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Educating Girls to Empower Girls Initiative in Ghana

Introduction

“The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all.” Aung San Suu Kyi (1945-present), Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, leader of Burma's democracy movement.

“If you educate a man, you educate an individual. If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey (1872-1927), preeminent Ghanaian scholar, educator and missionary.

In a world where the prevailing cultural concepts of leadership nurture the strongest, smartest and most vocal males as our dominant political, social and cultural leaders—to our detriment and subordination for the most part—the Educating Girls to Empower Girls Initiative (EG²) was developed to offer a gendered leadership approach that departs from prevailing cultural concepts in Africa, to embrace the essential belief that leadership is more than about men taking charge; on the contrary, it is about being charged with taking a stand and having a vision for a more just and equitable society for women and girls. A society that focuses on education for girls equal to boys, and does not coerce girls to utilize family planning methods that are detrimental to their physical and mental health. It is for that reason that The Rebecca Project for Justice implemented the Educating Girls to Empower Girls Initiative, to educate and train girls to seek and accept agency, and to empower themselves as deliberate conscious agents of social and political change.

Gender Equality is a Human Right

There can be no significant or sustainable transformation in societies and no significant reduction in poverty until girls receive the quality basic education they need to take their rightful place as equal partners in development.” Carol Bellamy (1942 – present), Executive Director; UNICEF from 1995 to 2005.

UNICEF (The United Nations Children's Fund) defines gender equality as “leveling the playing field for girls and women by ensuring that all children have equal opportunity to develop their talents.” The United Nations Population Fund declared gender equality “first and foremost, a human right.” “Gender equity” is one of the goals of the United Nations Millennium Project, to end world poverty by 2015; the project claims, “Every single Goal is directly related to women's rights and societies where women are not afforded equal rights as men can never achieve development in a sustainable manner.” --UNICEF. Unfortunately vast sums are allocated to family planning instead of traditional education, charitable organizations have not built girls colleges and instituted scholarship programs for girls.  A poor girl without access to a good education, but has no children with the best "family planning" -- still remains a poor uneducated woman, and without any help or support from children, in her old age.  Comprehensive education and higher education for girls has been the key to reduce pregnancies and early marriage in the U.S. and Europe, not coercive and harmful family planning methods -- the same should apply to Africa with dignity.

Gender Inequality in Ghana: Brief Background

We can all agree that the marginalization of women and girls in political and social institutions is not only a problem of developing nations. After all, the United Kingdom had only one female Head of State and even in the Unites States of America, where women’s rights are cradled only second to the right of “free speech,” there has been no female president or vice president. However, the critical difference is that in the United Kingdom and the Unites States of America, women and girls have equal access to colleges, universities and institutions of higher learning. In 2005, According to the Center for Policy Analysis, American Council on Education, women earned 57.4 percent of the bachelor's degrees nationwide, while 42.6 percent are earned by men; furthermore, women earned 59% of all master’s degrees. That is not the case in most developing nations; where limited financial and academic resources coupled with early pregnancy, marriage, and lower status of women in patriarchal societies often result in lower priority on education of girls.

Ghana is a West African nation and a close ally to the United States of America, with a population of approximately 23 million people. There has never been a major female presidential candidate in over 50 years of independence, and in parliament only 8% out of 229 members of parliament (MPs) are women. Incongruously, the gender narrative at birth is more promising because, boys and girls start out on equal footing with a 1.03:1 ratio of males to females—the age structure in Ghana is: 0-14 years: 37.3% (male 4,503,331/female 4,393,104); 15-64 years: 59.1% (male 7,039,696/female 7,042,208); 65 years and over: 3.6% (male 393,364/female 460,792). This equal 1:1 male/female ratio continues through primary and secondary school education and through suffrage at the age of 18. Although Ghana is praised as a successful constitutional democratic model of both political and economic progressive reform, women have not shared or participated equally in its political and economic success. The barriers women face in Ghana are certainly not cruel and inhumane physical subordination or punishment by males, but rather customary stereotypes of female roles and pervasive noble lies, which emotionally and persuasively maintain a traditional and intractable patriarchal society.

