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Vol XXV. Issue 3 (Summer 2018) Globalization and Ghana; African Indigenous Cosmetics

By Bridget Itunu Awosika; Chinekwu Obidoa


Table of Contents


 Chinekwu Obidoa - “The Impact of Globalization on  African Women”

 Bridget Itunu Awosika - “African Indigenous Cosmetics in

                                           Contemporary Fashion”






In this issue of Africa Update,  we reflect on the impact of globalization on  a

 cross section of Ghanaian women in the context of  what the author refers to as

 the four stages  of  Africa's integration into the global market economy.                             In the course of  her article, Dr. Obidoa reflects on the

changing roles  and significance of   women in each of the

 stages. She points out that in  the case of Ghana, there have been marked

 changes  on the economic front. More women are involved in commerce and

 professional  activities but the hierarchical relations and power dynamics

 of  the genders have not been altered.


Dr. Bridget Awosika focuses on  Indigenous cosmetics in her contribution to this

 Issue. Her policy recommendations are of utmost importance for curriculum

  planners and  development policy. She argues that indigenous  cosmetology

 should be on the curriculum and  recognized as an important aspect of

 Indigenous material and intellectual  culture. There are also implications for job

 creation  in  cosmetic chemistry and in   design, labeling, packaging, and

 marketing.  Attention to these areas would also   improve  the levels of consumer

 satisfaction and take Indigenous cosmetology to new heights.


We thank the contributors to  this issue of Africa Update for their

 lluminating,  scholarly contributions.


Professor Gloria Emeagwali

 Chief Editor, Africa Update



The Impact of Globalization on African Women

A Case Study of Ghanaian Women


Chinekwu Obidoa. Ph.D.

Mercer University, Georgia




Globalization can be defined as a process characterized by increasing interconnectedness across the globe. (Ibrahim, 2013; Irani & Noruzi, 2011; Shizha & Diallo, 2015). It is very powerful and is believed to stimulate economic growth through the flow of trade, foreign direct investment (FDI), capital and technology (Verick, 2007). Although the major forces of globalization are economic, globalization has different dimensions including political, social, cultural and economic ones; these dimensions collectively make globalization a complex process with numerous implications. It has brought about dynamic changes in the social, economic and political systems of several countries and promises unprecedented opportunities for growth and development (Geo-Jaja &Yang, 2003).  In many countries, the forces of globalization have been credited for facilitating the increase in the number of women employed in wage work both in the formal and informal sectors. African women are the backbone of the economies of many African countries. Currently, African women constitute 70-80% of the agricultural labor force in the continent (Palacios-Lopez, Christiaensen& Kilic2017). The United Nations Economic Commission on Africa (UNECA) stated in 1975 that if women, who serve as important agents in the economic sector in African countries, are given a fair share of opportunities and resources, development in communities will be attained at a faster rate (UNECA, 1975). Any economic changes that affect African women invariably affect African countries. As many African countries continue to struggle in the new world economic order, the need to maximize women’s contribution in economic development is pertinent. Maximizing the economic contribution of African women in this era of modern globalization should start with a critical examination of the nature and characteristics of women’s economic roles and the impact of the forces of globalization on these roles. Although there are speculations and observations about the impact of globalization on African women, very few studies, have critically examined the specific effects of the changes created by globalization on the economic roles of African women. This study examines the impact of early modern globalization (2000-2008) on African women in general, focusing, however, on the economic roles of Ghanaian women. 



Rationale for the Study  

Ghanaian women are an ideal case study for this research for various reasons. FirstGhanaian women are vastly economically active and have been for centuries. Their economic contributions have been influential in determining the overall economic well-being of the country. Ghanaian women are also some of the most economically active women in the entire continent of Africa. Examining the impact of modern globalization on the economic roles of women in Ghana will provide insight on how Ghanaian women specifically and African women, in general, have fared economically during this period. Second, currently, Ghana has the second largest economy in West Africa. Ghana’s strong and stable economy over several decades adds to the reason why it is an important study area. It will be interesting to examine how globalization’s impact on the economic performance of women has affected women’s contribution to the economy of Ghana.  

Study Area: Ghana

Ghana became independent on   March 6, 1957, making it the first country in colonial West Africa to become independent. The Republic of Ghana consists of ten administrative regions (Central Intelligence Agency, 2018). The capital of Ghana is Accra; this is both the commercial and diplomatic capital of the nation. Ghana currently operates a constitutional democratic system. The World Bank classifies Ghana’s economy as a lower middle-income economy (The World Bank, 2018). 


