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Female Business Leaders and Young Female Entrepreneurs in Lomé (Togo) : The Double Life of “Superwomen” and their Domestic Burdens

Charlotte Vampo

Research Framework : Togo is a country with a strong trade tradition and a high female labor participation rate. Women are encouraged to become entrepreneurs and they are free to make use of their revenue. At the same time, they bear a heavier burden than men in terms of work/life balance since they are responsible for virtually all domestic work. While most women are confined to informal sectors of activity, some businesswomen in Lomé have managed to be active in emerging areas of the formal economy. This investigation is about the women who seem to be an archetype for women emancipating themselves through work. These are the women who studied at universities and belong to associations that promote female entrepreneurship and empowerment.

Objectives : The article explores the way these women fit within the gendered division of labor. It investigates the tools women use to manage everyday lives filled with familial constraints and professional obligations.

Methodology : This study is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Lomé over five years. A micro-analysis of gender relations was applied to reveal the trajectories of success in these female entrepreneurs by taking a relational approach. The empirical material was gathered using interviews and observations in and outside of businesses, as well as informal discussions and through the use of a questionnaire about expenses and tasks.

Results : The results show that the work/family balance is seen as the duty of married women. The most common solution to this problem is transferring the care work to other women at home and at their places of work.

Conclusions : The study highlights that women adhere to the gendered division of labor because of social standards regarding marriage and due to issues of social recognition associated with the female reproductive role. The businesswomen of Lomé may be regarded as “superwomen” however, to reach this brass ring, they must shift some of their burden onto other women.

Contribution : The fact that women have access to high responsibility jobs hasn’t completely changed traditional gendered roles. The reconfiguration of gender relations depends on the economic empowerment of women. However, the social negotiation of a company manager’s status is made by transgressing gender norms but also by perpetuating the inequality of order. This article invites us to see empowerment as a sociopolitical process which is both individual and collective.