The Leading Women of West Africa’s Culture and Tourism Sectors

I don’t think I would receive much criticism if I say there certainly seems to be a positive uprising of women within West African Politics; especially when it comes to the Ministries of Culture, Arts and Tourism. Even from the top of my head; when I look across the political spectrum of ECOWAS and the general Culture and Tourism sectors; I think of Mrs. Elizabeth Ofosu-Adjare of Ghana, Mrs. Fatou Mas Jobe-Njie of Gambia, Mrs Sally Mbanefo of Nigeria and Mrs. Yahaya Baaré Aoua Abdou of Niger. These are currently some of the prominent female Ministers of Culture and Tourism within their respective states; Mrs. Sally Uwechue-Mbanefoor is the popular Director of the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation. This is without mentioning the Female Ministers of Mamata Bako Djaouga (of Benin), Guillermina Mekuy Mba Obono (of Guinea) and Sengalese Prime Minister Aminata Toure and you get my point.

Sub Saharan Africa’s tourism industry is set to spur more economic growth for the continent and directly employ 6.7 million people by 2021, according to a new World Bank report released in October last year. The report ‘Tourism in Africa: Harnessing Tourism for Growth and Improved Livelihoods’ states that tourism accounted directly or indirectly for one in every 20 jobs in Sub Saharan Africa in 2011, and is one of the few industries on the continent in which women are well represented as employees and managers. Sub Saharan Africa is outpacing other regions in tourism growth.

Aside from the mention of female appointments to ministerial departments; the significance of African women in general within the cultural sectors cannot be underestimated. Many African governments promote ethnic tourism using glamorous images of women in traditional dress. Many women are also involved in the ethnic handicrafts and marketing of them in nearby towns and cities. I am familiar with the Hausa culture and the beautiful ‘aike hannu’ (Hand crafted items) that dominate tourism expos in Niger, Northern Nigeria and abroad. Growing research highlights the different roles men and women of the global south play in selling their traditions. In Southern Africa, the famous traditional dances sold to tourists seem to be dominated by the men whilst in West Africa; it is the women.

According to a well known Chinese proverb, women hold up half the sky. In the tourism industry, women hold up more than their fair share, as hosts, as workers, as images of touristic adventures. Whilst this may strike intriguing debates amongst African feminists and academics; Erve Chambers (Professor of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Maryland, College Park) narrates how women are siginicant and treated within domestic and eco-tourism initiatives:

“In my general overview of cross-cultural touristic literature, women as hosts and folks provide a multiplier impact on tourism: they supply usually poorly domestic service and other forms of wage labour; they supply artistry; they supply avertising images; they supply entrepreneurial skills to the economic sector and they supply their sexuality for sale. A change of scenery for visitor has multiple meanings when women as hosts, native girls, and folks are concerned.”
Erve Chambers, (Anthropology Professor)

‘Karifi’n mata sai yawa’n magana’ is a Hausa proverb meaning ‘the strength of a woman is in her tongue’. What a woman says and doesn’t say is important; especially if they hold a key position within their nation’s political future. In Rwanda, women have often citied their maternal nature as having gifted them with the skills of peace-building and reconciliation after the genocide crisis. Within West Africa, more women are coming out voicing how the cultural sector is not only dominated by women but important for women.

“It is better for Liberian [women] to engage in arts and crafts to help them become self reliant and strengthen the cultural sector in Liberia by promoting tourism.”
Mrs. Fatu Gbedema, (CEO of Game Changers Liberia)

Liberia represents a country where women are no longer dependent on men to support. They no longer sit in their homes waiting for their husbands. ‘They have risen to the occasion and decided to use their hands to become self-employed them’ according to Gloria T. Tamba (Daily Observer, Liberia). I think her view would be shared by many within the region if not on the continent. Tourism has been recognised as a force within Africa’s development and role of women as producers has certainly been identified.

LIST OF SOME OF WEST AFRICA’s KEY FEMALE INFLUENTIAL CULTURE AND TOURISM DRIVERS INCLUDE:
Ms. Guillermina Mekuy Mba Obono (Equatorial Guinea Secretary of State, Head of Culture and Tourism)
Aminata Touré (Current Prime Minister of Senegal)
Mrs. Fatu Gbedema, (CEO of Game Changers on the left with Petroleum Guru, Jacqueline Khoury Director on NOCAL Board
Mrs. Mamata Bako Djaouga (Benin Minister of Handicraft and Tourism)
Mrs. Fatou mass jobe njie (Gambian Minister of Tourism and Culture)
Mrs. Yahaya Baaré Aoua Abdou (Niger Minister of Tourism and Handcrafts)
Mrs. Elizabeth Ofosu-Adjare, (Ghana Minister for Tourism, Culture & Creative Arts)
Mrs. Sally Mbanefo (Director General of Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation NTDC)

However, with the appointments of women as ministers of Culture and Tourism within their respective home states illustrates how the future certainly looks bright with regards to the opportunities the cultural sector presents them. It is clear that tourism provides African women with employment opportunities that, although in the informal sector, are significant because of the autonomy and independence they provide for women.

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