2001 PAK: Girl Child Project: Assessment Report 2001
Author: Croll, E.
The Girl Child Project was initiated on an experimental basis in 1991 by the Family Planning Association of Pakistan (FPAP) with the assistance of UNICEF and CIDA. What began as a pilot project in ten locations has evolved, four phases and ten years later, into a model project guided and supported by UNICEF with assistance from the Swiss Development and Co-operation Programme. To date, it has been replicated in more than three hundred village and city locations. The project was launched to address the needs of adolescent girls between the ages of 11 and 18 years from rural and urban low-income families.
Purpose / Objective
Now that ten years of project implementation are due to end in 2001, this assessment report has been commissioned by UNICEF to examine the match between objectives and achievements, to identify omissions and lessons learned, and to suggest future directions that the project might take.
This report is based on an examination of available documentation on the project, interviews and group discussions with national, provincial and local executing agencies, project staff and project participants, and observations of many different project activities from 12 project sites in a range of locations and circumstances in May 2001. Categories of Interviews/Group Discussions: National Staff of FPAP, Lahore; National Girl Child Project Staff, Lahore; Provincial Girl Child Project Staff, NWFP/Punjab and Sindh; Local provincial project leaders and managers, NWFP/Punjab and Sindh; Present Girl Child Project participants; Past Girl Child Project participants; Family members of present and past girl participants; Community leaders of Project Sites; Teachers at School Project Sites; and Headmistresses at School Project Sites.
Key Findings and Conclusions
It was reckoned in May 2001 that the programme had reached the targeted number of girls, families and communities, but it was also estimated that it was less likely to achieve the targeted new 220 locations by the end of 2001 despite every effort to do so. Although it is anticipated that the project may just fall short of its intended scale and distribution, it is nevertheless a substantial achievement that the expansion of the project has proceeded at such a rapid pace since 1999.
The girls in each of the many locations visited were aware of the necessity of literacy and education for their own self- and skills-development and the many difficulties which girls, particularly in rural areas, face in achieving equal access to schooling.
Although the girl participants were not always able to continue with their schooling or re-enter school, many could cite examples of their influence on the schooling of a sibling or neighbour as a result of their new appreciation of the importance of education.
Although home schools did not always attract adolescent girls as pupils, they did offer an opportunity for literate girls to provide a facility for educating the younger illiterate, and many home school pupils did include girls of middle-childhood age who had never had the chance to go to school.
The girls showed every indication of understanding the importance of health education and the importance of new practices in hygiene and sanitation for their own survival and development, and the well-being of young siblings, peers and families. The attitudes they expressed and new practices that they reported suggested that they had received and remembered these important health messages - many of which, they said, were new to them.
Several parents, teachers and community leaders remarked on the changes in household, school and community practices as a result of project influence. Examples they cited included the new use of soap, clean latrines and rubbish clearance.
The girls who had been trained in first aid had acquired new practical skills such as cleansing wounds, bandaging limbs, and the treatment of insect and snake bites. The importance attached to training in, and practice of, first aid skills and their obvious benefit for recipient family and neighbours informed and attracted the positive attention of peers, families and neighbours.
Skill training was a popular option among girl participants and reflected the importance girls attached to skill acquisition, in the hopes of generating an income and supplementing family resources.
The majority of girls who had received training had acquired some skills in dress-making, sewing and embroidery. They were pleased with their new skills, which the majority of girls intended to use to make clothes for personal use or for family members, and so tended to be income saving rather than income generating. A few talented girls had used the training to improve existing skills and had already or planned to produce for individual orders or for the market.
Most girls were unable to achieve their practical objectives either because they did not have the resources or means to procure machines or because they were hindered by restrictions on their mobility and thus access to materials and markets. This rendered them dependent on family members and particularly on the support of brothers, which was not always forthcoming.
In discussions and in their response to questions, girls showed a distinctive awareness of discriminatory attitudes and behaviours common in their own homes and communities. They thought that the pursuit of new project activities had been instrumental in giving them a new awareness of the inequalities and restrictions faced by girls in Pakistan when they move beyond customary domestic activities and roles.
What was very noticeable was the awareness of girls not only of their rights but also of their corresponding responsibilities, and the importance of educating their families and communities about child rights and their exercise via persuasion and negotiation. The equal emphasis on responsibility meant that this new awareness of their rights did not appear to be confrontational and the project had retained the support of parents, teachers and community leaders. This project provides a very interesting example of a rights-based approach in a social context where families and community leaders retain considerable authority and control.
The majority of the Girl Child Project participants were responsive in discussions, expressed their opinions, and seemed to communicate with confident words and demeanour. Several girls and observers have said that, as a result of project activities, participants had found 'a voice'. In discussion and activities too, leadership skills could be observed among many of the older girls.
A number of girls felt that they had acquired a new visibility and voice as responsible members of their families and communities because of their new knowledge and skills, especially in practical matters to do with health, nutrition and sanitation.
