In 2013, NETRIGHT facilitated the creation of the Women’s Advocacy Platform by training and supporting women in the Juaboso District to lead advocacy for greater representation and gender responsiveness in local and district-level governance and development planning.
Problems and Purpose
The Juaboso District is located in the northern part of the Western Region of Ghana. Even though 30% of government appointees to district assemblies are reserved for women, in 2012 a recognizance survey by the Network for Women’s Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT) revealed a low representation of women in the assembly. Out of 23 assembly members, including five government appointees, only three (or 13%) were women: two elected and one appointed.
The situation was further compounded by women’s low socio-economic status. According to the Ghana Statistical Report, literacy rates is higher among males (75%) than females (61.9%), in part due to high school dropout rates due to teenage pregnancy. Many women in the District had low incomes and insecure livelihoods, dependent on the cocoa seasons. The main economic activity in the district is agriculture, which engages about 76.2% of the workforce. And while the majority of them are women, only a few women owned cash crop farms. There was therefore a need for women in Juaboso District to strengthen their collective voice and push for gender-responsive local governance structures and processes that promote women’s rights, women’s empowerment, and gender equality.
The "Strengthening Women’s Agency for Effective Engagement in Local Governance and Development Project" (WE4LGDP) was one of NETRIGHT’s responses to these challenges. The project aimed at strengthening the agency of women and their groups in Juaboso District to effectively engage in local governance and development planning at the community and district levels.
WE4LGDP led to the creation of the Women’s Advisory Platform (WAP), a collective platform made up of women’s groups in the communities. The WAP showcases how empowered collective voice enhances citizens’ democratic participation in local governance and development.
Background History and Context
Ghanaian women have been active in politics and have contributed to the social, economic, and political life of Ghana since independence. They have also participated in policy-making on women’s issues and gender equity, both nationally and internationally. In spite of this long history of engagement, women are largely absent from mainstream policy-making and political decision-making processes.
Women make up 51.2% of the Ghanaian population; however, their participation in politics, public life, and decision-making processes is abysmally low. This can be attributed to several reasons, including deep-seated patriarchal norms, which impact stereotypes and influence perceptions of women and girls’ roles and capabilities in the political arena. The Government of Ghana (GOG) has worked at providing the legal and policy frameworks for the promotion and protection of women’s rights at all levels. However, serious challenges remain due to a lack of implementation of these policies, arising from the lack of political will, insufficient directives to the relevant agencies, and logistical and human resource challenges among other reasons. Consequently, Ghanaian women continue to be marginalized and discriminated against in several spheres of social, political, and economic endeavours.
The Western Region of Ghana continues to register low female representation and participation rates in local government, particularly in the northern districts. A preliminary study by the Network for Women’s Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT) in 2012 revealed that women and women’s groups in these districts had limited capacity to engage duty bearers and other local actors to consider the gender implications of development planning and public policy in order to address the gender inequalities that abound in the area and to promote women and girls’ human rights.
As a women’s rights and economic justice advocacy organization, NETRIGHT is interested in contributing to civil society’s engagement to enhance citizen participation in public policy. It therefore designed the "Strengthening Women’s Agency for Effective Engagement in Local Governance and Development Project" (WE4LGDP) project to contribute towards facilitating citizen engagement, and in particular the participation of women, in local governance and development planning in Juaboso District.
The project was based on the premise that informed participation, a key ingredient for addressing the paucity of gender considerations in Ghana’s local governance and development agenda, can only be achieved by strengthening the capacity of women at the local level to engage with their local government officials. The project equipped women with skills and tools to advocate for a development agenda directed towards the elimination of gender inequalities in their communities.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
In 2013, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded the Network for Women’s Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT) "Strengthening Women’s Agency for Effective Engagement in Local Governance and Development Project" (WE4LGDP), in which women leaders and groups in Juaboso District led a 7-month advocacy intervention enabling them to increase their voice in local governance, development planning and budgeting processes. The intervention led to the creation of the Women’s Advisory Platform (WAP), a collective platform made up of women in the communities. WAP engaged with traditional leaders, local government officials, and assembly members and other key local actors to discuss livelihood issues and the development agenda of the District. NETRIGHT provided the technical expertise and human resource with the Juaboso District Assembly offered logistical support to facilitate the work of WAP.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
In order to increase the participation of women in governance and the responsiveness of local government to the needs of women, the Network for Women’s Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT), with support from its Western Regional focal point*, a local contact, and the District Assembly identified and selected 35 women leaders. The leaders, representing at least 15 communities in Juaboso District, participated in a 2-day workshop on gender analysis, leadership, and advocacy skills. Participants were selected based on their leadership roles in their communities and/or groups and their capacity to serve as change agents and facilitators once trained.
