged girls limits their educational outcomes.
  • Married women and mothers face social responsibilities and domestic duties that limit their ability to fully participate in the world of work.

The disproportionate burden of domestic work is one of the most common barriers identified in the life stories of the young women in Ghana and Senegal—found across all sectors, ages, and income groups. The unbalanced distribution of work starts at a very early age and intensifies after marriage and childbirth. For school-age girls, the burden of domestic work has a significant impact on their ability to complete schoolwork and on their performance relative to boys. In the most extreme cases, girls were kept out of school entirely to focus on housework. More commonly, women recall that they were burdened with tedious household chores before and after school, leaving them tired and unable to focus fully on their education. Meanwhile, the women report that boys are given the time and freedom to prioritize their education from the very start. Girls’ comparatively lower school participation and performance often snowball into a large educational and skills gap, which impacts young women’s access to the world of work.

Marriage and the burden of childcare posed even more significant barriers for women both in education and in the workplace. Women in Ghana and Senegal frequently remarked that they are expected to carry almost the entire burden of childcare and domestic work after marriage. Many interviewees found it very challenging to combine their domestic “duties” as mothers and social responsibilities as wives with their professional activities. A number of young women in both Ghana and Senegal who had entered the world of work had to reduce or temporarily curtail their work, while others gave up positions of responsibility and limited themselves to less demanding positions with fewer prospects for self-development. Women in the hospitality sector were particularly impacted by these disproportionate domestic burdens due to the unpredictable and long hours at work. The challenge of balancing responsibilities at home with a career was also evident in the lives of young women in the business process outsourcing (BPO) and information and communication technology (ICT) sectors, particularly those who were aiming for career progression. At least five respondents in Ghana flagged the need for support at home in addition to the provision of adequate childcare programs close to the workplace to cater to the needs of young mothers.

Real life examples
  • “Most of the house chores are done by the girls … There were times in the evening when you want to study, but you have to go and wash the dishes and your brothers will be reading.” – Mavis, 34, banker in Kumasi, Ghana
  • “Sometimes, I have to spend the night if we have clients who arrive late, following flight delays or other reasons, and it’s complicated for my husband to understand that.”– Oumou
  • “Marriage and family life are very important to me, so I limit myself to my current position,
    which allows me to finish early.” – Fatou
  • “The birth of my child prevented me from learning a vocation. Not having childcare limited my options.” – Rosemond, 35, Kumasi, Ghana

Skills development

Key findings
  • Women entering the world of work have major technical and digital skills deficits.
  • Girls have lower access to schools and tertiary educational institutions.
  • Schools are not well adapted for the needs of their female students.

Women in both countries faced technical and digital skills gaps entering the labor market. The strongest skills gap is in ICT training. Almost all respondents had to learn their working digital skills outside the formal school system through training institutes and online courses. Even the women in the ICT and BPO sectors had had limited access to IT labs for digital skills training during their education and working life. These skills gaps led some of them to venture into the informal sector or entrepreneurship, particularly women in the agriculture and BPO sectors.
Girls face discrimination at every level of education, especially when the family has to choose who to send to school due to financial constraints. Societal expectations are that no matter their level of education, women will get married, have children, and end up dedicated to domestic work. This bias feeds into the expectations of girls even in course selection; most girls choose courses in general arts, home economics, and humanities under the guidance of family members and mentors. This leads to a cycle in which women continue to self-select into careers in female-saturated sectors with often lower earnings and limited opportunities for progression. These initial course selections, particularly at the secondary level, reflect the strong influence of gender roles in the socialization of women as they mostly gravitate towards care-oriented subjects.

A commonly mentioned barrier in Senegal was the inflexible education system. The young women highlighted the lack of consideration of their choices and specific situations as girls. In general, school systems were rigid, with little flexibility to adapt courses of study suitable for the aspirations and aptitudes of learners. The public school and academic system were also described as unstable due to repeated teacher strikes. In both countries, but in Senegal in particular, vocational training centers and universities were geographically inaccessible for most people outside the capital city. Aside from financial considerations, girls and young women also face safety concerns having to travel long distances. Families also greatly influence women and girls’ mobility as very few women are allowed to take up roles or attend schooling far from their homes. By contrast, men are free to commute to work or school no matter the distance.

