Posted by: rumnet | April 2, 2012

Human Rights Education Project Improves People’s Lives in Northern Ghana 

(Published in the March 2012 edition of the advocate) 

By Alhassan Imoru 

Ghana is among ten West and East African countries implementing the African Human Rights Education (AHRE) Project which aims to increase awareness and understanding of human rights and how human rights instruments can be used to improve people’s lives.

Women at an impact assessment meeting at Kanshegu

The four- year project (September 2008- September 2012) initiated by Amnesty International (AI) and funded by the UK  Department of International Development (DFID), is implemented in partnership with 21 AI Sections and structures and other human rights and development organizations

The countries involved in the project are Benin, Burkina Faso,  Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo and Uganda.

In Ghana, the AHRE Project is implemented by two local partners, Maata-N-Tudu Association and the Ghana Section of Amnesty International, as primary and secondary partners respectively.

They work with 15 Project Participants, running eight Micro- projects in the Northern, Upper East, and Upper West Regions of Ghana, largely focused on various women’s human rights issues, particularly violence against women, gender- based discrimination and girl- child education.  The annual budget for activity implementation of these micro-project is around £2,000.

This article focuses on two micro- projects implemented in the Northern Region of Ghana. The first is on “Promoting the rights of Women and Girls” run by the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) in Galinkpegu community. The second project is on “Enhancing Girl- child Education through Child Rights Education in Schools,” by a group of teachers of Ghana Education Service (GES)  in Kanshegu, Savelugu-Nanton District.

Galinkpegu Micro-Project

Once upon a time, the Galinkpegu Community, which is within 50km from Tamale, the Northern Regional capital, was noted for domestic violence and quarrels between husbands and wives.

Men were used to beating their wives with whips, belts, wooden sticks or anything that happened to come their way.

The main reasons cited for the rampant wife-beating by men we the refusal of sex by women and women not being able to provide supplementary food ingredients as expected by men.

In some cases, according to the women, the actions of the husbands was just to make the wives feel that they were in control.

The phenomenon of wife-beating and violence against women in Galinkpegu was, however, to change with the arrival of Sakina after marriage from a nearby village.

Now a housewife with four children, Sakina’s relationship with her husband became strained when he took a second wife, whereupon there were frequent arguments between Sakina and her husband’s second wife due to the rivalry between them.

To stop this intense rivalry, their husband beat the two wives severely whenever they quarreled.

This had become Sakina’s normal part of life until they all attended the public sensitization programmes organized by the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) in Galinkpegu, under the Africa Human Rights Education (AHRE) Project, which aims to promote and defend the rights of women through community empowerment.

Apology

Following the sensitization by FIDA, Sakina’s husband called both wives together and apologized for the beatings he had subjected them to in the past.

The husband promised never to beat them again, and suggested that from now on they discuss issues together to settle their differences.

The project has contributed to raising awareness about roles and responsibilities of both men and women in the Galinkpegu community, and to challenging and changing some cultural beliefs.

As a result, men have now started providing food ingredients such as fish and vegetables apart from maize to their wives.  Earlier, they would only provide maize and expect women to supplement the rest although often women did not have any means to provide them.

Whenever women could not provide these supplements, this would often lead to quarrels and eventually wife-beating.

Improved communication between husbands and wives as a result of participating I various AHRE project activities has significantly contributed to reducing domestic quarrels and the ensuring violence in the Galinkpegu community.

The majority of community members agree that: “all these attitudes are changing although some of these practices are still not completely changed.”

Women are increasingly being seen as human beings with equal rights.  Wife-beating has reduced and women are now seen participating in Community meetings.  There have also been cases where women have gained access to land and where women were not subjected to forced marriages.

A male Legal Literacy Volunteer observed that: “where there is no peace there won’t be any development.  Now that there is peace in the community we can expect some development.”

According to Sakina, “we are all happy as a household because of the lessons learnt from FIDA.”

 Increased Enrolment

Before the project started, only a few children in Galinkpegu attended school.  The teachers at the village school had to do a house-to-house enrolment drive at the beginning of each academic year to encourage attendance as parents did not see the benefits of sending their children to school.

 However, since the project started and due to the sensitization of both the men and women on the importance of children’s right to education, the teacher has noticed that: “Parents are now voluntarily bringing their children of school going age to school for enrolment, and parents are regularly coming to school to discuss their wards performance and attendance.

“There has been an attitudinal shift in parents, to the extent that they are even now volunteering to help build urinals and classrooms for the school,” the teacher added.

The Women Legal Literacy Volunteers (WLL) in particular consider the increase in enrolment of children in schools as the most significant as they now value education very highly and do not want to see their children grow up like them and remain illiterate.

According to one female Legal Literacy volunteer, “I feel ashamed and sad when I can’t contribute in discussions due to my illiteracy.  I don’t want our children to be like us.”

 Access to Land

Another human rights issue which was address in Galinkpegu community was women’s access to land.

Traditionally, men hold the land tenure which is passed down from generation to generation.  Women have no inheritance rights in traditional culture and have not had the opportunity to own land.

