Empowered girls empower girls

Adolescent girls’ education, empowerment and participation in Bafatá

Yasmina Silva
Iama Mané, 19, from Gã-Tauda, Bafatá, at the regional adolescent girls’ conference
UNICEF Guinea-Bissau/2021/Yasmina Silva
11 January 2022

Bafatá, Guinea-Bissau, June 2021 – Many precarities stand in the way of the self-determination of young girls and women in this small West African country. From taking young girls out of school before they finish their studies, to limited knowledge on period hygiene, like how often to change sanitary napkins, to child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), manifestations of gender inequality are interlinked and are reflective of a society in which discrimination against girls and women is a social norm.

Statistical analysis in Guinea-Bissau suggests that up to 52% of women and girls between the age of 15 and 49 have been subjected to FGM, and there is a co-occurrence of child marriage, with up to 37% of girls in Guinea-Bissau being married before the age of 18. Despite the staggering numbers, there has been a decrease in the occurrence of both phenomena, and thus an opportunity to use the desire for social and behavioural change to continue investing in young girls’ education as the medium for transformation in households, villages and the whole country.

A consortium of organisations, Guinean Organisation for Development (OGD), the National Action for Development (ANADEC) and the Network to Combat Gender and Child-Based Violence (RENLUV), are implementing a three-year project targeting directly 2500 school-age girls from 30 communities across the Bafatá and Gabú regions – where there is the highest proportion of girls out of school – funded by UNICEF through the UNICEF French National Committee.

The programme was designed to help the girls in these communities, between the ages of 12 and 19, to complete their basic education cycle and pursue further schooling after that. Combining it with sports, leadership, empowerment and other life skills, the project was implemented through accelerated learning centres and through community dialogues, known locally as djumbais.

Group discussion on the right to a name and nationality with UNICEF Education Specialist Lucy Monteiro.
UNICEF Guinea-Bissau/2021/Yasmina Silva
Group discussion on the right to a name and nationality with UNICEF Education Specialist Lucy Monteiro.

For two days in the Domingos Ramos Teacher Training Centre in Bafatá, teenage girls from 17 villages across Bafatá came together to be in community with one another and learn about their rights as young girls and the obstacles that stand in their way. Through 3 workshops that were followed by presentations, they were provided  with the skills to identify what was lacking in their communities, and how they could lead change.

The motto of the conference, Força di Badjuda sta na si Djiressa (a girl’s strength is in her intelligence) is a nod to how investing in girls is an investment in development.

“I wanted to be part of the project so that I could know things that I did not know before.”

Iama Mané, a confident and outspoken 19-year-old, who was also the girls’ representative during the closing ceremony says that she enjoyed the two days that she got to spend in the capital of the region. “The workshops have increased our knowledge and I’m keen to take it home with me, to share with our friends who couldn’t participate in the session,” she explained, smiling. She is particularly proud of the songs that they recorded together as a group, singing the motto of the conference, a method that is often used in communicating awareness in the country.

Iama adds, “by sharing the knowledge that I have, others will also be able to spread it in their own communities with others. If we are all able to sensitize others and make change in our own communities, eventually it will spread across the country and even reach the government, and they will know that we are asking for schools to be built in our villages, we are asking for clean water, for hospitals and doctors.”

Conference participants listening to a presentation
UNICEF Guinea-Bissau/2021/Yasmina Silva
Conference participants listening to a presentation

“I wanted to be part of this project so that I could know things that I didn’t know before,” Iama explains. According to her, the education and empowerment project has made a real difference in her village of Gã-Tauda. “I’ve gone back to school now. My father had taken me out of school because he couldn’t pay for my classes but now, I’m in 11th grade.” Like in many other places across Bafatá and the country, important decisions in villages and for its individuals are taken without including the input of young people, much less the input of girls. “Our elders listen to us now,” she says, and their input has meant that many practices that were commonplace in Gã-Tauda, like forced marriage and FGM have now been eradicated.

She says that the project has also taught them about their civic duties. Having the same rights as boys is crucial for the development of her community, but there are other issues that must not be forgotten, like treating people and the environment with respect and knowing how to protect oneself from disease. During the panel, she shared that she and her colleagues could now confidently speak about COVID-19 because they understood how to protect against it.

Iama Mané
UNICEF Guinea-Bissau/2021/Yasmina Silva
Iama Mané

“We know our worth and our courage as girls. We know our rights as children as well as our duties. I’m glad that we have had the opportunity to be a part of this project and my hope is that it will be able to extend further to other villages.”

UNICEF representative, Nadine Perrault, concluded the conference with a message for the girls, “Your future is in your own hands, and I hope that in a few years when I return, I will see you seated here in my place, working to empower other girls so that they can also know their strength.”

UNICEF representative Nadine Perrault among panellists at the closing ceremony of the conference
UNICEF Guinea-Bissau/2021/Yasmina Silva
UNICEF representative Nadine Perrault among panellists at the closing ceremony of the conference