WLP and BAOBAB Convene Learning Institute for Women's Leadership and Training of Trainers in Sub-Saharan Africa
February 21-25, 2005
Twenty-five women from eight African countries met in Calabar, Nigeria for the Africa Regional Learning Institute for Women's Leadership and Training of Trainers. Co-organized by Women's Learning Partnership (WLP) and BAOBAB for Women's Human Rights, the five-day Institute aimed to strengthen participants' capacity to become better trainers and advocates in empowering grassroots women to become effective decision-makers in their families, communities, and societies. Participants were from Cameroon, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Among them were Vabah Gayflor, Minister of Gender and Development in Liberia, and Hafsat Abiola, President of the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy in Nigeria.
Over the course of the five days participants completed sessions and activities on the transformational power of participatory leadership, development of effective media strategies and messages that resonate with target audiences, interactive facilitation, and implementation of effective advocacy plans. The Leading to Choices multimedia leadership training curriculum served as the primary curriculum for all sessions. The interactive and participatory facilitation methodology used in the Institute allowed participants to become involved in facilitation themselves, thereby learning by participating in the process. All participants took on the role of facilitator, observer, and evaluator at points throughout the training.
On the first day, participants discussed the interplay of power, gender, and leadership in each of their countries. As a group, the participants defined power as "the ability to make things happen." While noting that power is often abused, participants agreed that when power is achieved through consensus, it brings about a sense of belonging and can be used effectively to make change happen. Participants formed three groups and engaged in role-play exercises to illustrate examples of egalitarian, communicative, and gender inclusive leadership. One group staged a rally and mock negotiations to demonstrate the differences between communication within hierarchical and participatory systems of governance. Participants also shared personal experiences and strategies for dealing with challenges in leadership positions. One participant described how she was able to mobilize a group of women to mediate a crisis resulting from a cultural misunderstanding among groups in Nigeria. A participant from Liberia described how she overcame intimidations from fellow cabinet members, and went on to implement major improvements to the ministry under her purview.
On the second day, the sessions explored how to develop compelling messages and communicate effectively with the media. One participant observed that "Comparing different means of communication is innovative and helpful. It is important that a person believes in her vision in order to convince others that her cause is a worthy cause." Some participants shared the challenges they faced and strategies they used when working with the media and how different mediums have worked or failed to work. A participant from Ghana shared that her organization has never had the opportunity to work with female journalists and in future they will ask women reporters to profile the organization's activities. A participant from Uganda discussed how many news editors were disinclined to cover women's rights issues.
The session on facilitation methods was conducted by two Institute participants instead of the trainers. The objective was to analyze personal learning experiences in order to understand how interactive facilitation can be adapted for a variety of learning styles. In a subsequent session entitled, "Facilitating Learning," participants further explored the role of the facilitator in establishing a relationship of equality and cooperation, creating an inclusive environment of trust and respect. One participant emphasized, "The Institute facilitation environment is not intimidating and participants feel comfortable sharing their opinions."
On the last day, participants analyzed the components of advocacy plans including how to identify a mission, develop a shared vision, formulate outreach strategies, build a coalition, and evaluate progress towards realizing a long-term vision. Working in groups, they defined an issue or problem they wished to overcome then outlined a plan of action to address the cause. One group chose to develop a campaign to curb escalating incidents of rape in their community. The goal of the organization, which they named Coalition Against Rape (CARE), was to eliminate rape by raising public awareness and advocating for the criminalization of all forms of the offense. Another group proposed setting up an organization called Coalition on Women's Human Rights that would work to ensure gender equality in decision-making, bridge the gap between rich and poor, and empower women to contribute to sustainable development. The third group wanted to fight against unjust death sentences. They outlined a plan to form a coalition to carry out activities such as lobbying and educating policy-makers and raising awareness throughout the community. When the groups presented their campaigns, participants identified key similarities among each group's work including: women's empowerment, anti-discrimination, awareness raising, and advocacy.
In addition to skill-building sessions, the Institute expanded the social and professional networks of women leaders and activists and created a space for them to empower one another through the sharing of experiences. Participants found new allies and improved existing relationships. All planned to share what they learned with other women across the continent. WLP and BAOBAB built new relationships with participants through which more women in Africa will benefit from similar trainings at local levels.