Brief History of Globalization in Africa 

Contrary to common knowledge, Africa’s incorporation into the capitalist economy has a long history, which has occurred in four major phases. The first phase of this integration took place during the fifteenth century when the Europeans began the controversial slave trade in Africa. Approximately 22 million Africans were taken captive from the continent and sold into slavery in different parts of the world (Ogot, 1999). The labor provided by men and women captured  from Africa formed the backbone and building block of the economies of the countries that become the major global economic powers. Although Europeans accumulated a great deal of capital through the sale of African captives, the financial revenue realized was not used or channeled towards the development of Africa. The introduction of African countries into the global economy in such a subordinate and marginalized manner is partly responsible for the current marginalization of African nations in the global economy.  



This period lasted until the nineteenth century when European colonialists divided the continent into colonies, making them official colonial territories, thus marking the second phase of Africa’s integration into the global economy (Geo-Jaja & Yang, 2003; Shizha & Diallo, 2015). European countries ruled their African nations based on their respective ideals. During this period, African countries became more incorporated into the global economy primarily through the export of extractive minerals and agro-based products. Africa was used as a resource base during this period. Economic gains made were not used in the economic interest of African nations (Mengisteab, 2007).  

The third phase of Africa’s integration into the global economy, therefore, began in late 1950s and early 1960s. This period was marked by the transfer of economic decision making powers from European colonialists to African indigenes. However, “due to many factors, decolonization did not give African countries the level of sovereignty necessary for determining their terms of integration with the global system” (Mengisteab, 2007, p.1). This further deepened Africa’s subordinate integration into the global economic system. The economic crisis that engulfed many parts of the world during that period affected Africa’s economies severely. To address the economic crisis, African countries were forced to adopt new economic recovery strategies such as the Structural Adjustment Policies (SAP) suggested by the IMF and the World Bank. These strategies were meant to advance African economies (Wangwe & Musonda, 1998), however in the long run; they ended up affecting them adversely. These strategies involved the cutting down of government public spending. The shrinking of the formal sector coupled with corruption and the severe mismanagement of resources by government officials created severe and in some areas unimaginable poverty for the masses. Unfortunately, instead of improving Africa’s integration into the global economy, these strategies deepened her marginalization (Emeagwali,1995, 2011)..  

Contemporary globalization may be considered the fourth stage of Africa’s integration into the global economy (Goe-Jaja & Yang, 2003). This is believed to have started in the late 20th –early 21st century. This period initiated by global liberalization has been characterized by increased flow of capital and goods and services between nations. Africa’s integration into the global economy has been marked by increasing openness to imports. Although African markets remain open to imports, the share of Africa’s exports in the global market has not marched its level of imports (Geo-Jaja &Yang, 2003). Some of the factors that have affected Africa’s full integration in the global economy include internal fragmentation, and unequal development. Other factors include the lack of economic diversity, unfavorable environmental factors such as drought, increasing energy costs and declining product prices, inadequate transportation and communication network, and unbreakable colonial links (Cheru, 2002). The performance of African economies in the global economy has also been blamed on the international economic system that continues to present obstacles to African countries from benefiting from globalization (Nayyar, 2000). The new globalization as a product of capitalism has as its antecedents, transatlantic slavery, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism and structural racism (Steady 2002; Ewelukwa, 2005; Oloka-Onyango & Udagama, 2000). This paper takes a critical look at how Africa’s fourth stage of incorporation into the global economy has affected women with special emphasis on women’s economic roles in Ghana. The next section discusses the findings in the literature on the economic impact of modern globalization on African women within the first few years of modern globalization,  2000-2008.  



Economic Impact of Modern Globalization on African Women 2000-2008 

The search for literature on the impact of globalization on African women within the first decade of modern globalization revealed that not much extensive research work was carried out on this topic during this time frame. Existing literature on this topic consisted of monographs, conference papers, book chapters and brief research papers commenting on observed and expected effects of globalization on Africa and African women. Only a few studies directly investigating the different aspects of globalization on African women were identified. Despite this fact, the literature provides very valuable information about the impact of globalization on African women during that time frame.  

The intensification of economic interconnectedness between countries around the world has had numerous implications for African countries (Steady, 2002; Geo-Jaja & Yang, 2003). A consensus in the literature during the first part of the decade (2000-2005) is that the effects of economic globalization on African countries were more detrimental than beneficial (Steady, 2002; Ewelukwa, 2005; Verick, 2007; Emeagwali, 1995; Hale 1996). Of all the agents of globalization, trade liberalization had the most impact on the economic well-being of African women (Steady, 2002; Ewelukwa, 2005). Trade liberalization encourages free and virtually indiscriminate flow of imports from developed countries to developing countries. This pattern of economic transaction led to changes in the nature and characteristics of economic activities in many African countries. Some of these changes include increase in the production of export goods such as agro-based products; increase in market competition for locally made products, and increase in the demand for cheap and low-skilled labor. Consequently, African countries witnessed an increase in the growth of export processing zones and the expansion of the manufacturing sector. These changes affected women’s economic involvement in different ways.  

