After observing the nature of humanity and the evil that pervades our world, Mahatma Gandhi left this in the sands of time: “Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity; the female sex.” Jostein Gaarder, a renowned intellectual and author also affirms that “A state that does not educate and train women is like a man who only trains his right arm.” The scholar had resolved that development cannot be achieved if women are discriminated in socio-economic and political activities.
These two philosophies epitomize the work of Northern Sector on Awareness and Action Center (NORSAAC), a Local Non-Governmental Organization based in the Northern region of Ghana and supported by ActionAid Ghana. The two organisations have programmes to groom and inspire young women to be part of the political and development discourse within their schools and beyond. Advocacy on issues affecting women and girls resulted in the creation of the Young Female Parliament (YFP), a unique innovation that is turning around the lives of young women in the Northern region.
The making of YFP
The initiative was propounded in 2009 by NORSAAC and ActionAid Ghana (AAG), having discovered the glaring disparities between young women and young men in their participation in local decision making processes, which are caused by the profound patriarchal cultural practices, beliefs and systems in the Region. The two partners have a mandate to build the capacity of the marginalised to access their needs on a sustainable basis and enjoy equal rights.
Over 700 girls are part of the leadership development initiative. NORSAAC and ActionAid Northern Region Programme have successfully developed and rolled out YFP in Nineteen (19) Senior High and Tertiary schools in fifteen (15) Districts in the region. This is a stimulant for girls in schools to challenge power structures that have historically oppressed females and violated their rights. The model has already achieved milestones by recording its first Senior Prefect at Chereponi Senior High School. The Zabzugu Senior High school has its first female assistant senior prefect in the school’s history.
A tool for practical coaching
The inventiveness ensures that young girls are acquainted with leadership skills and coached to contest for school and district level decision-making and leadership positions. The concept affords girls the knowledge to develop convincing and implementable school election manifestos and equips them with public speaking skills. It inspires girls to aspire to lead and change negative attitudes, beliefs, norms and perceptions towards women and girls. It motivates girls to be game changers within communities. It is a safe platform for girls to support, open up, share and support each other, to play active roles in decision making.
The YFP innovation is anchored mainly on four core pillars: leadership, human rights, social activism and women’s’ health. These tools empower girls to confront the society with a positive attitude and prove that they are not objects, but subjects.
Barriers to participation of women and girl
An assessment on women`s participation in local governance by Abubakar and Ayuune (2014) revealed that women lack confidence and have inferiority complex compared to men, and this undermines their status. The survey revealed that this is due to the patriarchal nature of the society.
To overcome these barriers, a proven model like the YFP has been found to be effective. It restores confidence and promotes respect of human rights while giving women and girls a voice to speak out. It responds to such beliefs and battles allegations that the people of the Northern region have for a long time been subjecting their girls and women to harmful cultural practices.
An analysis by the Foundation for Security and Development in Africa (FOSDA) asserts that the Northern region has the highest number of under representation of women at all levels of decision making processes. It argues that this is exacerbated by low literacy levels, food insecurity and poverty that increase the vulnerability of women and girls.
Statistics have also given credibility to NORSAAC`s work and proven that women in the Northern region still play second fiddle to their male counterparts due to deeply entrenched cultural practices that malign women and girls. A glimpse on participation in elections illustrates that out of a total of 137 females who contested in the District Assembly Elections in 2010, only 19 of them were elected. In that same year, while only one was elected to the Tamale Metro Assembly compared to 64 males, no woman was elected in nine other Districts in the region. Overall, only 6 women in the entire region won the elections to become Assembly Members out of a total of 43 women who contested. These disturbing disparities demonstrate the negative views, perceptions and status of women and girls in the society.
The Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA)
This work fits into ActionAid’s Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) that advances women’s rights, promotes rights-based and sustainable alternatives, partnership and alliance building and working with young people. It analyses obligations, inequalities and vulnerabilities in order to address discriminatory practices and unjust distribution of power that impedes progress and diminishes human rights. The HRBA was the motivation of the partnership between the ActionAid and NORSAAC.
NORSAAC on YFP
Extolling the virtues of the YFP, NORSAAC Project Officer, Wasila Abdul Rahaman, explains that the initiative depicts parliament and serves as a lobby group and launch pad for young girls with low self-esteem to build their confidence, gather skills, competencies and knowledge on human rights. This would enable them to effectively participate in decision making in their schools, communities and in the society.
The project officer said the innovation has challenged the conventional thinking of some head teachers who still believe that females cannot lead. She noted that some girls are still trapped in cultural beliefs and predispositions that they are weaker and cannot be heard by boys in schools to campaign and win positions.
An innovation worthy of emulation
The YFP innovative provides a practical approach to mobilize and promote the empowerment of girls to claim their space and voices in decision making and leadership. It involves, recognizes, and nurtures the strengths, interests, and abilities of young women through the provision of real opportunities to become change makers and impact their generation.
YFP resonates with theories of participation proffered by Hart (1997) that argues that youth participation is at different levels. It starts from the lowest stage of participation to the highest stage of active involvement of young people, where decision making is shared and initiated by both young people and adults. The YFP is a model that is worthy to be emulated in other regions in the country.
By Michael Ndiweni and Alia Mumuni
Northern Region Programme