For three years, a group of men representing different households in Kpalbe, a community in the East Gonja District of the Nothern Region, could not make any meaningful progress on a community-led sanitation improvement initiative. With the main aim of mobilizing funds to construct latrines to eliminate open defecation, which was contributing to high incidence of cholera, diarrhea and typhoid fever, the men treated it with less urgency.
In 2016, Adam Issah, a community development officer of the Social Welfare and Community Development unit of the District Assembly in charge of Kpalbe was encouraged to change strategy by engaging women in households and sensitizing them on the need for latrines and better sanitation practices. Local government had announced that there are no plans to construct public toilet facilities, charging individuals and communities to mobilize funds and build latrines for their homes.
“Within a year after engaging the women, they formed a group of thirty, including three supportive men and started small weekly contributions into the sanitation and social fund. By 2018, they had contributed enough to buy bags of cement to construct twenty-seven simple pit and pour-flush latrines serving their homes,” Issah said.
Power of women
Today, what was started as a sanitation finance mobilization group has given the rural women a good economic advantage and created female entrepreneurs with a leadership record, making them powerful role models in the community, which is 27 miles from the regional capital of Tamale. Many of the women have earned higher.
respect, responsibility and status in their families because of their financial contribution and small businesses.
Rahinatu Sulemana, 65-year old mother of seven and the second-in-command of the Kpalbe based Village Savings & Loans Association known as Patience is Good, said the community is testifying that women have the potential to bring immense development to the community if given the opportunity to lead. “People are now convinced of the power we hold. This is one way through which we can put our skills and commitment to use to develop Kpalbe.”
Thirty-nine miles away in Salaga, the East Gonja district capital, Chairman of the Carlifonia Base VSLA group, Malam Nuhu Abdul Momeen, 45, said they were inspired by the outcome of the women-led VSLA in Kpalbe to start one of two support groups using a similar model in the town. “The impact of this initiative goes beyond constructing latrines but also help members to contribute to sustainable financial scheme which will provide capital for businesses.”
Giving women a voice
The community-led sanitation project to eliminate open defecation is backed by UNICEF as part of the Accelerated Sanitation in Northern Ghana grant by Global Affairs – Canada. According to Gloria Nyam Gyang, a Water, Sanitation and Health (WASH) specialist of UNICEF in Tamale, gender mainstreaming is one of the ways to include women in decision making and give them a voice in the community.
“In the past, women were left out of sanitation development but this initiative has empowered women to demonstrate their valued role in hygiene management,” Gyang said.
Rural women are key agents for development as they play an essential role towards achieving transformational economic, environmental and social changes required for sustainable development. Empowering them is more important than ever, not only for the well-being of individuals, families and rural communities, but also for overall economic productivity.
A paradigm shift
Chairwoman of the group, Magajia Munira Yusif, 45, was full of smiles as she said members of the community are pushing for her election as Assembly member for the area but she is yet to decide if she will run.
A woman in the Northern Region of Ghana
Magajia Munira Yusif is the leader of the Kpable Village Savings & Loans group in Kpalbe in the Northern Region.
“I believe with what we have achieved, people have realized that if women were given important community leadership roles, we will put in our best to achieve progress.”
Sitting in the midst of other opinion leaders, Alhaji Issahaku Abochi, 75, couldn’t agree more. He replied in the affirmative on whether he will support more women to be pushed to the district level as leaders. “We all agree that if women are made leaders, greater impact is seen.”