Literature provides evidence that many African countries witnessed an increase in the number of women involved in waged labor and the number of women involved in economic activities in the informal sector. Increase in female employment can be attributed to the general increase in the demand for low-wage labor of which women are highly preferred (Hale 1996). Many women found jobs in export processing zones. Trade liberalization  also encouraged the proliferation of export processing zones (EPZs) by multinational corporations in many parts of the world (Dembele, 2002). These corporations employ mostly unskilled workers, the majority of which are women.  Oloka-Onyango and Udagama (2000) reported that in African countries,  women constituted up to 80% of the labor force in the EPZs. Young women from the rural areas made up the majority of the labor force in the urban-based EPZs, these women with minimal educational qualifications were paid very low wages and exposed to the economic and sexual exploitation. A study carried out by Jenkins (2005) on the impact of globalization on poverty using the Kenyan horticultural industry as a case study suggested that the Kenyan horticultural industry is one of the most successful export industries in sub-Saharan Africa, constituting the third largest source of foreign exchange for Kenya. The rapid expansion of this industry is attributed to the forces of globalization which has facilitated the increase in the production of vegetables, fruits and cut flowers in Kenya for supply to European markets. This industry is credited for generating from 6,500 and 10,000 new jobs between 1995 and 1999 (Jenkims, 2005). At the time of her study, the industry’s labor force was predominantly female (60%), half of the labor force was also under the age of 20 years (Jenkins, 2005). Most of these women are unskilled, and all of them migrated from other parts of the country earning low wages for their labor.  

The informal sector is characterized by small usually family-owned business enterprises engaged in manufacturing, agriculture, sales and the provision of goods and services. Some of the activities include auto-repair, hairdressing, tailoring, retail trade, pottery, basket weaving (Mofokeng, 2005). Crecentia Mofokeng in her paper titled “the informal economy of Africa and its impact on women” presented at the symposium on women’s rights and the role of women in Africa provided a detailed account of women’s involvement in the informal sector in Africa. Her study identified that women increasingly dominated in the informal sector, constituting the majority of the labor force in this category. This finding was also confirmed by other researchers (Verick, 2007). About 90% of female workers were absorbed into the informal sector in Ghana. In Burkina Faso, it was 80% and in Kenya 72% (Mofokeng, 2005). In 2002, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated that the informal sector accounted for 72% of the employment in sub-Saharan Africa (ILO, 2002). Although the expansion of the informal sector was cited as a positive impact of globalization, it is important to note that the growth of this sector was not without economic crises. The informal sector in many African countries started expanding in the 1980s partly due to the structural adjustment programs. In the early 2000s, it functioned more as a “the most convenient avenue for the absorption of retrenched workers, creating alternative employment for women as well as for the unemployed youth” (Mofokeng, 2005, p.4). A study by Osirim (2003) on the impact of globalization on women’s microenterprise development in urban Zimbabwe showed that women involved in microenterprise activities such as hairdressing and tailoring had been negatively affected by economic structural adjustment programs (ESAP) instituted in the country in the 1980s. The ESAP programs are considered part of globalization process. Women involved in these trades had witnessed a decline in profits. Other problems that affected them include inflation and devaluation of the country’s currency, increasing costs of imports, increasing competition and increasing unemployment (Osirim, 2003).  

Another detrimental effect of trade liberalization is the loss of income and destruction of local enterprises in Africa (Steady, 2002). Competition created by imported goods and services led to increased unemployment as people involved in local enterprises lost their jobs because of the influx of foreign goods. Trade liberalization also affected the agricultural sector in a negative way. It is possible that the influx of agricultural products from developed countries created undue competition for locally produced agro-based products. The loss of demand for local products invariably affected the livelihoods of women. The increasing demand for export crops also affected women’s employment in this sector. This development led to the displacement of women’s permanent employment in the agricultural sector making them seasonal employees (Oloka-Onyango & Udagama, 2000). In his work titled “centuries of globalization; centuries of exclusion: African women, human rights, and the “new” international trade regime,” Ewelukwa (2005) reported that trade liberalization discouraged small-scale farms and farming in Africa, through its policies that emphasize competition and openness. Small-scale farming, which mostly employs women is very crucial in the economies of many African countries. In addition to employing millions of women, they ensure the sustenance of many families and communities. The dearth of small-scale farming in Africa invariably affected the socio-economic wellbeing of millions of people. Collectively, the conditions created by economic globalization processes led to significant changes in women’s economic roles in the early 2000’s. Some of these changes include increase in the number of women involved in paid employment, increase in women’s involvement in the informal sector in occupations such as manufacturing, construction, agriculture, transportation, and provision of goods and services, increase in seasonal employment particularly in the agricultural sector, and the increase in the number of younger women involved in economic activities (Hale, 1996; Pheko, 2002; Ewelukwa, 2005). In the following section I discuss the impact of the different stages of globalization on the economic roles of Ghanaian women.