Following the intervention of the HRE project, a few women have received a portion of land from their husbands as a result of which the improved communication and relationship between them.

These few incidences of women actually owning land were seen as a very significant change, mostly of women because “for the first time they had some resources of their own.”

According to the women, from their produce they could either supplement whatever their husbands provided or sell them for other purposes, especially to support their children’s needs.

This also contributed to a reduction in wife-beating, as women with land could now supplement the maize provided by their husbands, when their inability to do so in the past would result in quarrels and wife-beating.

Mariam, a resident of Galinkpegu, received an acre of land from her husband as a result of participating in sensitization programmers of the project.

She had this testimony: “I and my husband both participated in the community durbar and sensitization meetings of the project.  After attending these events I became confident enough to ask a portion of land from my husband.

“As he was also there in all these meetings it wasn’t very hard to convince him.  He gave me an acre of land in which I am growing maize.  I could never have had the courage of asking my husband for land had I not participated in these meetings.  Unfortunately, my husband died recently and now I own all his land.”

Mariam thinks that there has been a significant reduction in domestic violence in the community which she attributes to better communication between husband and wife.

Kanshegu Micro-Project

The Kanshegu micro-project, which aims to increase enrolment, retention and completion of the girl-child at both Junior and Senior High School level by increasing awareness, was implemented in partnership with three teachers from the Ghana Education Service (GES).

At Kanshegu, girls often used to drop out of the school when they had to repeat the class due to their inability to pass the exams.

Such drop-outs mostly migrated to Accra to work as head porters (Kayayo) to earn money for their marriage, during which they are exposed to all kinds of exploitation.

“Kayayo” is a local term for a practice where teenage girls go to Accra and other big cities in Ghana in search of greener pastures. The practice is very common in Northern Ghana and is one of the key factors behind girls dropping out of school.

In 2009, a 19-year-old-girl, Humu, who was then  a student of the Kanshegu Junior High School (JHS) left for Accra to do “Kayayo” because she was frustrated with school as she did not understand anything taught in class. 

Humu wanted to earn some money to buy a sewing machine so that she could learn dressmaking hence the trip to Accra. She did not seek the permission of her family and, eventually, her sister and father pressured her to return to Kanshegu.

She went back to school at the insistence of her father and had one-to-one support from another student through an after-school study group to improve her studies. The idea of the study group had come from the teachers as part of the Kanshegu micro- project.

The after- school study group has helped Humu to understand her lessons better and testifies that: “When teachers teach I understand more these days.”

According to her, she does not want to do “Kayayo” again for three reasons- for fear of her father, because of what she has learnt through the project, and also because of the suffering she had endured when she did “Kayayo” before.

Yakubu Napari is the Chairman of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) of Kanshegu Primary School. His daughter had gone for “Kayayo” after sitting her Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE), which she needed to pass to be able to attend Senior High School.

When the results of her exam arrived, she has passed, so Napari asked his daughter to come back to continue her education. She is now studying at Kariga Senior High School.

According to Napari, “If I had not been involved in the project activities, I would not have cared to pressure her to come back. The awareness and knowledge I gained from the sensitization meetings of the project made me encourage my daughter to come back and to find a Senior High School which I could afford to send her to.”

Due to the sensitization of both children and parents through the human rights project, girls are no longer dropping out of school even when they have to repeat classes. Records show that there are 27 girls in form 2 of the Kanshegu JHS compared to 13 last year. This used to be the Form where many girls would drop out.

The most significant changes seen by a majority of stakeholders in Kanshegu are an increase in the retention of girls in school, parents and guardians are more responsible towards the education of their children, while there is improved school attendance and academic performance of children.

Also, participation in various project activities such as quizzes, debates and sensitization meetings have contributed to raised awareness of students, particularly around child rights. This has further contributed to making girls confident and bold when approaching their parents and teachers. They have even been confident enough to put their issues and problems in front of their parents in PTA meetings.

Many parents and teachers agree that girls who used to be shy are becoming more confident in speaking publicly. The fact that not a single girl became pregnant in the school last year also indicates their increased level of awareness due to the project activities. In past years it was quite common to find girls pregnant in the school.

An impact assessment study on the micro-projects says in order to achieve greater impact it is important that awareness and sensitization ensuing from Human Rights Education (HRE) results in positive actions and eventually change, adding. “It should lead to changes in the attitudes and behaviours of different actors as well as empowerment of the communities involved that they are able to claim their rights.”

According to the study, considering the forces that are against these communities- such as poverty, patriarchy, strong cultural beliefs that enforce harmful traditional practices- it is likely that the small successes of the micro-projects may end up becoming ‘beautiful sand castles built during low-tide.’

The study says, “Unless these successes are reinforced by linking them with broader campaigns or other initiatives that further build their capacity to engage duty bearers and claim their rights, they may not be sustainable.”

The study was a collaborative initiative between the Africa Human Rights Education (AHRE) Project team, the Learning and Impact Unit (IPU), which aims to advance learning around effective planning, delivery, monitoring and evaluation of uman Rights Education micro-projects.

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