Thankfully, messages such as “girls must not drop out of school” or “Girls should not be forced into marriage because of pregnancy, or be abused,” are gradually catching up with communities in the Upper East Region (UER).
These life-saving achievements are being recorded in various communities across the UER region, thanks to keen interventions from Men and Boys Clubs, and Parent Advocacy Movements (PAM) which have become torch bearers within their communities on issues regarding Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) against girls.
In the Yikurugu community in the Bawku West District for instance, two adolescent school girls who got pregnant and dropped-out of school, neglected and stigmatised, are now back in school, due to the swift intervention of members of the Men and Boys Boys Clubs.
In their world, pregnancy means no opportunity to continue with schooling, because the next thing will be marriage, but the Club members were able to counsel both parties not to give up, explaining to them that with parental support, the girls can still go far and achieved their life goals.
Similarly, in Kassina Nankana West, a girl who got pregnant and was being thrown out of her home by her parents last year, has been saved through interventions by the Parent Advocacy Movement (PAM) of the community, and is also now back in school.
Madam Sarah, a member of the PAM in Kassina Nankana West, told the Ghana News Agency that the Movement has been very instrumental in reaching out to parents, traditional leaders, including queen mothers, churches, and other organized groups with information on the benefits of ensuring the total health, wellbeing and education of girls in particular.
“It was through such an intervention that the Movement was able to encourage and educate the parents of a teenage girl who got pregnant, to take care of the baby for her to continue her education, which they have done and the girl is back in school,” she said.
Mr James Twene, the Acting Upper East Regional Director, Department of Gender, said the formation of Men & Boys Cubs, and PAMs, has been a great saver for most females in communities in the Bawku West, Nabdam, Bongo, Talensi, Kassena Nankana West and Builsa-South districts, which have high incidence of teenage pregnancy, child marriage and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).
Mr Twene said his outfit in the latter part of 2020, had information that a school girl in Bongo was being abducted, and swiftly some members of the Men and Boys Club mobilised and rescued her.
He said there have been numerous testimonies since the introduction of these interventions regarding Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) including Family Planning (FP), where even now some men accompany their wives to the clinics for the services.
Some beneficiaries of SHR services also testify about their previous lack of understanding about FP as efforts to prevent their wives from giving birth, contrary to its numerous benefits such as ensuring child spacing, education on good nutrition for both pregnant and lactating mothers and their children, he said.
He said young females who are also sexually active are now freely visiting health centres in their communities to access SRH services, leading to a gradual reduction in the incidence of teenage pregnancy in these communities.
According to Mr Twene, the total membership of these Clubs currently stands at 720 men and boys, out of which over 500 have been trained in teenage pregnancy, child marriage, SGBV prevention, reproductive health issues, and parent-child communication among others.
The specific objective of forming these Clubs, he said, is to introduce men and boys to the bare facts on issues such as teenage pregnancy, child marriage, and SGBV, discuss the effects and impacts of these issues on individuals, families and communities, and develop and prioritize a list of discussion topics as well as draw up meeting plans towards addressing them.
“Some of the key reasons for engaging men and boys, include the fact that they are often in leadership positions, are decision makers and power holders in most communities and families and therefore have a greater ability to shape societal norms and ideas about gender,” he said.
Mr Twene further explains that engaging men and boys therefore can lead to sustainable change since gender norms and unequal power relationships, particularly those between men and women “underlie SGBV, and by leaving out this critical group, we will only be addressing half of the equation.”
It is important to note that violence affects both men and women, because just as with women, SGBV directly affects men who have experienced violence.
There is also an indirect effect of SGBV, such that in communities where the act is prevalent, women may develop fear or suspicion of all men due to the actions of a few, and in addition, behaviour and attitudes that foster violence can keep men from having close and meaningful relationships with each other.
Men who are engaged in addressing SGBV and choose not to engage in violence have better relationships with spouses, children, and friends and better health and a greater sense of happiness.
In the past, reproductive health and violence prevention programmes engaged men using a deficit model, which viewed men and boys as perpetrators, and as “problems” to be addressed, however now, male-engagement practitioners look at men and boys more holistically, adopting an asset-based model.