Women’s Status and Economic Roles in the Pre-colonial Era 

In traditional pre-colonial African societies, women, including girls, unmarried women, married women, mothers, and grandmothers had a well-defined high status and place. This fact has been reiterated by several researchers that have studied the status of African women during the pre-colonial period (Sudarkasa, 2005). Researchers such as Niara Sudarkasa and Ester Boserup have documented these facts in their research reports. In her work titled “The Status of Women in Indigenous African Societies,” Niara Sudarkasa clearly states, “Except in highly Islamized areas, women in Sub-Saharan Africa, more than in any other part of the world, were conspicuous in high places in the pre-colonial era. They were the queen-mothers, queen sisters, princesses, female chiefs, and holders of other offices in most towns and villages” (Sudarkasa, 2005, p.25). In addition to holding different offices, women contributed significantly to the economy of the communities they belonged to. Their contribution to agriculture was monumental. In her extensive work among African women, Ester Boserup found that African women carry out virtually all the agricultural work in Africa; accounting for up to 80% of agricultural labor in the continent (Boserup, 1970). In many African traditional societies, the roles of men were different from those of women. These roles were not seen or treated as more important than those of women; they were complementary. Women fulfilled their conjugal roles as wives and co-wives. However, they did not occupy  a low status compared to men because of this

(Sudakasa, 2005). 


Women’s Status and Economic Roles in the Colonial Era 

              The colonial era in Africa was marked by a forceful and near unprecedented implementation of the goals and desires of imperialists based on their capitalistic ideologies on African societies. The ideology of patriarchal hegemony was central in the colonial domination of African societies. “It is suggested that the changes that occurred with the onset of colonization (and capitalism, its economic correlate) were ones that created hierarchical as opposed to complementary relations between the sexes” (Sudakasa, 2005, p. 29) in Africa. 

             In addition to imposing their language, modes of dressing and institutions, imperialists imposed their ideologies about life on African societies. Their preferential treatment of men over women gradually created a rift between social and economic relations between men and women. The creation of urban areas further expanded this rift. Men were hired for jobs in the civil service. This entailed their leaving their homes and families in the rural areas to live in the cities. The creation of geographic spaces where the roles of men and women did not co-exist affected gender relations. Women were mostly involved in agriculture. Their involvement in food production helped them provide food for their families during this period. However, the mechanization of agriculture during this period changed this pattern. Men were the ones who could handle and manage most of the machinery brought in by the imperialists to accelerate agricultural production. 

           Because men had access to the machines, they were able to produce more food. Higher agricultural output meant they made more money than the women. This undoubtedly undermined women’s role in the agricultural sector, consequently reducing their financial earning as well as their economic position in the society. Men were the first to be exposed to modern education (Mikell, 1986); the fact that they got  Western education  first further expanded the social and economic gap between men and women. It gradually became clear that the place of women was believed to be in the informal sector taking care of other issues. These forces of modernization and development denied African women access to education commensurate to that of men (Boserup, 1970; Sheldon, 2017). 

In Ghana, during the colonial period, agriculture and trade were the major occupation and employers of labor. According to Mikell (1986), in the early 1900’s Ghana dominated global cocoa production and sale. As the highest exporter of cocoa in Africa, Ghana had a considerable amount of arable land dedicated to cocoa farming. Initially, men took the lead in this business primarily because they owned the land. Women primarily worked in the farms of their spouses or brothers. The fall in the cocoa prices as a result of the world-wide depression in the 1930’s led to a major shift in the division of labor in Ghana. During this period, as men left the farms and the rural areas and migrated to the urban areas in search for employment, women gradually took over these farms. It didn’t take long before women established themselves as farm owners making decent incomes from local marketing of their farm produce (Mikell, 1986). Subsequent fluctuation of cocoa prices affected both men and women’s involvement in cocoa production. However, at a point in this transition, women established themselves as the mainstay of the rural labor force (Mikell, 1986). Many of these women were involved in retail trade in the market areas trading in a wide range of products including foodstuff and clothing.  

In the 1940s, efforts towards decolonization intensified in Ghana. Kwame Nkrumah was invited by the United Gold Coast Convention to work as its organizing secretary (Mensah, 2007). During his tenure, Kwame Nkrumah adopted an inclusive approach which encouraged the inclusion of local groups such as peasant farmers, and market women (Mensah, 2007). Because of Nkrumah’s people-centered approach to politics, he won people admiration, trust and support especially that of influential market women who “through their domination of small-scale trade, served as effective channels of communication at the local level” (Mensah, 2007, p.105). The affluent market women also provided financial support for his campaign (Omari, 1972).  They contributed significantly to Dr. Nkrumah’s presidential campaign. 


