Development communication as a tool in empowering women

female genital cutting
Tehn-Lennox AKPETEY

Women are the pivot on which the success of societies revolves. From homes to communities to countries and in the global sphere, women play critical roles in nation-building. But most times these roles are often overlooked and undervalued by a patriarchal society. In a recent African Human Development Report (UNDP, 2016), women’s political voice and leadership have been recognised as key drivers in advancing gender equality.

Women are still very much on the periphery of political, economic and social decision-making, and rely most often on decisions made by their male counterpart regarding their lives.  The great Ghanaian scholar, missionary and educator Dr. James Emmanuel Kwegyir Aggrey once said: “If you educate a man, you educate an individual. If you educate a woman, you educate a nation”. This statement rings true even today, especially with the often-inhuman treatment meted out to women in our part of the world.

Women are believed to be subservient to men. It is commonplace to hear a woman who aspires to climb the progressive ladder being tagged as one who is sleeping her way up. African women, and for that matter Ghanaian women, must be empowered to come out of their shells, overcome stigmatisation and rise to take their place of pride in decision-making in their homes, communities and the nation as well.

The religious and sociocultural dogmas play significant roles in muzzling women out of the way. And some actually believe that women get to the top only by offering sex for positions and possessions. This is a social scar and put-off that sometimes discourages women from aspiring to greater heights. True empowerment will only be reached when women actively take part in the decision-making process of our country.

Development communication refers to the use of communication to facilitate social development. It engages stakeholders, policymakers, establishes a conducive environment, assesses risks and opportunities and promotes information exchanges to bring about positive social change through sustainable development.

Development communication techniques include information dissemination and education, behaviour change, social marketing, social mobilisation, media advocacy, communication for social change and community participation. It has been referred to by some scholars as to the fulfillment of basic needs.

Based on the above, there cannot be development without communication. Development Communication is the vehicle that will empower women to overcome the barriers to development.

There is a need to take development communication seriously in Ghana. Most global organisations in Ghana – such as UNICEF, UNESCO, WORLD BANK, ActionAid, USAID, UKAID, GIZ, Oxfam, Plan Ghana and the rest – rely on development communication as a tool to execute their development projects/programmes. Most of their projects all over the world have been impactful because they adopted Development Communication strategies.

We seem interested in majoring in how much money we can make from every project instead of seeing success from the projects/programmes. It is however difficult to comprehend why the nation seems disinterested in adopting strategies for development projects/programmes.

Some scholars believe that the empowerment of women can only be achieved if their economic and social status is improved. This is where development communication comes in.  There must be a conscious effort at making women the epicentre of national development. One of the ways of empowering women is by increasing stakeholders’ awareness of the need for women to be given opportunities to compete with their male counterparts for position and possession.

Whenever women’s advocacy groups have seen a level playing field, women have competed favourably and earned their rightful place in society. Despite efforts by women advocacy groups to bridge the gap between men and women, the gap seems to be widening. This has been made possible because Ghanaians are mostly patriarchal, and the women have been culturally programmed to be meekly submissive and subservient to the men. Any woman that is seen to be focused on achieving their dreams is classified as disrespectful and arrogant.

Education is one of the most important means of empowering women with the knowledge, skills and self-confidence necessary to participate fully in the development process of any given society. Despite manifest efforts by countries all over the world that have appreciably expanded access to basic education, especially in Ghana over the years, there are approximately 960 million illiterate adults in the world – of whom two-thirds are women.

Scholars posit that more than one-third of the world’s adults, most of them women, have no access to printed knowledge, to new skills or to technologies that can improve the quality of their lives and help them shape and adapt to social and economic change. There are 130 million children globally who are not enrolled in primary school, and 70 percent of them are girls. These data show the need for a deliberate effort at empowering women through education. It is one avenue to how the gap can be bridged.

Ghana should make efforts to eliminate inequalities between men and women as soon as possible, by making it possible for women’s equal participation and equitable representation at all levels of the political process and public life in each community and society; and enabling women to articulate their concerns and needs. Decisions and opinions of women cannot continue to be ignored in the present circumstances.

Development communication practitioners have proven with research that promoting the fulfilment of women’s potential through education, skill development and employment – giving paramount importance to the elimination of poverty, illiteracy and ill-health among women, should be one of the objectives of any development communication strategy that is centred at women empowerment.

Notably, some Non-Governmental Organisations such as Songtaba, Northern Sector Action on Awareness Centre, Campaign for Female Education and Action Aid Ghana have put a lot of efforts into women empowerment, particularly in the northern regions of Ghana.

The development communication strategy must focus on advocacy for eliminating all practices that discriminate against women; and assisting women to establish and realise their rights, including those that relate to reproductive and sexual health.

The communication strategy should adopt social mobilisation and behaviour change communication to make women adopt appropriate measures to improve their ability to earn income beyond traditional occupations, achieve economic self-reliance, and ensure women’s equal access to the labour market and social security systems. Any development communication consultant should know that when called upon to assist in developing a strategy for a project, he/should always ask why a certain issue is occurring and what kind of communication is needed to address it effectively.

Domestic violence has been on the front-burner in Ghana during recent times. Statistics in Ghana indicate that 33–37% of women have r experienced domestic violence in the form of intimate partner violence in their relationships. Even in schools, research has shown that 14% to 52% of girls are victims of sexual abuse and gender-based violence respectively.

These estimates may be far less than what persists, as violence against women and girls remain a largely hidden problem that only a few females dare to openly confront. God, in His infinite wisdom, created woman as a helpmate for man. He did not create a woman as a punch-mate for man.

It is, therefore, necessary to create awareness to put a stop to this attitude.
From the discussion so far, it is evident that development communication is indeed a tool that can be adopted to minimise or eliminate practices which inhibit development and, more importantly, women empowerment.

>>>the writer is a development communication consultant. He can be reached on [email protected]


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