At the end of last week, UK's Department for International Development (DfID) announced that they would not be continuing their partnership with Girl Effect in support of the YEGNA program. Although DFID stated that the decision to pull out of the partnership was not influenced by press coverage, the influence of the Daily Mail and Telegraph’s misrepresentation and simplification of the YEGNA brand has nevertheless stirred controversy and misunderstanding about the leverage YEGNA has in shifting mindsets.
A creative program invested in positively changing attitudes and perceptions about the worth of girls in Ethiopia, and specifically in the Amhara Region, the YEGNA program delivers thought provoking content through airing a combination of drama, talk shows and musical pieces that tackle a number of issues important to girls. Beyond its immediate target group, YEGNA has over the years helped strike conversation around the rights of girls and women in Ethiopia among a cross-section of society, including adults, through raising issues that have been identified as important by Ethiopian girls themselves. As an association committed to nurturing Ethiopian women leaders, we at AWiB believe that the social transformation work that YEGNA is contributing towards has been helping shape an environment that notices and appreciates the worth of Ethiopian girls.
In a visibly patriarchal society, social attitudes and norms regarding the worth and capacity of women and girls, serve as one of the main barriers to gender equality throughout the country. While a number of donor funded and state sponsored programs have focused on Ethiopian women’s livelihood and economic empowerment, the YEGNA program has complemented many of these activities by addressing the root causes of gender inequality that lend to the enormity of structural problems facing women and girls in Ethiopia – patriarchal mindsets!
The added value of YEGNA, beyond integrating education and entertainment to openly raise and challenge issues once believed to be taboo, is also that it has been girl-centric from its inception. Debunking commonly held program design ideology that donors and implementers know best, the uniqueness of YEGNA remains in its ability to stay rooted to the everyday challenges faced and raised by Ethiopian girls – giving them voice, visibility and agency. In the midst of a burgeoning consciousness among Ethiopian girls and young women that they matter and they can positively shape their narrative, both individually and collectively, MP Nigel Evans’s expression of “women carrying eucalyptus down hill” in argument to how DFID money can better be spent compartmentalizes the experience and needs of many Ethiopian girls and women.
We strongly believe that there cannot be a chronology of activities, where nurturing a conducive environment for Ethiopian girls to thrive and become impactful women is viewed as a “luxury”. Regardless of economic ability, we continue to witness that gender based violence, sexism and discrimination of girls and women is rampant. Addressing prevailing mindsets and dominant mental models that perpetuate these violations of girls and women’s rights play a key and complementary role to activities underway towards addressing economic inequities.
In the current system of donor funding, there exists great appeal in producing success stories at a rate faster than a given problem itself. Impact is often measured in short-term gains to appease donors and their critics, where many of the challenges being addressed are deep seated and of a long-term nature, requiring durable engagement. The issues that YEGNA is attempting to address are nevertheless of a long-term nature, requiring endurance and systemic shifts that can only happen with girls growing into women understanding their worth and demanding their rights. Undermining this process in favor of another, instead of recognizing the complementary role that work on mind-set shifts play in strengthening human development is endorsing a patriarchal system that has told girls and women for millennia that someone else, other than themselves, will be driving their agenda!
AWiB applauds the YEGNA team for the work that they have done so far and have committed to continue doing.