Women’s Economic Roles the Post-Colonial Era 1990-2000

This was a period of transitions. Major economic changes that took place globally and locally affected the economic well-being of African countries. Ghana obtained her independence from British colonial masters in 1957. This led to significant changes not only in the political environment but also in the social and economic sectors. The economic roles of women were affected as well. During this period women in Ghana remained strongly involved in agriculture.   

Data shows that during this period women in Ghana accounted for approximately 50% of the agricultural labor force (Dixon, 1982). However, white collar jobs became available options. Consequently, many women transitioned into jobs in the teaching, nursing, legal, business, medical and clerical fields (Greenstreet, 1972). Women involved in textile business experienced major expansion in their trade. Additionally, women’s participation in the capital city grew; and by 1965 it had grown to 55% in Accra (Cutrufelli, 1983). By the late 1970’s many Ghanaian women migrated to the urban areas and assumed work as market women, some found paid employment in factories partly, because of low economic returns in agricultural production (Cutrufelli, 1983).   

In 1970, women constituted 50.6% of the total labor force of the country (The World Bank, 2001). Around this time, it was estimated that approximately 70% of the women were traders (Coquery-Vidrovitch, 1994).Of special mention are the Ga women, who did not have to migrate like their counterparts because they were indigenes of the area. Robertson (1995) describes the Ga market women (who controlled retail trade in the Accra area) as “pragmatic, shrewd, gregarious and formidable lot” (p.657). They controlled the allocation of stalls and the sale of fish, imported goods, and locally prepared food sales. Mikell (1986) recorded that during this period, women who received some education were able to secure jobs in factories or the clothing industry as seamstresses or tie-dye makers. Ghana’s economic woes began after the fall in cocoa prices in the 1960s and 1970s (Mikell, 1986). Before this time, Ghana was the leading cocoa exporter in the world. The country depended on the revenue generated from the export of cocoa and other agricultural products and natural resources and minerals such as gold, and aluminum, diamonds, bauxite, and manganese. Ghana had what can be referred to as a booming economy (Opong & Abu 1987). “In the 1960s, South Korea was among the least developed countries in the world, and at a similar stage to Ghana. In fact, Ghana's rich and abundant natural resources, efficient civil service and well-structured education system was seen as the more viable economy.” (Laing, 2006, p.2). Although the economy, similar to other African economies faced severe crisis in the 1980s, which led to the government adopting the structural adjustment programs suggested by the World Bank and IMF, the Ghanaian economy has been relatively stable (compared with other African countries).  


Women’s Economic Roles in the Structural Adjustment Era 1980-2000Ghana witnessed severe economic crisis in the early 1980’s. This crisis was triggered by both international and national economic problems (Sefa Dei, 1994). The country adopted the structural adjustment policies suggested by the IMF in an attempt to manage the economic crisis. The economic crisis in Ghana was particularly severe. Sefa Dei (1994) recorded that during this period; everything that could make life easier was not available. Economic hardship took its toll on the lives of individuals and communities. Women had to resort to new economic strategies to survive. Some of the new strategies adopted by the women from Ayirebi include experimenting with wild plant varieties, expansion of women’s food-collecting activities, and the development of new techniques for the production of household items and food processing (Sefa Dei, 1994). Due & Galdwin (1991) in their work on the impacts of structural adjustment programs (SAPS) on African women farmers and female-headed households reported that “SAP reforms worsened the agricultural production and incomes of women farmers by being too macroeconomic in scope” (p.1431). Women’s economic activity during this period was solely for the production of food for the household. An interesting development during this period that helped many Ghanaian women and their families survive this period was the establishment of group economic ventures. Women pooled labor and capital to cultivate farmslands donated by the local chief. Revenue obtained from the sale of these farm products were used to sustain their families during these times. Women’s groups also operated cash loan assistance programs for their members and made financial contributions towards social development projects in the community.  

Sefa Dei (1994) records that women’s collective involvement in economic activities earned them respect, fulfillment, and most importantly higher social status. Ghanaian women constituted slightly over half of the total labor force of the country. For almost two decades (1980-1998) Ghana had the highest number of women involved in the labor force than any other country in Africa (The World Bank, 2001).  


 Economic Performance of Ghanaian Women 2000-2008 

Ghanaian women were very active economically during this period. Relevant data on women’s employment and occupational activities were obtained from the National Health and Demographic Health Survey (NDHS). The National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) is a data collection and analysis project conducted by the Ghana Statistical Service in collaboration with ORC Macro and support from the United States International Development (USAID). The NDHS surveys have been carried out five times in Ghana. This study, however, will only make use of data collected from the 1998, 2003 and 2008 surveys.  

