By Wendy Webber
The Humanist Service Corps is partnered with Songtaba, a local organization committed to the realization of the aspirations and rights of women and children in the northern region of Ghana. Their focus is not just camps for alleged witches and the rights of women in them. In fact, that is just one part of the work they are doing. So this week, instead of hearing from the HSC team, I’d like to delve a bit into the other work Songtaba is doing in the region and area of women’s rights.
Songtaba literally means “lets help one another” in the local language, Dagbani. And that is what they do. Several of their programs focus on organizing a community to be advocates for themselves and each other. Songtaba helped create advocacy groups in the each individual camp and a second tier advocacy group with representative from each camp. Similarly, Songtaba brings girls together in order to empower them and nurture their confidence to advocate for themselves especially against violence and for education. What does that look like?
Songtaba’s “Stop Violence Against Girls in School” (SVAGS) Project is a program that addresses girls’s right to violence free lives and access to education. The program established girls clubs in 13 schools that brought girls together to to discuss and learn ways of improving their conditions in school. The girls clubs help girls build confidence and resources to resist violence. When Mahamud Fatayia, a 16-year-old in the program, was being harassed by a local man who declared his love for her and threatened violence against her if she didn’t accept his proposal, her first response was to not leave home. But after two weeks home, she decided to tell her girls club mentor. The final result was that her harasser stopped and she says, “I now move freely in town without any fear.”
Another part of the SVAGS Project is Community Advocacy Teams (CAT). Teams are made up of community members who volunteer to advocate for the realization of women and girls’ rights in their communities. Volunteers are trained to monitor cases of abuse of any kind in their communities and effectively report them to the appropriate authorities. In once a case, a 30-year-old man who sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl is in prison as a direct result of CAT intervention. In another case, Agnes Maogmin’s parents wanted her to end her education and marry against her wishes. After looking to her Girls’ Club for advice, she went to CAT. CAT members were able to convince her parents to allow her to continue her education and got her uncle to pay for it. She said, “I believe that the exposure I derived from the Regional Girls’ forum actually influenced my decision to seek support from the Girls Club because I had a sense of purpose for once in my life as a girl.”
Girls in the SVAGS program report personal empowerment and act with personal agency. But the change goes beyond the girls themselves. A government officer, Augustine Sa-ad, the District Director of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice in Nanumba, was skeptical of the impact SVAGS would have. But he reports that the structures SVAGS has put in place has become the best means of referral for his commission. He says, “the network has made the commission more conscious, visible and active in facilitating redress for abuse cases without marring social relationships and also not compromising the rights of girls to be enrolled and retained complete their education.”
Songtaba has a vision of a violence-free and just society where women and girls enjoy their fundamental rights. One of Songtaba’s core values is selflessness. For them, selflessness means the interests of vulnerable groups overrides the interests of Songtaba staff and partners. They themselves are not a humanist organization, but they are realizing a humanist principle, equality. In this case, equality through education. And they aren’t just giving education. They are empowering girls to be able to insist on education for themselves.