Queen mothers - Advocates for change
Queen mothers and female Chiefs in Ghana play a central role in traditional governance in communities; they are the mothers of the community and have an eye on the social conditions of the community. Queen mothers wield social power and influence as they are regarded as custodians of the stool (throne), they have the authority to select the traditional authorities – the Chiefs as well as de stool (de-throne) Chiefs if required. The role of Queen mothers to seek the welfare of everyone in the community especially women and children is widely recognized and respected. This multi-faceted central role of the queen mother in the community is what UNICEF is exploring as another communication channel to affect social and behavior change in Ghana.
The challenge of changing behavior and effecting social change is not peculiar to Ghana, but the institution of the Queen mother presents an unique opportunity to use their role in society as Advocates for change. UNICEF Ghana in seeking their support to promote the wellbeing of women and children met with nine Queen mothers from various parts of the country who are members the National Council of Women Traditional Leaders to discuss how to collaborate to realize the rights of children. It was a learning session for both the Queen mothers and UNICEF as each gained an understanding of what the other did, and particularly for UNICEF who also learnt the role the Queen mothers play in Ghanaian communities.
What Queen Mothers can do to promote behaviour and social change?
A Queen mother holds an unique position in the community. She is trusted by those in the community and she is considered to be wise. She is consulted on matters pertaining to the wellbeing of the community whether it is advice on bringing up children, traditional rites or on issues such as mediation.
The National Council of Women Traditional Leaders have agreed to support UNICEF by promoting behaviour change in relation to key areas which will promote the survival, growth and development of children while ensuring the wellbeing of the women in their communities. To this end the Queen mothers will be provided with training on the key behaviours, as well as provided with information.
This first meeting though exploratory, agreed on the way forward. UNICEF will participate in the national durbar of over 1,000 Queen mothers from across the country to celebrate their formal acceptance into the National House of Chiefs. It is customary that this durbar is used to build the capacity of Queen mothers and to create more awareness on the institution of Queen mothers. UNICEF has been invited to set up a market place at the durbar and use the opportunity to interact with the queen mothers and share information on the key behaviours. This durbar will serve as the entry point for all work with Queen mothers in the future. The intention is to have a database (with mobile phone numbers) of all Queen mothers and then use this database to regularly communicate with the Queen mothers through SMS or voice messaging. The potential to gain significant achievements on key indicators with the support of the Queen mothers is enormous, therefore there is a need to nurture this relationship and see it grow. Communication for behaviour and social change has successfully used mass media, community level interpersonal communication channels including working with religious groups to influence behavior change amongst audience but now with the support of a respected cultural institution such as Queen mothers, it is not only an innovative collaboration but will be a highly productive relationship in Ghana’s fight to ensure that all children are happy, healthy, safe and well educated.