Based on the data presented, the proportion of employed women increased from 62.5% in 1998 too & 75% in 2003 and slightly declined to 74.8% in 2008. This observed increase in the number of women employed in Ghana conforms to the speculations and observations made about the changes in the economic roles of African women necessitated by globalization. The majority of women were involved in agriculture and sales (retail trade). The number of women involved in agriculture, however, declined by approximately 15% between 2003 and 2008. This decline in the number of women involved in agriculture follows the predicted patterns of the impact of trade liberalization on agricultural sector in Africa. This decline can be linked directly and indirectly to the increased opening of the Ghanaian economy to imported goods. It is possible that women left the agricultural sector in search for work in other sectors. It is not surprising that the proportion of women involved in sales increased. As described earlier, this era of modern globalization has seen the expansion of the informal sector in many African countries. This observed increase in the proportion of women involved in sales in Ghana between 2003 and 2008 follows the pattern described earlier. Another occupational type that recorded increase is the professional sector. The proportion of women in this sector increased from 3.1% to 4.6%. This is a significant increase given the time frame involved. It is possible that women took advantage of increased access to information and education, obtained requite educational training and got jobs in this field. This growth can also be linked to globalization processes and the increased value placed on education globally which is a feature of social and cultural globalization.  



Table 1: Occupational Distribution of Ghanaian Women 1998-2008 





Women currently employed 




























Source: Ghana Statistical Service. (1998, 2003, 2008). National Health and Demographic Survey (NHDS). Accra. 



These statistics provide useful information on how Ghanaian women fared within the first decade of modern globalization. The results reveal a mixed impact of globalization on women’s economic involvement. Generally, the increase in the proportion of women employed is a positive impact which holds important value for the economic performance of the entire country.  

The changes reported in women’s economic involvement are noteworthy, mirroring very closely the predicted effects of globalization processes on African women. Altogether these findings need to be placed in perspective, within the broader historical, social, cultural, political context of women’s economic participation in Africa. As globalization evolves and intensifies, it is important that we pay careful attention to the underlying processes that shape the changes in women’s economic roles in Africa. This is because women’s work in Africa have been strongly influenced by forces beyond the control of women. These forces while providing new economic opportunities have had detrimental impact not only on the economic well-being of women but also their status in the society. Historical evidence shows that African women endured significant setback during every stage of Africa’s integration into the global market economy, which led to the altering of gender dynamics in many African societies.

Where do we go from here?  

The brief historical account of the economic experiences of Ghanaian women during the key stages of Africa’s integration into the global market economy reveals that the status of African women has been strongly linked to their economic well-being. Despite this tight connection, not enough attention has been paid to studying and understanding the processes of globalization and their resultant effects on gender dynamics in many countries in Africa. Modern globalization is already 18 years old, and there are not many research studies that have comprehensively examined how African women have contributed to and fared economically and socially during this time frame. Our ability to maximize the gains and opportunities of modern globalization for the lives of women and in turn preserve a healthy gender dynamic in African societies and indeed advance African economies will depend on the level of our consciousness and our ability to critically engage globalizations processes and actors. Where we go from here and what we do from this point will rewrite or repeat history.  






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African Indigenous Cosmetics in Contemporary Fashion


Dr. Bridget Itunu Awosika* 

Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo




Cosmetics are defined to mean all the preparations applied on the body to enhance the appearance and beauty of the user. Cosmetics include all creams, powder, ointments and oils which are applied on oneself in order to make the hair, face and the body look more attractive.  The practice of anointing the head and body with oil was common among the ancient Egyptian and Nubian physicians for the purpose of healing. Indigenous cosmetics include all forms of oils, leaves, roots, barks, stems, earth and wood, traditionally processed, and used for curative and beautification purposes on the face, hair and the skin. This may reflect the tradition of a place or local community and may be done for beauty enhancement and good grooming (Awosika, 2003). For a cosmetics item to be adjudged indigenous in one area, it must have been used in the environment for an appreciable length of time as a part of the customs, beliefs and ways of life. 


Among Africans and Nigerians in particular, the use of indigenous cosmetics has been as long in history as the existence of humans on the continent. An important figure associated with the use of cosmetics during the ancient era, in Egypt, was Cleopatra, noted for her skill in the making and usage of cosmetics. People have used cosmetics in the form of balms, powders, and ointments to improve the hair, skin, face, feet, palms and entire to decorate and enhance grooming. The practice of anointing the head and body with oil was common among the ancient Egyptian and Nubian physicians for the purpose of healing.


