I hear shouts of “Obroni,” “blonde baby” and loud hisses as I wind my way through the weavers, woodworkers, and shoemakers, sweat spilling out of every pore as the heat of the day, the heat of the cooking fires, and the heat of so many bodies presses in on me from all sides. I am assaulted with the smells of too many things I can’t name cooking, and people constantly drag on my arms and hands to come into their shops for “just a minute” because “it costs nothing to look.”
Overwhelming and intimidating as it is, the markets have never made me feel threatened. With my travel group, I went to Kumasi market, the largest open air market in all of West Africa. It had absolutely everything.
Endless yards of every color of cloth, wood carvings of every animal imaginable, beads of every shape and size, and so many yams, spices, buckets of raw and bloodied meat, and yes even dried chameleons which I am told are for eating. One of the other students on my trip called it an outdoor Walmart.
I loved it. I loved the narrow paths, made of everything from dirt to wood to stone, we rushed through. I loved the passion and camaraderie of the people selling their wares. I loved the old women who shouted at the other women on my trip to cover their legs (fortunately, I learned my lesson and wore a long skirt).
A lecturer came to talk to my travel group about women in Ghana. She pointed out some things that I never noticed and now I can’t ignore. At first, I was impressed by the equality of gender in the markets. Even on the side of the road it seemed men and women were selling in equal number.
Although this observation was correct, what I failed to realize was the implications of what they were selling. The women are all selling local products like fried plantains, yams, and bottles of water and juice. The men are selling imported goods like chewing gum and electronics.
When picturing a businessperson, a man in a suit typically comes to mind. When importing products to Ghana, businesses typically sell their goods to men who they view as businessmen. This power imbalance means women make less money and have less opportunities to get ahead.