This post originally appeared on Medium.
by Jessica Vandermark, Camber Collective
AUTHOR: Camber Collective is a social impact strategy consulting firm, has been working in Benin since 2018 first to produce a national demand analysis, including the psychosocial segmentation of young women (segmentation based on their attitudes, beliefs, and desires), and more recently to build Benin’s national communications plan for family planning. Through our work, we have come to appreciate the real need to effectively target certain vulnerable populations within Benin.
Out-of-school girls remain one of the most vulnerable segments of Beninese society. In Benin, as in most of West Africa, girls face immense hurdles to success including social pressures that often emphasize traditional gender norms and assign prestige, self-worth, and social importance to childbearing. Out-of-school girls, in particular, have even lower levels of agency and access. Young girls drop out of school for a multitude of reasons, but the outcome is less nuanced; for young girls, dropping out of school often means losing their sole means of controlling their future and meeting their life goals. Furthermore, out-of-school girls are more vulnerable to early pregnancies, higher rates of abortion, and transactional sex.
In a climate where programs specifically targeting out-of-school girls are scarce and where traditional channels to reach them often fall short, the Académie de l’Artisanat provides a roadmap. Codesigned and implemented by IDEO.org, local stakeholder ABMS (implementer), and PSI / Transform PHARE as a pilot program in Dassa-Zoumè in 2017, as an initiative of the Transform/PHARE project; the Académie successfully deployed a model that improved the agency and decision-making of out-of-school girls. The unique iterative design process included girls’ voices and that of their families and communities, and thus the model proved to be quite desirable and engaging for the girls and the wider community as well. Maybe most saliently, it showed effectiveness in driving awareness of contraceptive methods, the potential precursor to improving a handful of important social and economic indicators.
The Académie de l’Artisanat
At its core, the Académie de l’Artisanat seeks to embed girls with a sense of value and potential and a belief that they are supported. The Académie attracts out-of-school girls with the promise of developing a new skill in informal reoccurring workshops. The workshops focus on skill-building rather than contraception (a sensitive topic), which increases the desire for girls to participate, and improves the likelihood of parental or spousal permission. Skill-building may include training in beading, cooking or soap-making, but can and should be adopted on a community-by-community basis (though jewelry-related training seems to be the best option in Benin as the wearable and decorative nature of jewelry fits with the goal of making girls’ skills visible to others and building their confidence). The Académie provides retail support as well e.g. advising and connecting girls to relevant local sales channels, such as church festivals, village events, and local markets.
As girls return to the workshops week-by-week to develop their skills, they are collectively engaged by trained instructors in youth-friendly talks concerning contraception, and the role it can play in protecting their future. These youth-friendly reproductive health and contraception talks often draw parallels to their craft making. The indirect teaching method used during the workshops provides an environment where girls, who might otherwise be uncomfortable with certain reproductive health and family planning topics, can focus their attention on their craft making and are not required to directly engage (i.e. eye contact or speaking), with the instructor.
At the end of the workshops, girls are given the option to connect directly to a health provider via counseling and free family planning services. Offering girls free counseling provides a smooth connection to family planning services at a moment when they are feeling confident and motivated.
As part of the Académie’s wraparound model and given the importance of building an enabling environment around these girls to reduce some of the social pressures they face, the Académie targets the mothers of out-of-school girls as well. Mothers are provided with reproductive health information and coached on how to discuss reproductive health with their children. These improved conversations between mother and daughter ideally lead to improved social support for the young girls as they navigate their reproductive health choices.
Additionally, the Académie throws “teen parties”. Académie girls control the guest list, flipping the gender power dynamic and giving girls the agency to select the local boys who attend. Furthermore, boys are exposed to reproductive health information through games and quizzes during these teen parties.
Although skill development is an integral part of the Académie’s approach, the model in its current iteration does not aim to drive girls towards financial or employment-related outcomes. Rather skill development serves as a vehicle through which girls’ reproductive health and family planning needs can be met.
As a primary target outcome, the Académie seeks to increase mCPR (modern contraceptive prevalence rate) amongst out-of-school girls, via increased contraceptive knowledge and engagement with services provided at local clinics. By increasing mCPR, the Académie aims to contribute to a longer-term impact of reducing teenage and unwanted pregnancies, which in turn can lead to improved health, education, and economic outcomes.
Scaling up at a national level
Beyond its general importance as a catalyst in improving the agency and decision-making of one of Benin’s most vulnerable populations, the Académie is a critical component in Benin’s 2023 goal of increasing female mCPR to 21.8%, as laid out in the new PANB (National Budgeted Action Plan). Improving the uptake of out-of-school girls, one of the lowest users of modern contraception, will be key to reaching this goal.
Camber Collective, in conjunction with the Benin Ministry of Health, recently drafted a 5-year family planning communications strategy to be used as a guide to help Benin reach its PANB mCPR goal. The Académie was widely appreciated by local stakeholders and was selected as the recommended activity to take to national scale for reaching out-of-school girls.
The vulnerability of out-of-schools-girls and the difficulty of targeting them through traditional channels is not unique to Benin. It is a complexity that affects most of West Africa. As such, the Académie de l’Artisanat can help propel Benin towards its critical 2023 mCPR and broader development goals and additionally can provide an effective model to target a critically vulnerable yet underserved segment of the population throughout the region.
All girls should be in control of their reproductive and financial future. The Académie provides a path to this end, and given sufficient funding of Benin’s FP communication plan, should be able to scaleup its efforts throughout Benin.
More information on program recommendations, evaluation, training, and a scaleup strategy in both English and French can be found here: https://www.psi.org/publication/academie-de-lartisanat-playbook/