Saturday, March 15, 2008

ActionAid advances Women’s Empowerment

ActionAid advances Women’s Empowerment

Daily Graphic, Saturday, March 15, 2008. Page 17 (Women’s World)

Salome Donkor

A major commitment of a number of governmental and non-governmental organisations and human rights advocacy groups is to design sustainable interventions to help bring about qualitative improvements in the lives of the people.

They do so by using the rights-based advocacy strategies to ensure that the different needs of various social groups; men and women, and particularly the most vulnerable groups in the society, especially women and children, are met.

One organisation that has made strides in this area by advancing women’s empowerment programmes is the ActionAid Ghana (AAG), which has worked mainly with the poor and vulnerable people in deprived communities in the country since the inception of its Country Programme in 1990, with the aim of ensuring food security and improving their livelihoods.

The key focus of attention of the operation of sector policies of AAG, an affiliate of ActionAid International (AAI), is in the areas of education, health and women’s rights. Its programmes are implemented using advocacy strategies designed to hold government and governmental agencies accountable to the communities.

Operating in collaboration with the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, Ark Foundation, Abantu for Development and other civil society organisations in the main thematic areas, AAG works in six regions in the country, namely Greater Accra, Volta, Northern, Brong Ahafo, Upper East and Upper West regions.

In each of the regions, AAG helps in building the capacity of people to strengthen their institutional capacities to implement effective strategies, focusing on small scale farmers, particularly women.

This is in view of the recognition that despite being the producers of food, women are said to have limited access to productive resources and majority of them remain below the poverty line.

Women’s rights activities recorded the highest expenditure for 2006 as against education since the inception of the Country Programme (CP) in 1990 and this was meant to promote women’s empowerment to address issues of inequalities affecting women, especially in the areas of leadership.

Briefing the Daily Graphic on the operations of the organisation over the years and strategies for the future, the country Director of AAG, Mrs Adwoa Kwateng-Kluvitse, said the advancement of women’s rights remained a key issue on the organisation’s agenda and that this was promoted through its community advocacy work with its related partners and community organisations.

She said in all these regions, women’s issues are taken on board through training programmes for community partners in the six regions to ensure that they were more sustainable.

Consequently, in 2006, AAG concentrated its work on neatly packaged priority themes of education, women’s rights and food rights, using various methodologies to assist communities to facilitate processes that would lead to their collective development. It also worked, to some extent, on HIV/AIDS and in human security in conflict and emergency situations.

Mrs Kwateng-Kluvitse said it was important that women knew their rights and demanded that what was enshrined in the country’s Constitution was implemented to safeguard their rights.

As part of its work on women’s rights, AAG has been working closely with individual women and women’s networks to encourage women to contest in elections. A significant proportion of the organisation’s support to women involved getting them to see themselves as worthy of public decision making positions.

Mrs Kwateng-Kluvitse touched on some negative traditional practices and mentioned the issue of witches camps that operated in some parts of the country. She described the issue as difficult and complex and said the underpinning power dynamics of the problem needed to be looked at, by examining the expressed needs of women and children in these camps, and drawing up relevant interventions to save them, considering the fact that some of them did not want to go back home.

In the same vein, AAG organises annual Girls Camp, participated in by young girls from all the regions for 10 days, to expose them to women mentors, including doctors, lawyers, broadcasters, nurses and other professionals, to inspire them to aspire to greater heights and make them focus well academically.

The camp had been running for the past five years and every year 100 participants are assembled at the Achimota School. She said the number of the participants for last year increased to 120 following additional 20 delegates brought in by Plan Ghana to build the confidence of the girls to re-orient their minds as to what they wanted to do in future.
Similarly, in the Upper East Region, a local partner of AAG also trained 20 women in bread baking and cloth weaving and provided them with ovens, weavers and an amount of GH¢60 each to start their new businesses.

She said through education and enlightenment, the roles of queens were being modernised and given the value that they deserved. In that respect, AAG has also been able to involve queens in the Greater Accra Region in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms after the system was first launched at Mayera, near Nsawan, last year, adding that the impact had been positive with the courts getting some people to resort to ADR.

As part of its accountability process, AAG began to adopt an honest, regular and qualitative process of sharing and learning encouraged at all levels, thereby enhancing transparency and mutual respect.

She said the organisation was willing to open itself up to its beneficiary communities and consequently, Accountability Notice Boards had been erected in the communities to display and make transparent the work the organisation had been doing, especially how funds raised were used, with an avenue being created for feedback.

According to the Country Director, ActionAid Ghana had been working with networks of Persons Living with HIV and AIDS in its operational regions to reduce the rate of discrimination and rights violations and mentioned in particular the Association of People Living With AIDS (NAP+).

She said these programme had helped to strengthen their stature and encouraged them to overcome the high level of stigmatisation.

Since women and children are disproportionately affected in disasters, AAG launched a disaster risk reduction survey to assess the impact of the floods in parts of the northern regions last year, purposely to enhance community resilience.

Mrs Kwateng-Kluvitse said there was the need for a medium to long-term response to the plight of farmers in the affected regions for the next planting season to ensure that their farming activities were not affected.

She said the Ministry of Food and Agriculture needed to consider providing planting materials to farmers at subsidised rates and pointed out that AAG was seeking funding to provide seedlings for the farmers free of charge.

“As a country, we need to add value to our primary products and address the issue of post-harvest losses to end poverty. By so doing, we can protect the most vulnerable communities and attain a hunger-free society in 2015, in furtherance of the MDGs,” she said. She said challenges facing the organisation were enormous but not surmountable, adding that “my team is succeeding in the face of the challenges due to co-operation and hard work from all the staff”.

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