The first pronounced and distinct gender disparity for girls occurs in institutions of higher education where the average male/female ratio is approximately 2:1 in Ghanaian Universities. According to Aristotle Ayensu, a statistician at the Kwame Nkrumah University (Ghana’s second largest University located in Kumasi) in the 2008-2009 academic year, out of 24,695 students were enrolled, 17,804 were males and 6,891 were females (72% males and 28% females). Moreover, according to the University of Ghana Legon’s 2009 annual report (Ghana’s oldest and largest University located in the capital Accra); out of their current student population of about 39,217, 60% are male and 40% female.
 
Our questions are: 1) What happens to the thousands of girls in Ghana who begin their education on an equal footing with boys in primary and secondary schools? 2) What barriers prevent them from enrolling or gaining admission to universities, despite statistics that show primary and secondary school boys and girls perform on par academically? 3) What happens to their voices and drive to excel to become agents of social change? And, 4) Where is their motivation for leadership? 

Goals of "Educate Girls to Empower Girls Initiative"

  • key goal of Educate Girls to Empower Girls Initiative is to address those questions of gender inequality in education and the consequential inequality in leadership. By using innovative approaches to provide leadership and educational workshops/trainings we believe we will achieve equitable outcomes in leadership, because the credence of experience and research demonstrates that:
    1. All girls have the potential to develop as leaders.
    2. Qualities and skills required for effective leadership can be identified, coached and cultivated.
    3. There are several styles of leadership that are successful and distinguished by consensus building, communication and empathy.
    4. The customary and prevailing male, top-down, task oriented style of leadership has been an abject failure and detriment to the development of equitable political and economic societies worldwide.
    5. As girls practice and focus on developing their leadership skills each girl could become a successful leader and an agent for change.
    6. Our innovative approach will include addressing the lack of adequate reproductive health and family planning education that includes abstinence, avoiding harmful contraceptives, especially long acting contraceptives that increase risks of breast cancer and HIV/AIDs. Reproductive health should be taught in an age appropriate manner, with a primary focus on education and extracurricular activities that keep girls safe and not engaged in school. 

Strategies for Empowering Girls and Women as Leaders

  • Averting adolescent pregnancy by incorporating the participation of parents and health experts in leadership workshops. This will encourage communication and factual information about pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and sexuality. The goal is to build skills for saying no to sex at an early age and never having sex without adequate protection. The consequences of early pregnancies will be discussed as a practical issue related to poverty and not having access to higher education.
  • The core concepts of leadership, by integrating arts, sports, and motivational speakers, will be incorporated in our girl leadership workshops to include the following:
    1. Communication skills.
    2. Connecting and building relationships with other girls and adults.
    3. Creative thinking.
    4. Critical thinking.
    5. Introducing girls to college opportunities and careers.
    6. Learning assertiveness and avoiding aggressive or passive behavior.
    7. Learning body language and listening skills for better communication.
    8. Mentoring.
    9. Organization.
    10. Reclaiming voice and tradition dictated by males.
    11. Role models.
    12. Working cooperatively.

Expected Outcomes

  • A sense of hope and possibilities.
  • Become leaders and agents of change empowered to make a difference, identify and solve problems to advocate for self and community.
  • Embrace education and a means of upward mobility.
  • Form caring relationships and embracing empathy to promote cooperation, team building and successful organizing.
  • Motivated girls recognize universities and post-secondary education as the way to political and social empowerment by pursing university and post-secondary education.
  • Personal development, self-empowerment and self-esteem. Girls will develop a strong sense of self, gain practical and healthy life skills and strengthen values.
  • Minimal or no teenage pregnancies and HIV/AIDS infections!

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