Common Indigenous Cosmetics and Their Importance 


Camwood is a many-stemmed erect shrub or small tree that grows from 2.5 - 10 metres tall . It can be cultivated as an ornamental plant or found to grow in the wild. Its botanical name is Pterocarpus and it is also called camwood in English, Isele in Igbo, Auchi in Ijaw, Osun pupa or Irosun in Yoruba and Majigi in Hausa. The camwood is dull red, fairly hard, but not insect proof (Gill, L. S., 1992). Camwood was used in some parts of southern Nigeria as a dyeing wood in traditional times along with various mordants to dye wool fabrics into shades of brown and red. It has commodification value as a dye-wood; hence it is commonly put up for sale in local markets either as flat pieces from the peripheral layers of the old stem, or from the roots. It is a resinous substance and could be made to form a ball shape or red paste. The paste form becomes saturated or triturated when mixed with palm oil: its paste is used to smear the body as cosmetics while the lotion prepared from the bark is used in the treatment of ringworm of the scalp. The lotion from the leaves is infused with other herbs and used to treat fever in children (Agwa, Uzoigwe and Mbaegbu, 2012). Another important plant is henna. The henna plant is known botanically as Lawsonia inermis. It is known as Laali in Yoruba, Pondi in Hausa, and Shuwa, in Arab languages (Odugbemi, 2006). The red-green leaves produce orange, the colour used for beautification and coloration of the hair and body, as a creative art adornment. The green powder from the dried leaves is sold in markets as cosmetics components which when soaked in water, with the addition of lime juice, is used to tint the hands, feet and nails. This is done in some regions by bandaging such areas for several hours after immersing the designed portions of the body in a gourd that contains the preparation, for an appreciable period of time. This is done especially for the training of would-be-brides and young ladies in several parts of Nigeria. Shuaib, (2005) and Idu, Obaruyi and Erhabor, (2008), have confirmed the effectiveness of the dried and powdered or fresh leaves of henna leaf when mixed with lemon juice. The medicinal potency of the herb is increased when used as a dressing for inflammations, insect bites, bruises and skin improvement. When it is used in combination with Indigofera leaves, the preparation gives a beautiful blue/black dye of glossy color as a coloring pigment for hair. (Shuaib, 2005).  


African historical accounts on traditional activities in regions that stretch from Senegal to Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia, confirm that jars of a rich butter used for skin and hair care were part of the items being transported for use by notable women including the Queen of Sheba. That rich butter is shea butter, a fat extracted from shea nuts of Butyrospermum paradoxum. The shea tree, is also called Karite-nut and Emi, Epo emi or Emi ori in the Yoruba language; Kadanya in Hausa and Ibo osisi in Igbo. The tree grows up to two meters tall and about one meter in diameter, having dense numerous crowns that are always evergreen as a new leaf comes out almost the same time that an old one falls off. According to Kushneet, an ISSA Certified Specialist in Fitness & Nutrition (2017), the shea butter is oil rich in fats and is a reliable solution for healthy skin and hair.  Many ethnic groups from Northern Nigeria also blend it with palm oil and use it for cooking purposes.   It is used as an illuminating oil or a medicinal ointment and dressing for hair, and as a component of mild soaps sold within and outside Africa.  It protects the skin and hair from the sun and dry harmattan winds. The moisturizing and healing properties are highly useful in the treatment of many skin issues because the butter has both anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that can treat many ailments. It is used in a variety of cosmetics. Note its inclusion in medicinal formulas in combination with other botanical ingredients.

  Antimony is a chemical element with the symbol Sb derived from the Latin word stibium with an atomic number of 1. It is a lustrous metalloid, found in nature mainly as the sulfide of the mineral stibnite. The use of antimony in cosmetics dates back to the ancient Egyptians who used it in the form of stibnite for black eye make-up. Antimony is not an abundant element but it is found in small quantities in over a hundred mineral species as a sulfide. The soft dark mineral forms crystals when crushed and ground into powder to darken the lower portion of the eyelid. 

 For reasons of spirituality, Ododo, (2004) opines that religious teachings play important roles in the choice and use of some traditional cosmetics as some worshippers in the Christian sects are disallowed from using them. The case of practitioners of traditional religion is however different as they use many of the traditional cosmetics in shrines and during festivals. “Osun” worshippers in Osun State normally rub “efun” (white chalk) on their face and use it to make patterns and draw symbols on their bodies. Worshippers of “Ogun” (God of iron), usually decorate the face, arms and legs by painting it with the powder from wood ash and charcoal to display the appearance of a great warrior (Ogun) during the annual celebration, in his remembrance, and at every quarterly sacrifice season to the God of iron, Ogun. Celebrants of Sango, Osun, Osanyin, Ifa etc use any or all of “efun” (local white chalk), “osun” (camwood), “laali” (leaf paint), “tiroo” (antimony) to decorate themselves and the shrines of their Gods and Goddesses during the seasons of their celebrations and even for academic purposes, in the case of academic individuals who are into theatre and the Performing Arts..  




Table 1:   Indigenous Cosmetics Commonly used in Nigeria  

    Indigenous Name 

    English Name 

Botanical / Chemical Name 





Coconut Oil 

Cocos nucifera 



Grey sulfide mineral stibnite (Sb2S3) 


Local White Chalk 

Calcium carbonate 


Leave Paint 

Lawsonia inermis 

Adin Eyan 

Palm Kernel Oil 

Elaeis guineensis 



Butyrospermum paradoxum 





Sources:  Researcher Survey (2018); 



As corroborated by Egharevba and Ikhatua (2008) as well as Idu et al. (2008), research results are now revealing the importance of medicinal plants as reservoir of phyto medicine because they contain substances that can be used for therapeutic purposes. As natural products, they are environmentally friendly, easily available, cheap to acquire, safe for human consumption, and curative purposes with lots of antimicrobial properties.

