Living in Ghana for most of this year alone, I noticed I am surrounded by a plethora of women.
For instance, earlier this spring, my company employed seven women — two operations staff and five sales ladies — because I found that prospective male customers are much more receptive to females calling them for deliveries or to open accounts with us. Except for one driver, the staff’s age range from 19 years to 26 years.
Apart from work, a Ghanaian lady has adopted me into her family. She has looked out for me when I’ve gotten into trouble and taken me into her home. She has earned the right to tell me I’m not being smart. Furthermore, a South African lady and I have become quasi-siblings. We’re both in our late 30s — I’m older than her by a mere month.
All these interactions have taught me several things about how women relate to men in Ghana — and perhaps even in Sub-Saharan Africa.
First, the lack of economic opportunity for both men and women seems to make dating and marriage in Ghana more about whether the prospective husband can provide than in the US. Speaking with all of my female staff, I learned that there is enormous pressure to marry before 25. It seems marrying at 21, 22, or 23 is completely normal. Due to economic reasons, many college students do not complete their undergraduate education until 25, 26, or 27. After graduating from high school at 18 or 19, they may look for work to save enough to go to college or sit in the house waiting for the family to save enough for tuition. Thus, these “girls” are marrying even before they finish their degree. They have yet to figure out what it’s like to be on their own.
With women marrying before they can earn a living, I discovered that women frequently are dating men who are at least 4 years older. Part of a boyfriend’s responsibility is to provide an allowance or “maintenance” for their girlfriends. For instance, Ebenezer, 28 and a taxi driver, provides his girlfriend 20 cedis per day to maintain their household. She is raising their daughter. Similarly, Patricia, 23 and one of my salesladies, has a boyfriend who provides allowance to pay for her clothes, hair, and day-to-day expenses for their 2 year old son. Thus, she earns 400 cedis in salary and also receives an allowance from her boyfriend.
Sometimes, the allowance comes in the form of gifts rather than cash. I noticed that every one of my female staff did not buy their own smartphone. These phones start at 300 cedis and top out at 1,700 cedis for the Samsung S4 or the iPhone. Considering how most people’s first jobs pay less than 500 cedis per month, I believe some women see a boyfriend as a good way of obtaining material possessions.
Men are not just paying for phones. Teresa, my office manager, explained how a man that was courting her cousin bought a 18,000 cedi car for her cousin and gave her aunt 2,000 cedis for a birthday gift. (Her cousin married another man.)
“Ghana girls love money too much,” is a common refrain.
Anecdotes of such extravagant gifts make some women view dating a man (or men) as way to secure a comfortable lifestyle. The focus on material rewards has corrupted some young people’s view of dating so much that it has become criminal. For instance, the website for the US Embassy in Ghana has a section warning about Romance Scams. “United States citizens should be alert to attempts at fraud by persons claiming to live in Ghana who profess friendship or romantic interest over the Internet.”
Teresa also said that women are expected to have a child soon after marriage. She explained that waiting more than four years after sealing your vows would invite people to accuse her of being a witch. (The witch camp phenomena in Ghana is really sad.)
In the US, due to the sexual revolution, educated men and women make nearly equivalent incomes. Educated women in America are not compelled to marry because they can support themselves. Women are empowered so they can delay getting married, be more selective in choosing a spouse, or reject getting married altogether, e.g. Condoleeza Rice, and focus on their careers. According to the University of Virginia, the average age of first marriage is 27 for women and 29 for men.
Having lived in the US for most of my life, this is normal. I’m all for a woman who has graduated with a degree, worked for a few years, and hopefully dated a variety of men to marry at 27. She – and the corresponding he – has lived enough to know who she is without being tethered to her parents or her first boyfriend. I think the American way is better but I realize that it may just be relative.