The training enabled women to assess the District’s medium-term development plan and to engage duty bearers on matters of gender inequalities, women’s livelihoods, and the District’s development agenda. Further, it was the trained beneficiaries who established the WAP, which led advocacy initiatives in the communities, created awareness on gender inequalities, and called on traditional leaders and local authorities to address the needs of women and girls.
Methods and Tools Used
A number of participatory methods were employed to empower women to engage effectively with duty bearers and in local governance generally. Methods included gender and advocacy training for women, consultations with key stakeholder groups, network building, advocacy, and gender-responsive budget analysis. A participatory and gender-responsive approach was adopted throughout all activities to allow for interactive discussion of critical gender issues in the District.
Gender and Advocacy Training: This promoted an enabling and empowering atmosphere for learning and sharing about effective advocacy around gender equality and development issues. Tools used included focus group discussions, presentations, role plays, and open discussions. Facilitators ensured that all participants had an equal chance to participate actively and contribute their views and perspectives in the discussions.
Consultations: These included women-only meetings to encourage those who had challenges raising critical issues in the midst of their male counterparts to free feel to express their opinions without any fear of victimization. General meetings attended by both women and men were also organised to discuss gender inequalities in the District. Further, to encourage acceptance and ownership of the project in the District, the Network for Women’s Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT) held consultations with District Assembly officials, assembly members, queen mothers, traditional rulers, and opinion leaders in the district to introduce the project and solicit inputs from the communities.
Network Building: An inclusive and participatory platform was created to enable mutual interactions among the different stakeholders, with each being recognized as a critical actor in their own right. These efforts led to the formation of WAPs across the District.
Advocacy: The WAPs were used as a space to engage decision makers and duty bearers, and to seek to influence their priorities and decisions around matters pertaining to gender representation and equality. Key tactics included:
- Convening stakeholders to secure commitments;
- Joint strategy development;
- Community engagement; and
- Public awareness raising through community radio and durbars.
Participatory budget analysis: Citizens and government officials jointly analyzed the district budget, assessing its gender responsiveness.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The trained women leaders brought together leaders of existing women’s groups to form Women’s Advocacy Platforms (WAPs) in their communities. Leaders of the community-level platforms then formed the district-level WAP, holding roundtable discussions with district officials and traditional authorities on gender issues in the local government planning and budgeting processes. The WAP explored entry points and built relationships with local duty bearers and community leaders. It provided communities with the opportunity to voice their concerns about gender issues through community engagements such as durbars—public events to engage an audience—and community radio call-in programmes, described below.
In order to enhance interaction among participants at each meeting, a facilitation team ensured an enabling atmosphere for interaction by using the local language and allowing participants to openly discuss critical issues of concern in their communities and to demand accountability from duty bearers. Individuals from the communities were identified as focal persons to coordinate the various activities that would come out of the discussions. Key points in the process included meetings aimed at getting mutual commitment, roundtables for strategy development, community engagement, and public awareness raising.
Securing commitments from duty bearers and stakeholders
The Women’s Advocacy Platform (WAP) identified and compiled key issues of concern in the communities which perpetuate gender inequalities, including:
- gender-based violence;
- non-involvement of women in the District’s development agenda; and
- discriminatory religious and cultural practices.
The WAP then focused on these issues to engage different actors in the communities, to demand accountability, transparency, and greater gender responsiveness. In doing so, they secured the commitment of traditional leaders, the District Assembly and other key local actors around:
- accepting and supporting WAP;
- working as non-partisan collective to ensure the sustainability of WAP;
- promoting gender equality and equitable local resource distribution;
- supporting gender-inclusive and accountable governance;
- collaborating with the District Assembly to undertake gender-responsive planning and budgeting; and
- challenging WAP to lead advocacy initiatives.
The WAP then tracked progress on these commitments and followed up on pending issues.
Roundtables: Strategy development with duty bearers and key actors
Roundtable discussions were held with District Assembly members and officials, traditional and opinion leaders in the communities to discuss issues compiled and to collectively brainstorm on strategies to address these. The strategy, further developed by WAP, provided in-depth insight into gender gaps in the communities. It proposed a way forward for communities to work together to address these gaps and to facilitate a gender-responsive development agenda in the District.
Community engagement: Durbars and community radio
Community durbars—public gatherings of traditional leaders, state and non-state actors, and the general public—were held to educate the local population on the gender gaps in the communities and its adverse impact on community development. The WAP also reached out to a wider local audience through community radio programs to increase awareness of the needs of women and girls in the communities. This contributed to engaging the local population in calling for a gender-responsive development plan and budget in the District. Engaging the community in this way also contributed to getting support from the District Assembly, traditional leaders, in particular the queen mothers and opinion leaders.