Parents, community leaders and teachers commonly stated that the programme had increased the confidence of the girls and their abilities to impart their knowledge, and express opinions clearly and politely.
In all these ways, the project has been seen to demonstrate the capabilities and contributions of girls when given equal opportunities for self-development. While it is difficult to ascertain how much self-esteem and empowerment were evident before entry onto the programme or is due to other factors, many of the girl participants were from poor families in remote locations; some had never been to school and many had no previous experience of group or public activities. There was a consensus among girls, parents, teachers and community leaders, and it has been noted in all previous reporting on the Girl Child Project, that it has helped girls overcome shyness and that, as they have become more confident in their own knowledge and abilities and aware of larger issues, they were more secure, co-operative and polite in their inter-personal and family relations.
The project makes every effort via the Open Sessions and Contact Groups to ensure community support for and ownership of the project. In the majority of locations, community leaders, teachers and parents, both male and female, showed their full support for the project and its objectives, and were appreciative of its presence and the positive differences it had made in the skills, behaviour and confidence of the girls.
During the life of the project, village workshops and training activities took place openly within the community and were informally observed or even attended by young siblings and other family and community members. It was clear that the girls took their outreach role seriously and spread their new knowledge to peers, families, and community members.
The project is a one-off investment and there are very few mechanisms for formal follow-up built into the project. It is anticipated that the community contact groups will encourage the girls informally to continue to meet and pursue project activities, and it is assumed that girls will continue with their home-school, first aid and productive activities.
It is clear that girls continue to practice first aid and conduct home schools long after the completion of the project and may take these skills to new communities on marriage. They also pursue their sewing but usually for their own use.
It is evident that Contact Groups have not normally fulfilled their anticipated role in nurturing follow-up activities. Present and past participants in the project were vocal in their request for follow-up activities to extend the new learning and skills acquired during the project. Many girls, parents and especially male community members and leaders felt that new activities had been begun - only to be curtailed prematurely.
There are few formal mechanisms in place to foster follow-up initiatives that encourage girls trained in home schools and first aid to become lady health workers and female school teachers, which is surprising given the acute shortages of such personnel who will work and reside in Pakistan's villages.
Recent initiatives to encourage follow-up include the publication of a newsletter and the compilation of a data base.
It is recommended that, in addition to Open Sessions for women and men and Orientation Workshops for girls, there be at least one separate open session for boys who, as brothers, peers, future husbands and fathers, could benefit from an introductory session on the key messages of the project. This would include a significant group presently left out of the project target groups and meet a constant demand by participants for their inclusion.
The training in productive skills has been the least successful, with some considerable lag between this and other categories of training in the majority of project locations. Most training schedules were delayed because they were awaiting market surveys and feasibility studies. The recent emphasis on market surveys assumes that girls, once trained, would be embarking on substantial entrepreneurial income-generating activities. Previous experience suggests that this is unlikely to be the case because the learning and practical experience of seven-day training is likely to limit the achievements to certain types and levels of skills. In addition, difficulties in procuring machines, materials and restrictions on mobility and marketing mean that girls are not likely to embark on a major entrepreneurial enterprise.
It is recommended that the objectives of skill training, after the example of home schools and first aid, be centred on the acquisition of a relevant skill which may lead to considerable savings, provide pocket money or generate small amounts of incomes. Although there is much disquiet in development circles that girls are directed towards home-making skills such as stitching and dress-making, the relevance of these skills for most girls and the observable amount of pride in such achievements more than outweigh any short-term barriers to redefining gender roles. In this way, the delays in skill training due to more ambitious objectives might be reduced.
It is recommended that a feasibility plan for expansion be undertaken to gauge the resources, costs and funding required to expand this project, meet new demands for trained staff and resource persons, and facilitate the production and supply of materials.
It is recommended that the project, given its sensitive, long-term strategic and concentrated short-term practical objectives and rapid rates of expansion be monitored to maintain standards and ensure sustainability. It is clear that recent expansion has severely tested project resources in terms of material and human resources and, to keep pace, extra project staff have been recruited and training established for new resource persons in home schools, first aid and skill training.
It is recommended that there be some formal mechanisms for follow-up visits by project staff and scheduled activities to be included in the project design in order to provide an impetus for arranging periodic meetings, reiterating key messages, compiling records on girl participants for the new data base, encouraging longer-term career trajectories of girl participants and leaving a greater legacy in the community.
It is recommended that activities aim not only at increasing community ownership but also at providing opportunities for girls to exercise their new confidence and use their new-found skills. However, such activities need not be the responsibility of the Girl Child Project itself of FPAP but be implemented by establishing links with partner agencies, including national and provincial government departments and other non-government organisations. It is recommended that a national consultant be employed for a short period to identify and explore formal follow-up mechanisms to build upon the foundations laid by the project and extend its linkages with other national and provincial agencies.
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