Empowering women and girls in Muneesa

Gifti Yune smiles as she reflects on her current circumstances, ‘before I thought that I would work in a government office – forever!’ Now 22-year old Gifti has, together with four friends, set up her own non-governmental organisation (NGO) that promotes women’s’ empowerment.  Gifti was selected for a 10-month internship programme for young women hosted by Harmee Education for Development Association (HEfDA) in Muneesa, Oromia Region; an initiative made possible by the Civil Society Support Programme (CSSP).

Traditional ceremony in Oromia (Photo by Michael Tsegaye (CSSP))

HEfDA, which was set up in 2006 to increase women’s participation in education, has been involved in CSSP since the programme’s inception in 2012. ‘HEfDA was created because we were concerned by low female participation in schools due to domestic violence, migration and family duties,’ explains Getahon Kebede the Executive Director of HEFDA, ‘CSSP has enabled us to expand and improve the quality of our work’.

HEfDA’s approach to increasing girls participation in education

HEfDA’s first CSSP project was a pilot initiative focused on improving girls’ attendance and results at school.  ‘Many girls from Muneesa have migrated to the Middle East – some as young as 12 years old’ notes Getahon. ‘Some of them are trafficked illegally, whilst others apply through recruitment agencies.’

Another factor affecting girls’ drop-out from education in Muneesa is abduction, with countless stories of young girls who have been forcibly taken from their families, abused, and coerced into marriage. HEfDA has taken action to remedy this tragic situation, offering direct support to abducted girls, creating support structures, and undertaking awareness raising activities to prevent abduction. ‘When we started this project in 2012, there were 18 reported cases of abduction in the district – in 2014 there were only 2’ recalls Getahon. ‘We achieved these results by taking a whole-system approach – we call it the watershed approach – to tackle the factors affecting girls’ education and damaging their life chances, including migration and abduction.’

HEfDA sought to empower local girls by organising girls’ clubs in schools.  ‘Girls can share their life experiences, discuss problems and act as a support group for other girls, with a view to convincing their parents of the importance of education’ recalls Getahon, ‘we now have 20,000 girls from 61 schools organised into girls’ clubs.’  This was complemented by strategic actions at local government level to establish a taskforce for women, consisting of 14 members drawn from relevant local stakeholders such as the police, justice department, education bureau and women’s groups.

Tackling gender based violence

With HEfDA’s encouragement, some 14,000 local women have also been organised into women’s groups that regularly engage with the taskforce to share experiences and influence local decision makers.  One notable achievement has been to embed anti-violence into local legislation by working with well-respected iidir community groups. ‘We have persuaded the iidir to include violence against women into their bylaws, meaning that those who are violent towards women will be removed from the iidir.’

These activities are creating opportunities for girls like Gifti, who after participating in an internship programme at HEfDA has set up a NGO – the Siiqqee for Women in Development Association (SWDA) – with 3 other interns. ‘Before the internship we wouldn’t have thought of setting up our own NGO – now we are focused on what we can do for society,’ she adds.

‘I want to be a role model to other girls from my community’ says Gifti, ‘the HEfDA programme has changed our attitude, and our way of thinking for society’ she beams.

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