This recognises the fact that men and boys can be partners in SGBV prevention, because they also have their own perculiar needs.
Again research has found out that the asset-based model which is being used, is more effective and that engaging men and boys as part of the solution instead of approaching them as perpetrators all the time, and acknowledging that in a way, focusing on men’s positive role in protecting and providing for their spouses and daughters, is the best way to go.
Mr Alfred Akpamah Kurug, a 32-year old man, and a leader of one of the Men and Boys Club at Pitanga in the Nabdam District, testifies that “the knowledge I gained at the UNFPA sponsored trainings, have given me an unknown confidence to speak in public places such as the chief’s palace, churches and schools”.
Research has also shown that good parent-child communication around sexuality has many positive effects for teenagers, and leads to better contraception use and lower sexual risk behaviours, however many parents lack this skill due to lack of information, or find it difficult to talk about this intimate subject with their children, particularly the girls.
Madam Faustina Yenzie, a 58 years old member of a Parent Advocacy Movement at Nangodi, narrated how trainings she has received on Parent-Child Communication have improved her relationship with her children, bringing greater peace and mutual respect to her home.
“PAM members in my community have taken it upon ourselves to visit existing Women groups such as Women in Agricultural Development (WIAD), Women and Orphan Movement (WOM), Churches and families, to share our knowledge and skills on child protection, parent-child communication and adolescent reproductive health from the trainings,” she said.
According to her, individual members of the Movement continue to intervene in settling issues between parents and their wards, while others also engage in mentoring some of the adolescent girls in the community, citing one of such mentees as Leticia Tenga, a 23-year-old young adult, whose sour relationship with her mother was repaired through counselling by PAM members.
Bernice Atompoya, 37- years old, from Tilli community says, “My daughter refuses to open up or share with me, but all the time discusses her personal issues with my husband. After I received training on Parent-Child Communication, I applied the skills to create a good relationship with my daughter”.
Bernice says she has also shared the training with other women in Kukori community where teenage pregnancy and child marriage is high, and hope to make great impact and rescue as many girls as possible from their “devastating predicaments”.
Engaging men and boys is an international commitment, and in line with a human rights approach, which is reflected in the conclusions on the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls, as agreed and adopted by the Commission on the Status of Women at its 57th session in 2013.
The Commission recognises the important role of the community, in particular men and boys, in the efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls..
The commitments highlight, for example, the need to design and implement national policies that aim at transforming those social norms that condone violence against women and girls, and work to counteract attitudes and perceptions, that women and girls are subordinate to men and boys or as having stereotyped roles that perpetuate practices involving violence or coercion.
It is for this reason that the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), at its 48th session in 2004, adopted agreed conclusions calling on governments, entities of the United Nations system and other stakeholders to, among other things, encourage the active involvement of men and boys in eliminating gender stereotypes, implement programmes to enable men to adopt safe and responsible sexual practices, support men and boys to prevent gender-based violence, and implement programmes in schools to accelerate gender equality.
The Beijing Platform for Action (1995) also affirms that, women’s concerns can only be addressed “in partnership with men”.
Since then, various global commitments have been made at diverse fora including the inclusive International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD +25) held in Nairobi Kenya in November 2019, where Ghana also reaffirmed her commitment towards upholding the reproductive health rights of women while empowering young people, especially girls to achieve their full potential.
The overall objective of all these commitments is to accelerate efforts towards achieving the voluntary global commitments to Zero unmet need for family planning, Zero preventable maternal deaths, and Zero gender-based violence and harmful practices against women, girls and the youth to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Research again has shown that adolescent girls account for about 21.7 per cent of the female population and about half of the 5.5 million adolescents, constituting about half of the adolescent population in Ghana.
There is therefore the need to scale up the fight on teenage pregnancy, attrition from school, exposure to violence, child marriage, unmet need for family planning, and expand investment in support systems and services across sectors, including the decentralisation levels, to sustain the gains and increase access to sexual and reproductive, education, health and rights for all adolescents.