Real life examples
  • “The nearest school here is two kilometers away, and we don’t have transport to go there. It’s not safe for a girl.”– Daba, Senegal
  • “You know, at the university, it is the principle of equity and equality for all that prevails. We base ourselves on performance and not necessarily on gender, which is why we have no gender policy in place here.”– Dr. Diop, head of the master’s degree program at the Dakar Polytechnic Higher School
  • “When you grow up in the village and without schooling, you only have marriage and farming.”– Amy, Senegal
  • “In middle school, I wanted to do chemical physics and then follow a scientific path, but my father forced me into a literary path. He prepared me to enter the history department of the Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar, but I was not a fan of history.” – Awa, Senegal

Workplace stereotyping and sexual harassment

Key findings
  • Women face sexist prejudices that limit their access to work and form barriers to advancing their careers.
  • Sexual harassment is widespread, especially in the hospitality sector.

Like many barriers, gender-based stereotyping often starts in the household. Many women noted that their career prospects were limited early by their parents—especially their fathers, who considered certain employment opportunities unsuitable for their daughters. Both married and unmarried young women in the formal sector indicated that they limited themselves in terms of the roles they apply for. This perception translates into male privilege at several levels, including access to land and financing and support from society.

The women that do succeed in securing employment face a lot of pressure to work harder than men in similar positions to prove their worth. Many believe employers place too much emphasis on the appearance of women, and denounce the lack of support from their superiors. This inequality affects recruitment, access to positions of responsibility, promotions, and career development. As a result, according to an educator in a tertiary institution in Ghana, on average it takes much longer for a woman in hospitality to move from entry to mid-management level than in other sectors. In practice, this type of sexism is often expressed as hostility. Many women who had advanced through the ranks despite these obstacles spoke about men who refused to accept their leadership position at work.

Sexual harassment is another major obstacle faced by young women in the workplace. Women in the hospitality and tourism sector most commonly mentioned the issue as a pervasive problem. Stakeholders in Ghana believe that the regulatory environment has to be tightened to allow women to work freely in the sector. One recruiter in Senegal noted that men were exposed to the world of work earlier than women because the parents of girls “are scared for to girls enter the workplace too early” and risk being exposed to “all forms of harassment.”

Real life examples
  • “As hotel manager in Ziguinchor, I was considered ‘the 25 year-old girl who comes from Dakar and who wants to impose things on us.’”– Ivana, Senegal
  • “One day I had a fight with a waiter I was giving instructions to. He replied that he could not take orders from a woman” .– Raky, Senegal
  • “You can stay in the same position for years without really progressing. It’s a bit discouraging, but you don’t have a choice.” – Fanta, Senegal
  • “Agriculture is dominated by females, but they are at the bottom.” – Lily, 30, coconut oil business, Accra, Ghana

Financial hardships and lack of access to capital

Key findings
  • Financial hardships affected many girls’ ability to complete secondary education.
  • Many young women lack financial autonomy and have limited access to capital.

Women and girls in Ghana and Senegal faced various financial obstacles throughout their school careers and in the world of work. At the school level, although many of the women could benefit from free public basic education, non-teaching fees and other charges posed a challenge. The lack of financial support, especially beyond basic education, is a major hindrance to most young girls. In all, about 40 percent of the young women interviewed in Ghana had to delay completion by taking a gap year because of financial challenges. When families have limited financial means and have to choose between educating their sons or daughters, sons are overwhelmingly favored—often regardless of academic results.

Financial barriers posed the most significant obstacle in the world of work for self-employed women and entrepreneurs. Difficulty accessing capital and funding posed a challenge to women in the agricultural sector in both countries. Interviewees lacked the technical means to put together loan applications and secure the guarantees requested by conventional banks. They characterized the financial system as inaccessible, unclear, and bureaucratic. Overall, young women continue to face enormous difficulties in financing their activities, especially large investments. While young men also face similar obstacles, many disadvantages are gender-specific. Financial institutions often request guarantees that are not adapted to women’s circumstances, and women often need the consent of their husbands or parents to apply for credit, constraining their financial autonomy.

Real life examples
  • “My husband is the head of the family, so I cannot take financial risks without asking his consent.” – Sokhna, Senegal
  • “In 6th grade, I was in a private school, but I couldn’t continue because we no longer had the means to pay the monthly payments. So I stopped, and I went to work as a housekeeper to help my mother.” – Fama
  • “In the fields, we do most of the work, but we are not paid decent wages. Despite our experience, we are not moving forward.” – Marème
  • “I have never taken credit because it is small and the interest is too high, so it’s my husband or his friends who sometimes finance me. In addition, the banks refuse to finance large investments in leased land.” – Ndeye Khady

