Weblog: Ghana and Liberia
August 17th 2009
Heather Grady, Director of Policy and Strategy and the Trade and Decent Work Program, reflects on her recent visits to Ghana and Liberia where she visited some of the partners and activities Realizing Rights supports in these countries.
In Ghana, we have been looking for ways to draw more attention to the rights of workers and to enable workers themselves ??? especially women ??? to claim their rights. After discussing several possibilities with the Ghana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) we decided to support a program of women???s leadership and empowerment training. With our modest funding we could start in just one region of the country, so the Eastern Region (capital Kofurudia) was selected. I was very fortunate to be able to join day one of the kick-off workshop we organized with the GTUC.
I made some brief opening remarks [2 pages, 79kb] in which I pointed out that I had just come from a holiday with my teenage daughters in South Africa, and we???d learned how important the labor movement was in the anti-apartheid struggle there, and indeed how important it was in many countries in Africa. The women leading this training were, I guessed, in their forties and fifties. They told me they had benefited from intensive leadership training by the US-based Solidarity Center in the 1990s. But when funds became short the training opportunities dried up. This left a huge gap ??? most women in Ghana aren???t confident enough to engage as actively as men in union (or other public) meetings.
I was extremely impressed by their intelligent comments and questions throughout the day, helped by some traditional warm-up songs that I was pleased to learn myself. In Realizing Rights we hope our efforts to help reinstitute such training will spur others to provide funding to support these women workers as well.
In Liberia one of the highlights of my trip was a visit to street vendors in the capital of Monrovia. After a morning of office-based activities (including attending the official handover ceremony for the new Minister of Labor Tiawan S. Gongloe ), I spent part of the afternoon walking around Broad Street with our local host Mr. Seyon Tweh, the elected representative of the Monrovia Small Business Alliance. He in turn introduced me to Ms. Theresa Nyepan, a slipper seller and an official in the Street Sellers Market Association.
These groups have thousands of members, but it???s hard for them to get their voices heard by public officials. And their markets at first appear quite chaotic. Those who sell on the pavement (either the sidewalks or even on the streets) either lack the money, luck or influence to get a stall in one of the indoor markets. These street vendors, like those in many rich and poor countries, are often perceived as a nuisance or even as criminals, but in fact they make up a significant part of the workforce. They work very hard to support their families in the city and often send money home to the countryside.
A few weeks ago my Realizing Rights colleague Patrick Cheah and WIEGO???s Rhonda Douglas ( WIEGO is the global network Women in the Informal Economy Globalizing Organizing ) led a workshop for these informal economy representatives and local government and non-governmental organizations. This was designed to begin the process of finding ways to improve their lives and enable them to find decent work (fair pay, good working conditions, social protection and a stronger voice to stand up for their rights).
Their priorities are modest: capacity-building opportunities so that they can have their voices heard and responded to by government, and eventually some access to microfinance so that they can grow their small businesses and smooth out their cash flow across the months. A new idea has come up ??? if they are to relocate their dwellings and/or their businesses some of the women would like to have the skills and machines to make and sell bricks. We think this sounds like a good idea, and they are getting more details about the feasibility and costs.
While in Liberia I also met Daniel Johnson, head of the Monrovia City Council. His office lacked electricity during our meeting, but I could tell he was a ???man on the move???. I sensed he sincerely wants to work collaboratively with these street vendors and local waste collector associations who represent tens of thousands of individuals. His role isn???t easy ??? some people would rather have them simply pushed out of the city ??? and he welcomed strategies that have worked in other countries.
I pointed him to the 'World Class Cities for All' program of WIEGO, and a new book on the topic with experiences on South Africa called Working in Warwick. It is about an area in Durban that dealt with street traders in a progressive way with a view to identifying useful lessons that could be applied elsewhere. As always, I learned a lot while moving!
Heather is particularly involved in programs on promoting the right to ???decent work???, global trade, corporate responsibility for human rights, and women???s leadership. She has spent most of the last two decades working in developing countries managing long-term development and humanitarian programs in East Asia, the Middle East and Africa.