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)


TIMELINE OF THE PRESENT FINAL REPORT: From 1 October 2013 to 31 December 2013



Project goals:

- to promote girls' holistic development and success at school by strengthening communication with and support from grandmothers and families in general;

- to reinforce grandmothers' role as culturally-designated counsellors and advisors to adolescent girls and their families on issues related to girls' well-being (early marriage, teen pregnancy, school attendance, corporal punishment);

- to elicit discussion of "taboo" issues related to girls' holistic development between community leaders of all generations and both sexes.


Detailed description of activities:

The project consists of two types of activities:

1) Intergenerational forums:

These two-day meetings bring together leaders from the same community (elders, parents, older adolescents) to discuss issues related to the development and education of girls. Grandmother Project's innovative participatory forum methodology stimulates discussion of sensitive issues related to girls' emotional, physical, moral and intellectual development that in the past were considered "taboo" topics for discussion between the sexes and between age groups. Discussions take place in small groups of participants of the same age and sex and also in plenary sessions where the different groups share their ideas regarding problems faced by girls and strategies for solving them.

6 forums were organized in the period covered by this report, involving a total of 163 community members including village elders, religious leaders, grandmothers, mothers, teachers, men and older adolescent girls and boys. Priority issues discussed during the forums include: teenage pregnancy, early/forced marriage; girls' schooling; communication between generations; traditional and modern values in the lives of today's children; the role and knowledge of grandmothers; and traditional values for modern life challenges. At the end of each forum community actors identified actions to be taken in the community to address the constraints/challenges.

The organization of each forum involved a series of activities before and after the forum itself. Preparation of each forum required a series of community meetings to identify genuine leaders of each category of community actor who previously demonstrated commitment to improving the life of their community. This was a critical step in the process as the impact of the forums depends to a great extent on the chose of the participants and whether those participants are genuine leaders in the community or not. In this vein, community members carefully selected leaders from each age group and from both sexes during discussions facilitated by GMP field staff. After each forum, another series of community meetings were held to discuss how to organize community members to put into practice the actions proposed by forum participants.


2) "Under the tree" non-formal education sessions:

This second activity complements the first but specifically targets adolescent girls, adolescent boys, women and grandmothers and involves them in discussions of problematic issues related to girls' holistic development (listed above). This approach builds on grandmothers' traditional role as advisors to young people and as influential figures in family decision-making regarding girls' wellbeing. Most girls say that they are more comfortable discussing sensitive issues, like sexuality, with their grandmothers rather than their mothers. These sessions are facilitated by three animatrices (female community facilitators), using participatory learning activities to: strengthen communication between generations; to stimulate discussion of key issues and solutions to problems faced by girls.

A key tool used in both under-the-tree sessions and forums are stories-without-an-ending which allow participants to discuss alternative solutions to the prevalent problems related to girls' development and education. In the project five new stories-without-endings were developed dealing with:

1. early/forced marriage: Based on the story of a young man who has immigrated to Spain to work, he returns on his holiday to "buy" a young wife, a school girl. The girl's father is ready to accept the bride price but it is the grandmother who opposes the idea of taking her granddaughter out of school and marrying her off.

2. communication with young girls based on listening and dialogue: This story involves a discussion between two women, both mothers of adolescent girls. One believes that in these "modern times" girls should be allowed to "be free" and "do as they like" while the other mothers insists that "girls need to be supported, listened to and also supervised to help them grow and develop in a healthy way."

3. corporal punishment versus non-violent means of disciplining children: Two men discuss their respective approaches to disciplining their children. The first defends the traditional practice found in many West African communities of beating children when they behave inappropriately. The second father expresses an atypical attitude supporting the idea that children should be disciplined through discussion and self-reflection.

4. the influence of television on adolescents' development: Many of the programs broadcast on Senegalese television, imported from the West, involve sex, violence and crime. In this story two adolescent girls discuss whether it is beneficial for them and their friends to spend time studying, learning traditional stories and history and/or watching films on television. One of the girls defends the idea that the films on television have a negative influence on children's values and development and that they should not spend their time watching them while the other insists that children are not influenced by what they see on television.

5. excessive domestic chores for girls: A discussion between a teacher and father of two adolescent girls deals with family expectations for girls to do extensive domestic work during after-school hours, leaving them little time to study. The teacher tries to convince the father of the need to find a way to greatly decrease tasks assigned to school girls while the father defends the idea that all girls need to participate in household chores and prepare themselves to become wives and mothers.

The stories-without-endings, an adult education methodology developed by Judi Aubel, have proved to be a very effective means of eliciting dialogue and reflection among all categories of community groups, older and younger, men and women, to help them to analyze these and other complex issues that severely impinge on girls' opportunities to grow and develop. This approach builds on the African tradition of dialogue and consensus building around priority community issues. Initially GMP used these stories only with groups of women and grandmothers but later it was realized that they are also an excellent tool to use with groups of both men and adolescents to stimulate dialogue and encourage groups to identify community-driven solutions to the issues addressed.

