In 2021, Batonga launched the “Citoyennes en Herbe” (‘Budding Citizens’) project in rural communities in Benin to empower adolescent girls and young women on citizenship and leadership. Participants in our various Adolescent Girls Leadership (AGL) and Women Economic Empowerment (WEE) programs have been reached through this project. Citoyennes en Herbe allowed adolescent girls and young women to have knowledge and skills about citizenship, civic duty, and leadership. These are skills that adolescent girls and young women need to become agents of change in their own lives, their communities and to participate in the movement for equality on a local and national scale.
Why did we initiate the Citoyennes en Herbe project?
In working with adolescent girls and young women through our Adolescent Girls Leadership (AGL) and Women Economic Empowerment (WEE) programs in Benin, we have learned so much about their realities and experiences. We spoke with them and they expressed that in general, they are disconnected from decision-making processes, the local politics, and civil service institutions. They told us that they do not have information or know how to claim their rights and act together for their communities. Many of them were aware of the challenges related to girls’ education, cases of early pregnancy and marriage, early motherhood, and violence against girls, however, they were unsure of how they could design, lead actions and advocate. Batonga thought about ways to support the girls while assisting in positioning them to be leaders and problem-solvers to create solutions for their realities. With the support of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), Batonga initiated the Citoyennes en Herbe project.
How we implemented Citoyennes en Herbe project
The Batonga Foundation started the Citoyennes en Herbe project by providing further instruction to the mentors on citizenship, civic duty and leadership. We designed a manual that they could use to facilitate sessions with participants, explain lessons and do practical exercises. After the mentors and facilitators were trained, participants in our programs in their respective villages began with learning sessions on citizenship and leadership. The lessons taught during the sessions focused on understanding citizenship, civic and citizen rights, civic responsibilities, civic participation, and citizen leadership in building a society. The primary message that the participants and mentors formulated together was that: as citizens, they can and should participate in positive transformations in their communities. They have rights and responsibilities as citizens, which means that they can question the leaders of their communities, advocate and take action. Comic books were used to illustrate the lessons. Participants were invited to look at their communities, identify needs, learn how to bring awareness, imagine a better situation, build a bridge to effect change and see what roles they can play.
A total of 2,669 adolescent girls participated in Adolescent Girls Leadership Club (AGLC) sessions during the Citoyennes Herbe project. Between each lesson, everyone performed illustrations with stories of women citizens at the local, national and international level. We told stories of citizen actions through comics to inspire the participants. Hélène, a participant in the Citoyennes en Herbe project in the village of Lotcho in Bohicon shared her experience: “We learned a lot. I learned the practices of good citizenship. I learned about consultation with other members of my community to carry out actions together. If we have problems in our villages, I participate in actions for change. I have also learned about participation in the voting process. As citizens, we must not be indifferent to the problems around us.”
Girls-led Community Projects and Community Engagement
After the training sessions, participants identified ideas for small community projects to be implemented. All teams were girl-led and organized to implement the processes to realize each project. In total, 25 projects were selected (about 2 projects per village), some key initiatives were: access to education for girls; possession of birth certificates and legal identification documents; road safety; environmental protection; access to clean water; and construction of safe spaces.
The Citoyennes en Herbe project provided an additional avenue for Batonga to develop approaches to engage local communities and educate the masses. Mentors hosted radio shows which allowed the lessons and messages to be shared beyond the club sessions to the entire community. “Citoyennes en Herbe” radio shows were played on four local radio stations 48 times in 2021, reaching an audience of over 200,000 people. These radio emissions and activities created recognition of the Batonga team members in the communities we serve. Brice, our Community Coordinator at Batonga, shared an interaction he had with us, “When we went to introduce ourselves, a woman recited a whole lesson from our broadcasts. The message resonated with her and she was proud to have this type of program.”
The Citoyennes en Herbe project was made possible with the support of OSIWA.
To learn more about Citoyennes en Herb, watch the short documentary film made here.