This week, the world will celebrate International Women’s Day, a day designated by the United Nations to raise awareness about women’s contributions and gender equity challenges. In collaboration with our partner communities, in rural Northern Ghana, Engage Globally strives to empower girls and women throughout our programs. Pursuing gender equity, as described in Sustainable Development Goal 5, is a key focus of our work.
Unfortunately, the recent Covid pandemic has disproportionately impacted women in developing nations as it has led to school closures, rising food prices, and overwhelmed health systems. Additionally, in our communities, climate change impacts on rainfall and soil health have worsened farming conditions, reduced water supplies and increased malnutrition.
This International Women’s Day, it is especially important to redouble our efforts to pursue gender equity and sustainable development. Below are brief descriptions of some of our efforts.
Four-year old Human starting kindergarten
There has been great success in global primary school access for girls since the Educational for All movement of the 1990s. Women’s education has many positive effects including improved health and education of their children, raising national GDPs, and reducing birth rates, especially of teenage mothers. Ghana has closed the gender gap for access to primary schools and enrolled many more students over the last 20 years, especially in the more urban southern regions.
Unfortunately, in rural regions, providing a quality education is more challenging. In our seven partner communities, there are few primary schools within walking distance and teacher attendance, very high enrollments, and absence of school supplies can make education less effective. Additionally, UNICEF estimated that only about 2.3% of women in the region where we work are able to complete secondary school.
For girls, attendance can be impacted by other responsibilities including water gathering, watching siblings, and helping prepare food. Girls may also be impacted by their families inability to purchase required school uniforms and supplies or to pay school testing fees. When they get older, many girls cannot continue in school after they begin to menstruate. Absence of toilets or private sanitation facilities leads to prolonged monthly absences and eventually many girls drop out of school. In some settings, safety issues while traveling to school and gender-based violence in school, are also significant concerns.
We know that investing in girls education, has many broad benefits for development. These include:
Five girls joining our scholarship program at their new school.
At Engage Globally, we support girls education by:
Salifu training to be a seamstress.
In our partner communities, most families work as subsistence farmers. Opportunities for paid employment are rare, and especially so for women. Our vocational training program helps to address this challenge by enrolling about 40 young adults each year, two-thirds of whom are women. Each trainee is paired with a business where they learn a trade for three months to three years. The businesses are paid a fee to provide the training, and each trainee is given the needed tools for their trade, such as a sewing machine. Most trainees also receive a bicycle and funding for a daily meal. Trainees are mentored and families are actively involved in the process to ensure that they are supportive.
Upon graduation, most trainees are employed by the business where they trained. But, some are given start-up business grants to open their own small businesses in the local community. This helped to create the first woman-owned small business in one of our partner villages – a seamstress shop – which now trains new seamstresses. The shop also sews all of the uniforms for our early childhood students.
This program increases economic choices for trainees and their families. It has also reduced the migration of young women to urban centers and given them opportunities to remain in their home communities while earning an income. This program is very popular and many more young people have asked to join.
Women’s agriculture and food security
In our partner communities, women conduct much of the farming activities. Farming uses primarily traditional methods such as hand held hoes, hand harvesting, and rain irrigation, as there is no access to clean or running water. Farms are located several kilometers from the villages, and, unfortunately, a significant amount of the harvest is lost due to inability to carry it back to the community before it spoils.
The women’s group, of over sixty women representing five villages, identified their number one priority as education of children and their second priority as help with farming. Recognizing that providing women with agricultural assistance can significantly reduce food insecurity, Engage purchased two king motos (motorcycles with carrying beds) so that more produce could be carried more quickly from the farms.
Additionally, we have piloted a project with five women to help them expand their personal land plots and to harvest more diverse foods. A tractor was rented to plow (pictured above) and the women received seeds and training on how to diversify their crops. We hope to expand this program to include many more women next year.
A young girl participating in our tree planting project.