In 2015, Blandine Bénézit completed her undergraduate degree in International Relations and Spanish at UCL, looking to forge a career in International Development. Blandine wanted some hands on experience volunteering for an international development charity, and so signed up to the International Citizens Service. The Jack Petchey Foundation awarded Blandine with a £300 Individual Grant for Volunteering to help her reach her £1500 fundraising target.
Blandine volunteered in Tamale, situated in Northern Ghana with a local NGO (non-governmental organization) called the Women Support and Activist Group (WOSAG). In 2016 WOSAG began expanding their area of work to cover domestic violence, teenage pregnancy and reproductive health and rights. Thanks to Blandine and her team at ICS Tamale, WOSAG had the capacity to undertake the programme.
As the first group of volunteers to work on the project, the team’s aim was to conduct baseline research in two communities of Tamale with which WOSAG already worked closely. For three months the team conducted interviews, organised workshops and collected data from school children and women’s groups in the two communities, in order to understand their personal experiences of teenage pregnancy, domestic violence and sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Once the research had been completed, Blandine and her team were able to understand the needs of the community members and identify the most effective methods to spread information throughout the community. For example, the team identified potential peer educators in each community who were willing to receive training about sexual and reproductive health and rights, teenage pregnancy and domestic violence. They would then be able to provide reliable sources of information for their community and become mentors for their peers.
Blandine and her team also organised a community sensitisation event to raise awareness about these issues for both the men and women in the communities. They also invited the Police Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit and Marie Stopes International to take part in the sensitisation programme, giving information about their respective services and creating trust between the organisations and the communities.
By undertaking research and creating links with the relevant local organisations, Blandine and her team helped to ensure that the project is sustainable and will continue to empower women and girls in the community now they have gone.
Blandine reflected; “This experience has shown me that the fight for women’s rights is nowhere near over! In the Northern Region of Ghana, the belief that once a man marries a woman he owns her body, her mind, her soul and even her children is still very deeply rooted within society... Overall this experience has shown me that patience and perseverance are key when it comes to changing social norms and traditional views within a community. It is a very slow and difficult process, but it is definitely worth it!”
If you would like to learn more about the work that Blandine did with WOSAG click here to visit the Youtube channel that Blandine created.
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