Lack of career guidance and mentorship networks

Key findings
  • Formal career guidance is very limited and often completely absent in schools.
  • Young women could benefit greatly from mentorship and support programs, but few are

Many of the young women in Ghana and Senegal lamented the lack of mentorship, career guidance, and other networks of support throughout their life—starting in school, and continuing throughout their professional life. Only two of the fifteen respondents working in BPO in Ghana cited any support from mentors in school, with the remainder relying on their own interests or on opportunities that came their way to pursue careers in the field. According to stakeholders in the sector, mentorship programs that showcase successful women in BPO and educate young women on opportunities and skills requirements are lacking, particularly at the primary and secondary school levels. As a result, there is little guidance on course selection, and girls are not made aware of opportunities in subjects relating to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

In both Senegal and Ghana, the young women often did not manage to obtain effective information on new and promising professions. This problem pushed some young women to go more into “traditional” activities overpopulated by women at the expense of innovation and creativity in their career path. While there are some mechanisms and structures put in place to support young women, the information tends to be inaccessible, and few girls are effectively targeted about the available support. In the absence of sufficient formalized career guidance, parents continue to have the most important influence on their children’s study and career choices. However, parents often know very little about the digitalized future world of work and innovative training courses.

Young women also often experience a sense of isolation and the feeling of having to fend for themselves in the world of work. Respondents from the BPO sector in Senegal spoke about their lack of strong networks and supportive business partners. Their counterparts in the same sector in Ghana shared similar challenges, with one respondent remarking that the male dominance in the sector meant that young women in the sector have very few female mentors to assist with career advice or information on opportunities in the industry. In general, most young women lack the relevant networks for effective participation in the labor market and do not see women in key positions in their chosen fields.

Real life examples
  • “You can stay in the same position for years without really progressing. It’s a bit discouraging, but you don’t have a choice.” – Fanta, Senegal
  • “Women have much fewer mentors in the space to assist with career advice or information on opportunities in the industry.” – Mrs. Regina Honu, Director, Soronko Academy
  • “We hear about funds and organizations, but often services are granted on the basis of political affiliation, so it is a waste of time to apply for them.” – Awa
  • “In my hotel, the key positions are managed by women; I trust them more, for example, for the accounts.” – Ms. Lema, hotel manager

The impact of COVID-19

Key finding
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many existing barriers, particularly through a deteriorating financial environment.

Respondents working in agriculture in both countries experienced drastic reductions in sales from the impact of movement restrictions and increased financial pressures caused by the pandemic on their business. One respondent found it difficult to make enough profit to sustain her family during the lockdown period. Others had to make changes; for instance, a respondent at the retail end of the value chain had to adapt by sourcing produce from new locations and suppliers while strictly adhering to the sanitary protocols. In general, women have faced more difficulties working remotely because of their household roles, including caring for children. In addition, given the size and instability of their activities and the loss of turnover already recorded, many risked bankruptcy.

The tourism and hospitality industry has been strongly affected by the pandemic, halting international tourism and limiting national and local events. Two respondents diverted into baking and catering after job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic. One 35 year-old caterer from Kumasi mentioned choosing catering for economic reasons in order not to stay idle. Those in the formal sector (especially international hotels) had to take a pay cut for some months although most of them managed to keep their jobs.

Young women in the agriculture sector have also been severely handicapped by the pandemic, whether they were employed or were entrepreneurs. They encountered many difficulties in carrying out their activities as a result of social distancing. They were also impacted by delays in the supply of mainly imported materials and inputs. Other companies that exported their finished products had also been impacted by the closure of borders.

Real life examples
  • “We will certainly have to close for a while, and many young girls will lose their jobs.” – Ms. Ndiaye
  • “We receive 50 percent of our salaries thanks to the solidarity fund set up by the state, but our situations remain very complicated.” – Maimouna
  • “I am impacted by COVID-19 because I had taken bank financing to buy material. But so far I have not yet received the machine, which must come from Europe.” – Alimatou

About The series

The articles in this series are based on the ACET report Barriers to Young Women’s Employment in the Future World of Work in Ghana & Senegal, prepared by an ACET team led by Edward K. Brown, ACET Senior Director of Research, Policy and Programs, and Mona Iddrisu, Head of Youth Employment and Skills. The Open Society for West Africa (OSIWA) funded this study as part of its work on government delivery of inclusive services in West Africa. For more information, access the full report and the two country case studies on Ghana and Senegal.

Download Senegal Country Report Read Senegal Country Report

Download Ghana Country Report Read Ghana Country Report

Download Fact Sheet View Fact Sheet

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