This is the first in a series of blogs from Mwananchi's national coordinators in our six focus countries. Next week, Andrew Kawooya from Development Training and Research in Uganda will discuss how engaging communities with their schools is improving education outcomes.
By Glowen Kyei-Mensah, Director, Participatory Development Associates
When I first visited Sanzrigu, I met a woman with a mission, Magazia Mamunatu Alhassan. Magazia is a title given to women leaders in some communities of the Northern Region of Ghana. Magazia Mamunatu is involved with the Grassroots Sisterhood Foundation (GSF) project in the Northern Region of Ghana. She believes that the programme will improve the lives not only of women but also of other members of her community who are impacted by land disputes.
GSF’s Mwananchi Ghana project is being implemented in an area where it is a big challenge for women to own land. The project works to influence change in the customary land ownership practices. The project uses local dialogues to ensure transparency, accountability, free flow of information and the inclusion of women in land-related decisions to ensure security in their access and control of land. One of the innovative tools that the project employs is the appeal of drama to teach, entertain and move members of the community into action.
Community land issues in recent times have become very contentious in the area. Most lands are under traditional control, and sometimes those who control the land use their social influence for personal gain, selling land to the detriment of women whose livelihood (farming) depends on its availability. Although local women wish to protect their interests, it is not proper for a woman of the community to chastise a chief or an elder on such an issue. Up until this intervention, it was unthinkable for even Magazia to use any platform to express the need for security of tenure of land for women or point out to an elder that he has not been transparent in passing his judgment. Through drama, GSF brings issues like this into the limelight, to allow more open, transparent and inclusive discussion.
The drama troupe moves from one community to another showcasing plays, performed in Dagbani (the local language), which carry the messages of the Mwananchi Project. Messages in their drama are real life issues disguised along fictional story lines and therefore non-confrontational but powerful nevertheless. In some instances, women hand over the issues to the drama group and therefore don’t have to appear in public in front of the power holders.
The audience is made up of community elders, the chief and other traditional leaders as well as members of the community. There is also a facilitator who stimulates discussion regarding the performances. The approach of using community drama has stirred communities into action:
- Land development committees have been set up in nine communities.
- Women are beginning to hold some positions of authority - 27 women were nominated into the Community Land Development Committees in the nine communities and four were elected as deputies to chairs of the committees.
- The communities’ understanding of gender parity has improved, as community men no longer find it offensive when women are included in not only land discussions but other issues of development.
- Community elders have agreed to the setting up of a coalition on land rights in the Nanton traditional area.
The Mwananchi project has educated women as well as traditional leaders on the need for transparency and accountability, especially with regard to women’s security and control of land, and it appears that the communities are changing their attitudes towards land issues. Women’s awareness in the community on the security and control of land has been enhanced and women have also been educated on the processes of gaining land.
In Wamale, the chief responded to the community drama by allocating a piece of land for the women of the community to use as they see fit – an important step towards women determining their own economic and social priorities. Another piece of land is also being allocated to women to be used as a market square where women can engage in trade, hopefully increasing their financial security, and boosting their status as earners in their families and communities. These successes, according to Magazia Mamunatu Alhassan, could not have been possible without the assistance of the Mwananchi project.
The progress of the GSF project has combated the perception that women could not take part in decision-making. As men and traditional leaders have responded to the awareness programmes, they have realised that women have meaningful contributions to make to community life. Women are finding more opportunities to express their opinions on issues that concern them as women and the community as a whole. As Magazia Mamunatu said, “We are working together as a community to make an impact on land issues."
Is drama a sustainable way to change attitudes and empower vulnerable groups? What are your experiences working with rural communities to create accountability? We'd love to hear your comments and experiences below.