Issues addressed through project activities:

Constraints faced by girls were identified by community members at the outset of the GMP program "Culture, Education and Development". Through various methods, including in-depth interviews, group discussions and community forums, the following issues related to girls' education and development were identified in the zone where the project activities were carried out:

- lack of communication between parents and adolescents, in particular around sexuality;

- lack of family involvement in traditional, value-based education;

- bad role models for youth communicated on TV and through other media;

- poverty pushing girls to accept to have sex with boys in exchange for a present, sometimes with their mothers' complicity;

- dancing parties in far away villages that expose girls to "risky" situations";

- parents' decision to take girls out of school and marry them off to avoid teen pregnancies before marriage.


The project activities involved the various community groups in participatory communication/education activities to engage them in discussion of these issues, their causes and actions that family and community members can take to address them.


Through both the intergenerational forums and the under-the-tree non-formal education sessions, community actors identified the following actions to address the issues listed above:

- to increase communication between parents and children;

- to actively involve grandmothers in counselling girls;

- to teach children positive cultural values to influence their behaviour and help avoid teenage pregnancies;

- to develop activities to strengthen ties between adolescent girls' peer group members;

- to organize periodic meetings between community leaders and adolescent boys to discuss teenage pregnancies;

- to organize discussions between village elders and adolescent leaders

- to discuss how to control dancing parties in dark places;

- to increase sensitization by teachers regarding the consequences of teenage pregnancy;

- to increase collaboration between teachers and grandmothers with adolescents to promote traditional moral values and more respectful relationships among boys and girls;

- to increase control by parents over TV programs watched by children.


Results obtained:

Based on observations and informal interviews with community participants (men, women, older and younger) the combination of the intergenerational forums and under-the-tree sessions has had a positive impact on community members firstly, because it has catalyzed dialogue within the community on critical, but often sensitive and not-discussed issues related to girls' holistic development that are not often discussed between these various community groups. Many forum participants stated that, "This is the first time we have had community-wide discussion of these critical issues related to girls' development and education".

Secondly, beyond opening up discussion on various critical issues for girls, the participatory activities have engaged communities in exploring the causes of each problem and of collectively identifying community level solutions.

Positive changes in attitudes and behaviour have been observed and documented in many of the 13 project communities. The quotes from community members inserted below illustrate the very positive changes observed in the attitudes of and the relationships between different community members.

 increased communication within families and in the community between men and women, and between elders and adolescents on issues regarding girls' holistic development and education;


"The issues dealing with girls, such as their schooling and teen pregnancy concern all of us. Nowadays I frequently organize meetings with other elders and with grandmothers to discuss these issues to see what needs to be done to address these issues. Girls should be staying in school rather than being married out but families are afraid they will get pregnant. We need to continue discussing to figure out what we can do together to deal with this problem."

Elder man, Médina Mary Cissé village


- strengthened relationships and communication between girls and grandmothers;

"We thank our grandmothers who have given us lots of knowledge. Today we know how to avoid getting pregnant and this due to the fact that the grandmothers have invested a lot of time and effort in us girls. Also, if we have not been married off it is because the grandmothers have helped a lot in the discussions with our parents."

Khady Mballo, young adolescent girl

- increased appreciation and encouragement of grandmothers' role in girls' education on the part of other community members

"The future of our region is in the hands of the grandmothers. Their role must be recognized by all; they must be organized, mobilized and involved. They have lots of knowledge but if we do not acknowledge that their knowledge and experience are essential for the development of our communities, those resources will not be used. If on the other hand we respect them and have confidence in them we will be surprised at what they are able to do."

Village headman, Saré Yéro Méta village


- increased confidence and involvement of grandmothers to promote and defend the needs of girls within families and in the community;

"Before we thought that our ideas were not important because the programs didn't involve us. But in this program we were asked to give our opinions, people listened to us and now we know that our experience is important to the community. We are the closest to the young girls and we must convince others in the community that girls need to stay in school and wait to get married until they have finished studying."

Tobo, grandmother leader

- increased understanding of the needs of girls within families and in the community;

- increased awareness on the part of girls of the choices they must make between their formal schooling, marriage and child-bearing.

"It is because of the efforts of the grandmothers that we have learned about our cultural values and traditions. This is the knowledge that can help us to construct our lives and to avoid certain obstacles like teen pregnancy."

Bandié, young adolescent girl

The project activities have had a positive impact, as stated above. However, much work remains to be done to bring about sustained changes in the attitudes and behaviour of men and women, of all ages and in the collective community norms related to the various issues that have a critical effect on girls' development and education and that are deeply rooted in the socio-cultural reality of the project communities.

Initial results are encouraging but the processes of community dialogue, consensus-building and collective action require longer term inputs.


The results of this project are encouraging, however, the positive changes need to be reinforced if sustained change is to come about in community norms and practices related to girls, their education and development. Many surrounding communities that have heard about the positive changes that are taking place in the project communities have expressed strong interest in being involved in these activities in the future. On several occasions, delegations of community members from other communities have visited the GMP office in Velingara to express their interest in being involved in the future.

There is a need to continue these innovative activities in the 13 target communities and to expand them into the other communities in the district where the same critical problems exist and which limit the development and education of girls.

The need to continue and to expand these activities in the Velingara area was recently expressed by the District Education Officer in Velingara in a letter that he addressed to GMP. He said, "The activities carried out by GMP in collaboration with my colleagues have contributed to decreasing violence against girls in schools, decreasing teen pregnancy and increasing the attendance of girls at school. My wish is that these activities be developed on a much larger scale in my district."

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