At the core of CENSUDI’s work is the conviction that sustainable developmental strategies need to strike at the root causes of poverty. We believe that poverty in northern Ghana is largely an outcome of unfair discriminatory and outmoded practices that trap people into mental and physical poverty. Removing and/or transforming these systemic and mental blocks usually increases access, participation, choice, respect and ownership for many people; with these resources and freedom, individuals and communities gradually succeed in pulling themselves out of poverty. CENSUDI calls this “unlocking excellence” and argues that this is a necessary and critical strategy to fight poverty in northern Ghana. Since 1994, the Centre for Sustainable Development Initiatives (CENSUDI) has worked with communities and organisations to help them understand the relationship between gender and poverty and to aid in the implementation of projects that will address the root causes of these challenges.
What is Gender?
Gender refers to the socially and culturally assigned roles and responsibilities given to various human beings. The nature and kind of roles are influenced by place and time. For example, administrative secretaries, mostly men in colonial Ghana, are now mostly women in modern times. Women dominate markets in southern Nigeria but males run markets in northern Nigeria because some Islamic marriage rites confine women to the home and demand they be fully covered in public places.
‘Human beings’ used in the definition refers to all categories of people either women or men, boys or girls, young or old including those who have both male and female organs, those who may have a different sexual orientation and those who may even have had a sex change operation. The modern term used for this group of people is LGBT.
Gender is not only about the roles assigned but also about the value placed on those roles. That one has a role, social or otherwise, means that one also has a value, either real or perceived. This value is usually the basis on which judgments are made not only about the roles one performs but also the abilities and/or rights of one’s entire sex, race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. This is how sex and societal (gender) division of roles and responsibilities is also the basis for the division of power, authority, respect, resources, control, etc.
Values placed on roles also determine how human beings relate to one another. Gender is also about the relationships between men and women and indeed ant two persons in a given society. These relationships are not fixed but can and do change.
Source: Issaka, F. et al - 2009, UDS, Tamale, Ghana
Focus on Poverty
Endemic poverty in rural northern Ghana provides a good entry point for discussions on the relationship between harmful cultural practices and poverty. Despite the focus from international agencies, NGOs and government, the Upper East Region continues to be one of the three poorest regions in Ghana (Map of Ghana with Regions). Nine out of ten people living in this region are considered poor by all social and economic indicators. The largely rural households of the region are unable to meet their food requirements and food shortages can extend from two to eight months a year.
Compared to men, women disproportionately and increasingly bear the greater proportion of household livelihood responsibilities yet their ability to access resources and generate income remains drastically low. Women are confronted with growing and deepening poverty and because women and children constitute over 60% of the rural population, average growth rates in the Upper East are the lowest in the country.
CENSUDI equips communities and organisations with skills to address the root causes of gender discrimination in all their activities.
Opening doors to quality Education for women and girls
Many research studies on girls’ education in Ghana since the 1990s have shown that barriers to girls’ education are multifaceted and interrelated. While these barriers also affect boys, they affect girls disproportionately. A common denominator to many of the factors is poverty.
• Barriers to access include traditional beliefs and practices and perceptions of the role of girls by families and communities; costs to families, including the opportunity costs of sending girls to school (Boakye, 1997; CENSUDI, 2005).
• Barriers to retention include inadequate number of female teachers and role models, rigid adherence to school times and calendars and child labour requirements, teenage pregnancy, early marriage, and inadequate sanitary facilities (FAWE 2001)
• Barriers to achievement include low self-esteem (GEU 2000), gender biases in classroom practices (WUSC 2000), minimal guidance and counseling services, and teasing and sexual harassment (Atakpa 1995).
Numerous studies have shown that investing in girls’ education is probably the most cost-effective measure a developing country can take to improve its standard of living (Acheampong, 1992). Educating girls produces considerable social and welfare benefits, such as lower infant mortality and fertility rates (Bruce 1997). In a study of maternal education and child survival in Ghana, Owusu-Darko (1996) found that the higher the education level of the mother, the greater the survival rate of her children. The mother’s level of education has also been found to have a direct influence on economic productivity and the level of her daughters’ education (Swainson 1995; World Bank 1989). Educated girls have more of a social conscience and give back resources to pull their families and communities out of poverty (CENSUDI, 2005). In the words of a famous Ghanaian, Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey: “to educate a man, you educate an individual but when you educate a woman, you educate an entire nation.”
CENSUDI’s education strategy is premised on these findings and knowledge. CENSUDI works with communities and other organisations to open doors to quality learning opportunities for girls.
Participatory Learning and Action by Communities
Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) refers to diverse approaches, which use dialogue and sensitizing activities to enhance people’s awareness of their situations and help develop their confidence to lead their own developmental efforts. These methods, which empower community actions toward social change include mapping and modeling, transect walks, matrix scoring, seasonal calendars, trend and change analysis, well-being, wealth ranking and grouping and analytical diagramming.
CENSUDI employs participatory methods to enable communities to paint and analyse systematically their current developmental situation, highlighting their strengths as well as those areas needing improvement. Specific tools we use include:
• Activity profile
• Access and control of resource profiles
• Socio-cultural and political Framework
• Income and expenditure matrixes
• Food production and use matrix
• Courtship and marriage Profile
• Nutritional analyses
• Trend analysis
• Vision mapping
• Body mapping
• Planning and budgeting templates
All tools and processes used by CENSUDI are inclusive and not limited by social status, gender, generation, ability or disability.
PLA tools help community members slowly and systematically understand how beliefs, attitudes and behavior produce good and bad consequences for everyone in the community and help them learn to question points of view and mindsets. Through these gradual processes, communities agree to provide adequate social/legal protection and increased opportunities and choices for all.
Communities identify and prioritise the developmental issues they would like to address and the changes they would like to see. They decide how to divide the work, share the responsibilities, budget for the activities, and find the required resources. These decisions are delineated in the community action plan (CAP).
Community Driven Development (CDD)
Community led development is the participation and empowerment of communities and their most excluded members, especially women, children and the poor, in drawing on their own strengths, defining their own problems and determining their own fate. This is critical to the attainment of sustainable development.
Ghana’s decentralisation programme has transferred some political power, planning, budgeting, and spending functions to the district (local government) level. The local government areas called District Assemblies are major sources of funding for the implementation of these plans produced by our communities. CENSUDI also provides resources for the implementation of activities that directly and immediately reduce TRAPPDAW. Activities and projects that CENSUDI typically supports include:
• Assistance with school fees and generally opening doors to quality education for girls
• Support for the establishment of scholarship funds for girls and poor boys
• Development of gender inclusive curricula
• Medium to long-term educational planning support to parents with girls in elementary schools. This is to guarantee the acquisition of advanced diplomas and certificates for girls.
• Training men and women in inclusiveness and diversity as well as in advocacy skills
• Support for community advocacy activities with District Assemblies, other communities and organizations
• Identify and support women to run for public office
• Development of public speaking and campaign skills for women
• Provision of cooking, child care and household skills for men
• Sensitization of families on the importance of girls’ education.
• Support to families who improve access to productive resources for women and girls
• Development of family micro-finance and credit projects
• Set up community advocacy funds.
• Development of proposals from their CAPs for funding from other foundations
• Support for the establishment and strengthening of community institutions and networks as part of our exit strategy