Building Assets of Adolescent Girls in Refugee Camps in Rwanda
Submitted by: Richard Sandison, Team Leader - Centre of Excelelnce: Adoloscent Girls in Crisis, Plan International
Email: [email protected]
Introduction to the project
2016 - 2019
Rwanda currently hosts 148,000 refugees and asylum seekers. Sexual exploitation is identified as one of the biggest protection concerns affecting refugee women and girls. Girls Take the Lead (GTTL): Building Assets of Adolescent Girls in Refugee Camps in Rwanda was a 29 month project implemented by Plan International Rwanda in two Congolese refugee camps, Gihembe and Nyabiheke.
The overall goal of the project was to empower and build the critical assets of adolescent girls in the two refugee camps, with a specific focus on their social, personal, and material assets. By doing so, Plan International Rwanda sought to equip adolescent girls and boys in Gihembe and Nyabiheke camps with the critical assets necessary to protect them from violence.
The specific objectives of the project were:
- To increase the access of girls ages 12-17 to girl-only safe spaces, girl-friendly counseling and referrals to needed services.
- To increase knowledge of reproductive health, financial literacy, and personal self-esteem of girls ages 15-17.
- To increase awareness of boys ages 15-17 on ways to promote gender equality and prevent violence.
The project received funding from corporate donations. Technical expertise during program implementation was offered by Plan International USA and Plan International Rwanda.
Main activities of the Good Practice
Establishment of girl-friendly safe spaces:
The services at the safe spaces empower girls to practice healthy behaviors, develop peer networks, and build their knowledge of reproductive health, financial literacy, and report instances of violence. Girls could access counseling and referral services at the spaces, report violence and abuse and talk with mentors and peers.
Better Life Options and Opportunities Model (BLOOM):
BLOOM is an approach implemented by Plan that has been effective in the gender-transformative delivery of life skills and empowerment of adolescents, particularly girls. The curriculum aims to improve knowledge and behaviors relating to confidence, goal-setting, social capital, and SRH knowledge as is delivered through safe spaces using local mentors.
Men Engage approach:
The program engaged men and boys as allies in preventing violence against girls and women. Boys are trained on ways to promote gender equality and prevent violence in their everyday lives. The Men Engage approach aims to change attitudes and behaviours and shape the gender-based expectations and understandings of adolescent males in positive ways.
Youth Savings Group & Enterprise Your Life:
This economic empowerment component equipped adolescent girls and boys to develop savings practices, build their financial literacy, and learn basic entrepreneurship skills.
- Government of Rwanda
- UNHCR Rwanda
- Nike Foundation
Challenges and how they were overcome
• The post-test findings did not reveal any significant change in attitudes or behaviors of boys involved in the Men Engage programming. One of the key lessons learned is that male mentors needed ongoing training to enhance their facilitation skills, build additional knowledge on how to break down complex and deep rooted norms of gender based violence. In addition, the Men Engage curriculum needed to be more youth friendly as younger boys found it difficult to grasp some of the content.
• Parents ‘buy in’ is fundamental in ensuring adolescents girls participation. This can be enhanced by engaging with parents on the youth savings groups and economic enterprises in collaboration with adolescents.
• While the program showed that the establishment of the Youth Savings Groups can be undertaken in a relatively short period of time, it is recommended that 12 months of continual support and mentoring of the groups is built into the activity implementation schedule to enhance prospects of sustainability.
How they were overcome:
• The concepts of gender equality and the negative effects of gender-based violence (GBV) were introduced at community forums like parents’ dialogue, evening sessions, and umuganda (community work). The more parents learned about the Men Engage approach the more they began to accept and support the notion that gender roles could be different within the household.
• This was enhanced by engaging with parents on the youth savings groups and economic enterprises in collaboration with adolescents.
• The project team encouraged the mentors and the savings groups to continue with the initiatives with support from the mentors and the camp community.
Results of the Good Practice
• During focus group discussions girls and community members felt the incidence of rape in the camps had reduced since the project started, and participants also noted that some men and boys no longer use drugs or alcohol and had become less violent.
• In the endline evaluation community stakeholders, parents and adolescent girls and boys said that the level of violence in the camps had decreased and many attributed this to an increase in awareness of the rights of girls. Both boys and girls said that the education and sensitization by mentors had contributed to reduced domestic violence by fathers. Girls in both camps mentioned that there has been a reduction in boy’s spending money on alcohol and drugs, substances which they felt led to violent and disrespectful behavior.
• According to some members of the youth savings groups, there has been a decline in the number of risky activities undertaken by adolescents outside of the camp, an increase in financial literacy and economic activity established through savings.
• Pre and post-test surveys and end line evaluation, showed marked improvements in girls’ personal self-esteem, increased ability in making healthy decisions about their life, including reproductive health, and increased awareness of the existing reporting systems available in the camps.
Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance
The project is seeking funding to expand to other refugee camps in Rwanda.