Community radio phone-in programs
The WAP, with the support of the District Assembly, hosted a weekly call-in radio program to discuss specific development issues in a selected community through a gender lens. As the lead facilitator, WAP matched radio hosts with resource persons from institutions working on the weekly topic and who could respond to listeners’ questions. The radio program helped create public awareness and increase demands on duty bearers to take actions addressing community needs within the District.
Participation in budget analysis and gender audit
The dual approach of establishing relationships with local government officials and fostering community engagement around gender issues was consolidated with a multi-stakeholder meeting in the District. This meeting brought together local government officials and their constituents—including women who were now equipped to interrogate development plans and budgets—to conduct a gender responsiveness audit of District development plans and budgets.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Generally, the intended outcomes for the "Strengthening Women’s Agency for Effective Engagement in Local Governance and Development Project" (WE4LGDP) was achieved, based on the objectives set and the final evaluation. Results included:
Community acceptance and ownership
The community entry—which involved meeting different actors prior to project implementation—created awareness and built the needed support among key actors for project acceptance and ownership by the District. This broad buy-in created a stronger collective voice and more compelling demands for accountability, which led to the success of WAP’s activities.
The WAP’s 7-month advocacy interventions resulted in the compilation of critical gender issues in the District, which were presented as credible data to the District Assembly, traditional leaders, and other local actors such as the district offices of the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) and the Ghana Education Service (GES) for redress.
The evidence collected formed a basis on which the WAP could make a series of concrete demands, including:
- the provision of good drinking water;
- the institution of girl-child education fund;
- sponsorship packages for female students;
- an Employable Skills Fund for women;
- the extension of a school feeding program to all communities;
- the establishment of daycare centers;
- the extension of an ongoing market project; and
- the provision of electricity to all communities.
Members of the WAP were assigned specific demands to follow up on, and at the end of the project, most demands had either been met or measures were being taken to meet them.
Key actors in the District, including traditional leaders, signed a statement prepared in collaboration with WAP indicating their support for gender-responsive local governance and development planning for the District. At one of the durbars, the heads of institutions, the District Chief Executive (DCE), and representatives from traditional authorities and religious bodies pledged to work with the WAP on a non-partisan basis. They challenged the WAP to actively engage the existing allies, while exploring new entry points to enhance community engagement. The signed commitment statement provided an effective guidepost for the District Assembly’s support to WAP’s work.
Juaboso District Assembly’s plans and policies for gender reforms
As part of measures to address gender inequalities, the Juaboso District Assembly put in place plans to reactivate, empower, and ensure the effective functioning of Unit Committees and Area Councils at the community level**. The purpose of these bodies was to enhance community engagement, and, in particular, women’s participation in local governance and development processes in the District. The measures included setting up offices for Area Councils in the communities where citizens could go to discuss issues confronting them. In addition, the District Assembly contacted the Institute of Local Governance Studies (ILGS) to provide training for Unit Committee and Area Council members, and plans were developed to reconstitute all committees to ensure women’s representation through the provision of quotas.
Furthermore, the District Assembly developed a gender policy to guide its operations and serve as a framework to assess its own gender responsiveness. WAP also worked with the District Planning and Budget Officers and queen mothers to influence community development from a gendered perspective.
In spite of achieving the intended outcomes, WAP encountered some challenges that helped in sharpening their focus on achieving the gains made. Challenges included:
- overcoming timing issues for meetings, which had to be scheduled to early mornings and evenings because farming is the main occupation in the District;
- a lack of funds for mobilization, due to meeting times and the required logistics to mobilize the focal persons;
- unstable power supply and outages that interrupted evening meetings and other WAP activities. This was overcome by calling on the District Assembly to provide alternative power sources (e.g., generators) during outages;
- progressive gender reform plans that were not matched with dedicated funds from the District Assembly; and
- the lack of funds to support the WAP’s work in the communities, which was overcome in part by WAP’s approach of working through the existing community groups that made up the platform.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
A number of lessons can be drawn from this experience that pertains to enhancing citizen participation, and, in particular, empowering women for increased collective voice in community development and governance processes. The lessons may also offer important considerations around designing advocacy projects to promote democratic citizen participation, gender equality, and accountable and transparent governance. These include lessons on:
- Securing commitment: The initial community entry—which involved discussing the project and soliciting inputs from different community actors—contributed immensely to the commitment shown by the stakeholders. WAP engaged various bodies such as traditional leaders, state and non-state institutions, formal and informal workers, persons with disabilities, and religious leaders among others. Engaging these specific groups was key in getting all stakeholders on board to support its activities and in developing actions that would benefit a diverse cross-section of community members. Furthermore, identifying well-known and well-respected local contacts in the communities helped secure the commitment required for implementation and to achieve results. This broad commitment and engagement allowed for the Network for Women’s Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT) to play a facilitating role.