It is of great interest to note that medicinal plants have been used in traditional medicine for several years and in the contemporary time. More than 80% of the world’s populace still depends on traditional medicine for their health care needs. Most of the prescribed medicines in developed countries are synthetic copies that are based on the molecular structure of natural plants.

The skin is the biggest organ of the human body and should be taken good care of to achieve and sustain its youthfulness and healthy appearance. Everyone should be proud of her/his skin and body no matter what colour, shape and size. The use of indigenous cosmetics is not just about political dynamism, but it is about identity, safety in fashion and their acceptance. We really have to learn to love and embrace the skin we are in because using dangerous chemicals are harmful to health as they only guarantee you some kind damage for the rest of life. Some of the dangers associated with toxic components of the products are blood cancers such as leukemia and cancers of the liver and kidneys as well as severe skin conditions. 

In a recent research by environmental toxicologists, there were great suspicions and some confirmations that many synthetic cosmetics may be harmful to human health and wellbeing. Such personal care products include chemicals like parabens, which interfere with the body’s hormonal processes because they are made to mimic estrogen including phthalates which, studies have confirmed, could interfere with the reproductive processes of lab animals. Added fragrance containing chemicals have been linked to reproductive dysfunction and even cancer. Most synthetic cosmetics are dangerous to the skin while their prolonged usage could lead to high risks of terminal diseases.

Awareness of the dangers of synthetic cosmetics would empower women of color to protect themselves, demand better products containing fewer chemicals of concern in what one might call “natural washing.” Women shouldn’t have to bleach their skin or straighten their hair to fit outmoded standards of beauty and “professionalism.” 


Research Questions 

The following questions were raised to gather additional information in the study. Are there inherent values in traditional cosmetics that could warrant the creation of awareness for their usage and sustainability? 

How could traditional cosmetics be improved upon for acceptability amongst the target population?  



Data were collected from two hundred and Forty (240) females, through a 20-item questionnaire tagged: Indigenous Cosmetics Usage Questionnaire (ICUQ). The respondents were chosen from the study population through the purposive sampling technique, while the instrument used was given face validation and administered on the respondents in their various offices. All the copies of the questionnaire given out were retrieved within one week of distribution. Data collected were analysed using descriptive statistics of percentages and the Mean for respondents’ demographical data, while the ANNOVA was used to determine the acceptance or rejection of hypotheses.  



Some individuals still prefer local cosmetics to synthetic ones due to the belief that imported cosmetics have some chemicals which could be injurious to the skin. Another reason advanced for the usage of indigenous cosmetics by some people is that the tropical weather does not favour imported cosmetics given the effects of their chemicals on the skin. Local cosmetics are very easy to prepare and the raw materials are cheaply/readily available in many geographical locations from natural and non-injurious sources. Some interviewees prefer camwood and palm kernel oil for adornment of the body and are believed to cure and purify the skin from the harshness of soap alkalis. A percentage of the interviewees viewed local cosmetics less favorably and offered suggestions for improvement of local cosmetic products.



The study recommended the following: 

  • Popularisation of indigenous cosmetics locally
  • Enforcement of the ban on dangerous synthetic cosmetics to encourage the growth of indigenous products and businesses 
  • Entrenchment of indigenous cosmetology into educational curriculum to encourage entrepreneurship, socio-cultural rejuvenation and poverty reduction.  
  • Sustainable collaborative efforts between indigenous cosmetics producers and creative designers to improve on the packaging, labeling, and consumer appeal in order to improve patronage.


  • Specific steps must be taken to move our Indigenous cosmetics       from the position of periphery to that of Indigenous and global recognition and usage. We must       sustain them as aspects of material and intellectual culture for the present and future generations.


  • There is a need to blend production with the purpose and needs of consumers so that such needs are met effectively. This is important because the needs of consumers vary according to location and the purpose for which a particular cosmetic item is sought.


  • Any international firm that hopes to make a foray into Africa must adapt their cosmetic products to suit African conditions. 


  • As an age long tradition and culture, the use of indigenous cosmetics is better preserved for their functionality. Once they are improved upon for acceptability, they could assist in entrepreneurship development for the youth and help to reduce poverty explosion.


  •  Improvements in process and products would go a long way to make indigenous cosmetics become popular and acceptable particularly since they are cost effective. 


*Contact details






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Zahara Hill (2017): Going ‘Back to Black:’ Have We Finally Reached an Understanding?






















































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