An important day to celebrate, promote and fight for the equal rights of women across the world!
Here at Action Through Enterprise we deliver programmes that work with and for the people of Upper West Ghana helping to reduce barriers to education or access to a sustainable income and reduce discrimination against disabled children. Across each of these programmes women are well represented: girls are being supported to gain an education that will help build their future; mothers are supported in working hard to develop and grow a business that can support themselves and their family; and grandmothers are supported in caring for and fighting for the rights of their disabled grandchildren. On International’s Women’s Day we would like to take this opportunity to shout about the amazing women we work with.
Our new VocATE project has been supporting young women, with very limited training or employment opportunities available to them, to undertake apprenticeships in skilled professions. The progress and skills learned are carefully monitored by ATE staff to ensure that the scheme is of value to both the apprentice and the small business owner. These apprenticeships will run for three years and on completion, the apprentice will be proficient in their chosen profession and will be fast tracked into our BizATE scheme.
Janet is 18 and was selected to join the VocATE apprenticeship scheme in September 2016. Having dropped out of school as her parents could not afford the financial burden of text books, uniform and other basic school needs, she is now thriving in her hairdressing apprenticeship where she has a flourishing relationship with her supervisor and small business owner, Joyce. Her enrolment is VocATE and the completion of her three year hairdressing apprenticeship will deliver a meaningful change to the life of her and her family. Maybe one day she’ll have her own apprentice working for her!
Across our school feeding programme, EducATE, we have been working hard to ensure gender equality. Whilst EducATE tackles hunger, one of the biggest barriers to education that children face, we believe it is important to identify and address other obstacles to accessing education where we can. Before we started providing school meals to pupil’s at Gombele Junior High School in January, we collected some worrying baseline data which showed a 44% drop out rate of girls moving from Class 1 to 2 in 2016, and a 27% drop in the number of girls enrolling in school for the same period. Just half the number of girls compared with boys described themselves as ‘happy at school’, indicating that there are serious issues that must be identified to enable these girls to complete their education. To help us tackle this we have identified strong local female leaders to help develop and run small focus groups among girls (equally we will be developing forums for boys) to help address issues that are important to them and the gender-specific challenges they face.
We have already started work tackling an issue familiar to women all over the world: menstruation. While we are yet to gain insight from girls attending ATE-supported schools on how they are affected by a total lack of school toilet facilities and money available for sanitary products, and the extent of the impact this has on their school attendance, we have started some workshops with women (and men!) who attend our special needs awareness programme, SNAP. These were a product of a fruitful meeting with experienced development worker, Dr Nick Maurice. His extensive experience working in The Gambia had brought him into contact with a group teaching women in rural areas how to make their own reusable sanitary towels out of spare fabrics. An incredibly inventive yet simple solution that makes an extraordinary difference. Using a design developed by the Peace Corps, Chief Executive, Sarah Gardner, held a series of workshops on women’s health which culminated in each adult attendee learning how to make their own reusable sanitary towel!
Although the overwhelming majority of the children who attend our SNAP sessions are supported by the women in their family, we were thrilled that the men attending were equally as engaged in our MenstruATE workshop. Women’s health is another important aspect to be celebrated and advocated for this International Women’s Day!
Women, having the lion’s share of caring responsibilities for their disabled children, represent almost all of the members of our SNAP support groups – the majority being mothers and 10% grandmothers. 32% of these women are not only the primary carers for their disabled children but are also the sole provider of the household income. 72% of all members have expressed that their caring responsibilities have affected their capacity to generate income, compounding their economic struggles. “People discriminate against me and my child because of her condition. For example, I used to sell pito but because of her they don’t buy it anymore, so I stopped”.
For disabled girls within Lawra, marginalisation is compounded by their gender with a 3:2 overrepresentation of boys receiving help from our SNAP programme. Girls are often and in many ways sidelined and the traditional belief that disability makes them spiritually dangerous places them at greater risk of abuse and even infanticide.
The mothers and grandmothers whom we work with have battled, and continue to battle, some serious demons to provide and care for their children. Coming together for the ATE SNAP support groups once a month, enables women to share their struggles, to know they are not alone and provide each other with much needed emotional support: “SNAP enables us to discuss the stigmatisation that we face and be bold enough to share some of these experiences” says SNAP Committee Member, Patience.
Our BizATE programme has been an incredible way to empower women by enabling them to develop their own business allowing them to be self-reliant in providing sustainable income for themselves and their family. It is well-documented that a much higher percentage of income is invested in the health and education of the family when in the hands of women within the household ensuring a ripple effect of development throughout the community. This programme is helping to develop strong female role models with fantastic success stories that girls in school can aspire to. Patience is one of our small business owners as well as a SNAP user. She sells food, cold water and second hand clothing. Her ATE grant enabled her to diversify her business by responding to market needs which has successfully grown her business. The success of her business encouraged her to set up a sousou group with other women in the market – a type of savings scheme where individuals pay in on a weekly basis with the option to take out their savings each month. Patience takes a small interest from these savings while still providing a safe and secure means for her fellow businesswomen to set aside money for the future. An enterprising an innovative way to support of providing financial empowerment for herself and her others. There are many hard working and successful women like Patience within our BizATE programme who are now strong and dependable role models within their community, providing for their families and supporting their communities.
Today we celebrate all the women we work with; the cooks and teachers at our schools, our staff and consultants, all the women in our programmes – their commitment, determination and their leadership and inspiration for girls now and in the future!