By Leela Shanti
In my role with ATE as Programmes & Development Officer, I have responsibilities for managing our monitoring and evaluation processes, and using what we learn from our data to improve what we do – to improve our programmes, strategies and impacts. I’ve been undertaking an online learning course about Violence Against Women to develop my own personal and professional understanding of what impacts the lives of the people we work with in Lawra, Upper West Region, Ghana. It’s been eye-opening and motivated me to learn more. It informed the design of our most recent round of Safeguarding Training and been a part of an increasing opening up of internal discussion on issues of power, inequality, dignity and gender.
Around the world today 650 million women and girls were married before the age of 18 years old . In Ghana this affects 21% of girls, with 5% married before they turn 15 (with even higher rates in the northern regions and rural areas) . Child marriage is a harmful practice which often results in early pregnancy and social isolation, interrupts schooling, limits a girl’s opportunities and increases her risk of experiencing domestic violence .
Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that girls are somehow inferior to boys. In Ghana, women and girls live in a highly patriarchal society, where 1 in 3 women are likely to experience domestic violence . Global evidence shows that women who have experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence report higher rates of depression, having an abortion and acquiring HIV, compared to women who have not . Despite an increasing openness about domestic violence in Ghanaian society, there are still powerful obstacles to reporting it and persistent beliefs that it should be resolved within the family . 60% of women believe men are justified in beating their wives under certain circumstances, demonstrating deeply-ingrained power dynamics and some men reportedly prefer to marry young girls as they are easier to control .
ATE is dedicated to working to reduce poverty in Lawra and the Upper West Region of Ghana. We are extremely aware that in Ghana there are big gaps between urban and rural, rich and poor, and we are increasingly developing our awareness as an organisation of the gap between men and women. Gender inequality and domestic violence is by no means a Ghanaian problem, it is a global one, from which Ghana is not exempt. Understanding and reflecting on gender norms and drivers of gender inequality is something that we at ATE are working to build into our programmes and our work within the Lawra community.
Some examples of work where ATE are putting support for women and girls front and centre is our VocATE Programme; an apprenticeship scheme for young women to learn lifelong vocational skills (you can read about the pilot programme following its second year of implementation here) and our pilot ‘Support for Girls’ workshops which aim to identify and tackle key issues causing absenteeism and drop-out amongst school girls in Lawra. Amongst our BizATE small business development training programme we have divided the ever-growing numbers of active ATE-supported business owners into types of trade. This has meant certain groups have typically become drawn along gender lines (with the market traders and makers predominantly female) which creates different opportunities to focus on women within the wider programme. Equally, through our Special Needs Awareness Programme (SNAP) we work with many women who are mothers and grandmothers raising children with disabilities, who are pushed to the very margins of society. We are starting to ask different questions in our programme development and our monitoring, and reflecting on how our investment in women, is an investment in a powerful source of development for the Lawra community as a whole.
 UNICEF (2018). Child Marriage: Latest Trends and Future Prospects, p. 2-4; and UNICEF (2017). Is every child counted? Status of Data for Children in the SDGs, p. 54.
[4, 6] Domestic Violence in Ghana: The Open Secret (2006)
 World Health Organization, Department of Reproductive Health and Research, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, South African Medical Research Council (2013). Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence, p.2. For individual country information, see The World’s Women 2015, Trends and Statistics, Chapter 6, Violence against Women, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2015 and UN Women Global Database on Violence against Women.