Working to improve women’s rights in Africa - An interview with Azumi Mesuna of ActionAid Ghana

Gender inequality significantly impacts men and women across Africa. Azumi Mesuna is demonstrating some of this impact through ActionAid’s Promoting Opportunities for Women Empowerment and Rights (POWER) project.

Gender inequality significantly impacts men and women across Africa. Azumi Mesuna is demonstrating some of this impact through ActionAid’s Promoting Opportunities for Women Empowerment and Rights (POWER) project.

Gender equality has the potential to reduce poverty, increase economic prosperity and improve well-being. These aims are at the heart of the GCRF AgriFood Africa programme that KTN is delivering with the strategic partnership of Innovate UK. That’s why gender equality was one of the themes in our fourth GCRF AgriFood Africa Virtual Mission, with Azumi Mesuna as one of our speakers. You can read more about the gender equality presentations that took place during the mission here.

POWER is a project, run by ActionAid, in Ghana, Bangladesh and Rwanda from 2016 to 2020. The project works through local partners to mobilise and organise rural women to raise awareness and empower women to claim their rights, as farmers and carers. It is doing this by; addressing unpaid care work; increasing agricultural productivity through training in Agroecology and addressing gender based violence. 


Unpaid care work is often an unseen contribution to homes and communities

POWER works at community level to sensitise everyone about the time spent as unpaid care work. The project they use participatory tools such as time-use diaries and other reflection action tools to understand workload and empower women through negotiation, communication and consensus building processes. This built their capacity and skills to engage in local politics, contribute to household decision making and community wide programs.

“When the project started, [the communities] didn’t know anything about unpaid care work, they saw their work as normal. You ask a woman, “How many hours do you work?”, she doesn’t know. Then you ask the man, “Does your wife work?”, just, “Oh no, she doesn’t work. She’s home”. Then you now start to ask, “What time did you wake up? What happened? How many children do you have? What do they do?”. When you finish this analysis, this is when they realise that, oh, my work is working for 14 hours.”

The POWER team has demonstrated that to promote women’s access to better lives it is more effective to work with communities and traditional leaders and to promote an integrated approach to women economic empower. To deliver long term change, and to address complex issues such as women’s access to land, an understanding of how the local, and national context works is needed.


The need for multidisciplinary projects, and the challenge of advocating for intersectional issues

Beyond local communities, POWER engages with policy and decision makers to raise awareness and funding for unpaid care work.

“We want to ensure that unpaid care workload or workload in general is recognised, that it’s redistributed and reduced.“

The projects delivered through ActionAid focus on the intersectionality of women’s empowerment, and this continues into their advocacy work.

“Most organisations have microcredit as interventions towards addressing issues of women’s empowerment. Some work on agriculture and climate resilience and they say they are addressing women’s empowerment. Some work on women’s cooperatives and they link it to women’s empowerment. But if you assess the individual impact of all this, it doesn’t give you a very concrete empowerment framework that will reduce the structural barriers that women face. “ An integrated framework of tackling all these as enshrined in the POWER project is the best alternative. However, working on intersectional issues is not simple, and  is  not easy   advocating for longer term change. The structure of projects can support or limit the potential they can  make widespread changes. The POWER project duration (five (5) years) offered an opportunity to build up  on previous advocacy and to strengthen both local and national advocacy agenda.

“I think the biggest challenge is the fact that our work is intersectional. Because of this there are so many [governmental] departments that you must go to advocate. We realised that advocacy was a process, it cannot be achieved overnight, and the good thing is that the project was funded for five years.”

“I think for advocacy in a country like Ghana, or in Africa, we must be patient, we must know the kind of messages we send, we must have resources, and we must be determined and persistent with our messages.”


Working collaboratively and internationally

Working collaboratively has also been key in ensuring this project’s success.

“I insisted in every area that actually you cannot work alone, we have to work with the government staff. We have to work with stakeholders to collaborate, like the district assembly, the commission of human rights and administrative justice, the domestic violence and victim support units.”

Azumi is motivated by the impact she sees the projects having on individuals. Understanding the individual, their challenges and needs, and how they operate within their communities, has been crucial to delivering meaningful change. Advocacy and supporting individual voices has led to long term transformational changes.

“You see them as small-scale projects but overall, they are contributing significantly in building someone’s life, and that is what keeps me going.“ 

Taking their work to the continental level, Azumi and her team participated in the ‘Gender Is My Agenda Campaign’ meeting in 2019, a forum around gender equality in the African Union.

“Within that forum, we tried to push for AU [African Union] leaders and heads of states to understand that we will not be able to achieve women economic empowerment if we don’t address issues of unpaid care work and climate resilience. And this was the kind of conversation we have had over the years as part of our participation at the continental level.

The first time I had the opportunity to participate in GIMAC [Gender Is My Agenda Campaign], people were asking me, “What is unpaid care work?” And it was like we were alone talking about it. But now, you see several organisations and presenters linking it up. It has appeared as part of the community over and over, and linking it to climate resilience and food agricultural issues.”

If you would like to find out more about the work Azumi is doing with ActionAid Ghana and the POWER project, click here.


If you’d like to keep up to date with information about the GCRF AgriFood Africa project, click here.


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