- Establishing good rapport: Good rapport between WAP and stakeholders enhanced successful project implementation and the latter’s commitment to achieving project outcomes. This created a harmonious working relationship for project implementation.
- Delegation and inclusiveness: Due to the project’s scope, WAP and NETRIGHT developed a work plan jointly with key stakeholders, identifying roles and responsibilities for specific tasks. This ensured the inclusion and a deepened knowledge base among local organisers and actors involved, both in terms of project content and expected outcomes.
- Scheduling activities: It was important to take the occupation of target populations into account when scheduling activities. Mostly farmers, traders and other self-employed persons, community members were preoccupied with their work during daytime; therefore, evening programmes were better attended. Activities that coincided with market days were poorly attended by communities, especially women.
- Media involvement: Media involvement is key to effective advocacy and project implementation. The media was identified as a key actor, and the project established a relationship with a core group of local media houses. WAP then created awareness among the core media group to facilitate a better understanding of the project focus. This enhanced the dissemination of information and generated public discourse on issues confronting women in the communities. The media also served as a watchdog in getting duty bearers to respond to gender and development issues raised.
- On working towards gender equality: Because gender equality involves working to shift power relations, quantifying results and attributing outcomes can be complex. However, the ability that women acquired to interrogate the development agenda suggests an increased awareness of their rights. This is an indication that deep-seated change is gradual. It is clear that WAP’s efforts—and the resulting actions from other actors such as the District Assembly and traditional authorities—have contributed to the promotion of women’s engagement in local governance processes, and that these are important steps on the path to gender equality.
WAP’s activities in Juaboso District not only increased women’s voice in community development, it also increased awareness of the need for broader citizen engagement. The local population, in particular women, became more interested in governance and demanded greater accountability, equity, and transparency from the District Assembly and other duty bearers. In leading their own intervention through WAP, community women provided the evidence that they were ready to engage in district development processes and must be supported to do so. Finally, this type of women-led, collaborative advocacy for more inclusive and gender-responsive local governance represents a step in closing the ongoing gender gaps in political representation in this region of Ghana.
 Nunoo, K. B. (2013). Local governance and budgeting. 2-Day Capacity Building Workshop on Empowering Women to Effectively Engage in Local Governance and Development Planning organised by NETRIGHT [PowerPoint slides]. Juaboso, Ghana.
 Ghana Statistical Report. (2014). 2010 Population & Housing Census District Analytical Report: Juaboso District. Accra: Ghana Stastical Service. Retrieved January 25, 2018, from http://www.statsghana.gov.gh/docfiles/2010_District_Report/Western/Juaboso.pdf [dead link]
 Tsikata, D. (2009). Affirmative Action and the Prospects for Gender Equality in Ghanaian politics. Accra, Ghana: Abantu, Women in Broadcasting.
 Ghana Statistical Service. (2014). Women and Men in Ghana: A Statistical Compendium. Accra: Ghana Statistical Service.
 NETRIGHT. (2013). End of year review of the Status of Women report: Gender justice, national policy and discourse spaces. 2013 in retrospect. Accra, Ghana: Author.
 NETRIGHT. (2012). Recognizance study report in the northern districts of the Western Region. Accra, Ghana: Author.
 NETRIGHT. (2013). Project narrative reports. Accra, Ghana: Author.
Friedrich Ebert Foundation. (2016). A Guide to District Assemblies. FES.
Institute of Local Government Studies. (2010). A Guide to District Assemblies in Ghana. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Ghana. Retrieved from http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/ghana/10487.pdf.
The Coalition on the Women's Manifesto for Ghana. (2016). The Women's Manifesto. Accra, Ghana: Brand Synergy.
NETRIGHT: Link to the Strengthening Women’s Agency for Effective Engagement in Local Governance and Development project: http://netrightghana.org/economicjustics.html
*Advocates and Trainers of Children, and Women’s Advancement and Rights (ATCWAR) is NETRIGHT’s Regional Focal Point in the Western Region.
**These bodies are part of the District Assembly (DA) structure at the community level. Unit committees are formed at the lowest level of the local government structure and make up that area’s Area Council. Their mandate is to bring governance closer to the people by mobilizing the people for the implementation of self-help and development projects. They also educate the people on their rights and responsibilities. A unit is normally a settlement or group of settlements with not more than 1000 people for rural areas and 1500 for urban areas (ILGS, 2010).
This case was produced and submitted by a graduate of the Coady International Institute at St. Francis Xavier University with the support of J. Landry & R. Garbary.