Engaging Grandmothers to Promote Girls’ Development and Success at School in Senegal

Project location: SENEGAL
Project start date: January 2013 - Project end date: December 2013
Project number: 2012-116
Beneficiary: The Grandmother Project (GMP)


In the Velingara area in southern Senegal where GMP is working, two major problems that hinder girls' development and education are early and forced marriage and teenage pregnancy.
The age-old tradition in this area of Senegal is to marry girls at a very young age and the current average age of marriage of girls in the area is between 15 and 16 years. The fact that girls are now sent to school contributes to maintaining the tradition because parents fear that if they continue to attend school beyond puberty they may become pregnancy. Hence, families prefer to take girls out of school and give them away in marriage rather than running this risk, which, is a source of great shame for a family and which spoils a girls' chance for a "good marriage" later on.
A second serious problem facing girls today is teenage pregnancy. The Velingara area has the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the country. One of the consequences of this situation is that girls usually drop out of school when they become pregnant. The risk for school girls of becoming pregnant is related to several factors: first, girls who go to school are far away from family supervision and control; and second, a high percentage of pregnancies (40%, according to local officials in Kolda) are caused by relationships with teachers.
Many past programs that have addressed these two issues have targeted girls and sometimes their mothers. Other key family actors who can support girls threatened by early/forced marriage, teenage pregnancy and school drop - out are grandmothers. Many programs to address these issues do involve mothers but not grandmothers who play a critical role in the family in all matters related to child - rearing.
The rationale for grandmother involvement is multi-faceted: they have considerable influence in family decision-making regarding girls, especially with their sons; they play a leading role in determining community norms and must be involved if such norms are to be changed; and girls in the program area are more comfortable discussing sensitive issues with their grandmothers than with their mothers (a culturally-grounded pattern in African societies). GMP's experience suggests that these intergenerational ties constitute a critical link in communication on all issues related to girls and women.
Promoting sustained changes in community norms also requires that traditional male community leaders, including Muslim religious leaders, men and adolescent boys be supportive of these changes and modify their own attitudes/practices toward girls in families and communities.

The problems addressed in this proposal are in keeping with major pillars of the strategy of the Nando Peretti Foundation to promote the right to education and to health of girls.

The GMP methodology based on community dialogue consists of a series of activities with community members and with children in schools. Between 2008 and 2011, these activities were carried out in 20 communities and schools while 14 other communities and schools in the Velingara district were not involved in the earlier program. Both local government and education officials have officially requested that the strategy be reinforced in the 20 original communities and extended to the 12 new communities in order to cover the entire school district.

Two key activities in the community program involve:
Activity 1: Intergenerational (IG) forums to discuss issues related to girls' health and development.
Activity 2: Activities with primary school teachers and children to promote positive cultural traditions for Girls Holistic Development while at the same time discouraging others.
GMP has obtained some funding from the Dutch Embassy in Senegal and from the Gianturco Foundation in California for activities with schools and, therefore, the present proposal is to request funds for the intergenerational forums activity.

Objectives of the intergenerational forums are:
- Encourage reflection on issues related to the development, education and well - being of children in general, and specifically of girls;
- Promote mutual respect between elders, adults and young men and women;
- Help communities to discuss taboo issues related to Girls Holistic Development;
- Acknowledge and reinforce grandmothers' role as culturally designated teachers and advisors in families and in the communities.

The intergenerational forums can be viewed as the central activity in the Girls' Holistic Development project. The forums bring together representatives from two neighbouring villages and from the following categories of community actors: grandmothers, grandfathers, men, women, health workers and teachers as well as the team of project facilitators. In addition, forum participants often include Imams, local musicians and indigenous sages. Each of the forums last for two full days and bring together approximately 30 participants. During the forums, particular attention is paid to encouraging participation by grandmothers. In the past, they were rarely involved in community meetings organized by development programs and for this reason at the outset they tend to be rather shy. When encouraged to contribute to the discussions and when their inputs are acknowledged, they gain the confidence to participate and to actively express themselves in the group setting.
The forums allow for phased introduction of dialogue between categories of persons who are not accustomed to having in-depth discussions with each other on sensitive issues including early and forced marriage and early pregnancy. For each of the topics addressed in the forums, the first step involves peer-group discussions on the issue; the groups are organized by age and gender, for example, a group of grandmothers and another of young men. At the conclusion of the small group discussion, the discussion is opened up to a plenary session involving all categories of participants. Everyone actively participates in the small-group discussions while not everyone speaks out in the big group. With this system, the conclusion is that everyone feels comfortable to speak at one point or another yet no one is forced to do so at any time. The IG dialogue process allows community members to come to their own conclusions about how to deal with various issues related to girls well-being and development.
The project aims to organize 16 intergenerational forums involving members of 32 communities in Velingara district. Two forums will be planned over an 8-month period of time.

The Nando Peretti Foundation awarded a grant for this project.

In the project area it is anticipated that the intergenerational forums will contribute to these outcomes:
- Greater respect for grandmothers among other community members;
- Greater sense of confidence on the part of grandmothers themselves in their roles as advisors in the family and community;
- Increased communication and understanding between generations and between various community groups;
- Strengthened relationships between adolescent grandmothers and girls;
- Strengthened communication and collaboration between communities and schools;
- Greater confidence on the part of communities in their own capacity to act to improve the well-being of children, families and communities.


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