Visiting Queen Elizabeth Scholar sees how social and cultural change is possible with proper program design, dialogue & measurement
My love for social science research is not new. Growing up as a girl in a rural village in East Africa, I witnessed and experienced the impact of gender inequality on my life and the lives of my friends.
I saw as some of my friends forgo their education for their brothers; I saw girls, women, and children not allowed to speak before men; and I saw women's rights violated in violent acts by people who should have protected them.
As I went through life, questions lingered in my mind about why women and girls were treated differently then men and how I could contribute to addressing these social and economic inequalities founded within fabric of my home country.
As a Queen Elizabeth Scholars (QEScholar) within the Hungry Cities Partnership at Balsillie School of International Affairs (BSIA), I had the opportunity to apply my knowledge and education at MEDA during my 3 month placement. During this placement I worked closely with the Monitoring and Impact Measurement team in the Youth Entrepreneurship and Women’s Empowerment (WAY) project in northern Nigeria.
Though Nigeria is large middle-income country richly endowed with natural resources including oil, it remains home to some of the world’s extreme poor. According to the World Poverty Index, the number of Nigerians living in extreme poverty (under $1.90 a day) is now over 94 million and rising, making the country the poverty capital of the world. Analysis of the extent of poverty in Nigeria only becomes more apparent when applying a gender lens. Women constitute nearly 50% of Nigeria’s population – but account for more than 70% of those in extreme poverty.
Gender inequality has a direct impact across the wealth, health, and every other socio-political environment in Nigeria.
To help facilitate the economic growth of northern Nigeria, MEDA is implementing the WAY project. The project is implementing several programs that aim to create an enabling social and economic environment that allows for women and girls empowerment thereby addressing the underlining cause of poverty – gender inequality in Bauchi State, Nigeria. One such activities is the Life Skills for Girls Program (LS4GP).
The LS4GP was implemented to contribute to increase community dialogue on socio-economic empowerment of women and youth. Specifically, the program aimed to strengthen the girls’ agency by equipping them with life skills to enhance their self-confidence, self-perception, and self-worth. Having spent a major part of my placement in this program, two important areas of learning standout for me. First, is the design of a community program for social and cultural change. Second, the importance of rigour in monitoring and evaluation of such programs.
The LS4GP program design
I found the LS4GP to be a well designed program that focused on the root-causes of social and economic inequality found within the communities in Bauchi State. The program is a co-creation between MEDA and three local organizations: the Federation of Muslim Women’s Association in Nigeria (FOMWAN), Child is Gold Foundation (CIGF), and FAHMITA Microfinance. Given their lived and work experience in Bauchi State, the organizations provided context-specific guidance and knowledge into the development of the life skills training curriculum. The training curriculum involved interactive, creative, motivational, and positive learning processes by showcasing real examples of people’s experiences, facilitating the visualization of life goals, and helping participants set life skills goals tailored to their personal experiences and dreams.
I found this approach fascinating given the value of training as a catalyst for change in gender norms. To ensure meaningful transformations of identity and purpose, the training materials were overt in their gender focus and raised awareness about gender roles and cultural beliefs while also providing a safe place for women to discuss often stigmatized subjects such as sexuality, gender-based violence (GBVs), forced marriages and reproductive health issues - which were the focus of the LS4GP.
By actively engaging parents, community leaders, and other stakeholders in its activities, the LS4GP initiated community dialogue thereby raising awareness about gender roles and cultural beliefs around girl’s education, early and forced girl-child marriage (EFGCM), and women’s involvement in business. Including the community in the discussions not only impacts personal understandings of purpose and identity, but it also showcases how empowerment of girls and women would positively benefit Bauchi State at large.
The LS4GP relied heavily on participatory, group-based discussion that fostered critical thinking, collaborative learning, communication skills, problem-solving and peer support. This was crucial to challenging social norms and increasing knowledge, skills and solidarity among women and girls – with the hope of actually changing the communities they live in for the better.
Rigour in monitoring progress
Although programming is an incredibly important aspect of achieving sustainable change, how impact is measured is of additional importance for validity that the interventions are creating the change that was envisioned. Research and measurement undertaken to evaluate project outcomes and impacts remain central to any project or program mandate.
The WAY team in their monitoring and evaluation (M&E) research model aims for data reliability by ensuring consistency and due-diligence in the application of research practices. The information gleaned from these practices are then subject to analysis with conclusions drawn on the information provided. This information then informs ongoing or future programming and allows for the WAY team to pivot their work based on the needs expressed by their participants.
The key to a strong M&E plan is to begin the process before the project even begins. Once the team understands what the needs of the community are, the project staff implements the monitoring plan which includes the triangulation of qualitative and quantitative data methods to assess progress and to understand whether the interventions are achieving the expected results. Good data indicates the lessons learned and which approaches need to be refined to help our clients reach their true potential. From project design to implementation all the way through to closure, the WAY feedback loops continue to inform and adapt programming so the project can best contribute to our clients’ economic empowerment and prosperity.
A feedback loop is complete only when it includes all project stakeholders, particularly the project participants. It is also important to be mindful of the positionality, partiality, and limits of our findings just as it is in any scientific research.
My placement with MEDA was a fantastic adventure with many lessons learned, networks built and friends gained along the way! I am excited to continue my journey empowering women and doing my part to create a gender equitable world. The past few months with MEDA have assured me of my calling and showed me that social and cultural change is possible with proper program design, dialogue, measurement and real allyship.
World Economic Forum, (May 2020). Facts about Africa’s powerhouse. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/08/nigeria-africa-economy/
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The Guardian, 2017. Want to end the poverty cycle? Empower women https://guardian.ng/features/want-to-end-the-poverty-cycle-empower-women/
Fabiyi, E. F., & Akande, K. E. (2015). Economic empowerment for rural women in Nigeria: poverty alleviation through agriculture. International Journal of Biology, 7(9), 236.