Engaged Anthropology Grant: Strengthening female political leadership and orphan interventions through community-based research
Bright Drah is an independent scholar based in Alberta, Canada. In 2008, while a doctoral student at the University of Toronto, he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Crisis Fostering in an Age of HIV/AIDS: Experiences of Queen Mothers of Manya Krobo, Ghana,’ supervised by Dr. Daniel W. Sellen. In 2013, he received the Engaged Anthropology Grant.
The Community Engagement Project (the Project) is in follow up to my 2008-2010 Dissertation Fieldwork on orphan foster care by queen mothers (traditional female leaders) in the Manya Krobo Traditional Area (MKTA) of Ghana. After disseminating the preliminary findings of the fieldwork in 2009, ‘orphan stakeholders’ (queen mothers, government officials, NGO executives, community leaders, health, education and social workers and journalists) requested that actions be taken to address the challenges identified by the study, especially to empower queen mothers and improve the wellbeing of orphans. They suggested that the empowerment process be facilitated by a “neutral person”, other than queen mothers or chiefs.
Queen mothers’ are responsible for the wellbeing of their citizens, including orphans. Their work is conducted through the 371-member pseudo-formal Manya Krobo Queen Mothers Association (MKQMA). Unfortunately, the members do not make the decisions that govern the MKQMA; they cannot independently elect their leaders and the leaders are not directly accountable to the members. Rather, the paramount chief (Konor) and leader of the traditional authority has the final authority in appointing leaders.
Consequently, queen mothers are unable to challenge their leaders on issues such as abuse of power. In essence, they are frustrated by this sense of powerlessness. They assert that the governance structure is “unfair”, however, any attempt to change the status quo is misconstrued as disobedience to the traditional authority. The situation is exacerbated by mutual distrust and infighting among the members and apathy towards the MKQMA. A strong MKQMA is critical because it enhances the position of queen mothers as leaders and advocates. It is also a channel for soliciting and distributing kin- and non-kin support to queen mothers and orphans.
In May-June 2013, I facilitated four workshops in MKTA to help empower the MKQMA. The objectives of the workshops were to increase dialogue between chiefs and queen mothers, promote queen mothers’ participation in MKQMA and increase the MKQMA engagement with the citizens.
Increased dialogue within the traditional authority, and increased community participation in local politics, could enhance political leadership and create opportunities to improve wellbeing.
Forty representatives from organizations that participated in the fieldwork attended the workshops. Of these representatives, 25 were from MQKMA and 15 represented government and non- government/community-based organizations. Chiefs were informed, but not invited to the workshops because queen mothers felt the chiefs may intimidate them and takeover the process. The Konor gave his approval for the workshop and agreed to implement the workshop recommendations.
I divided the participants into four groups. Using the processes of brainstorming, free-listing, consensus building and priority setting, each group identified and prioritized the leadership challenges facing the MKQMA and recommended remedial actions. The results from each group were presented to the other groups for further discussion and re-prioritization. The fourth workshop focused on helping participants to learn about the use of projective techniques to discuss sensitive topics with children.
The participants identified challenges relating to governance, membership, leader-member relationships and MKQMA-community collaborations. They recommended that the MKQMA must focus on enhancing its leadership and promoting the wellbeing of queen mothers, including re-establishing their welfare scheme. They contended that achieving these goals will enable queen mothers to address the needs of orphans. They recognized the importance of the traditional political authority and recommended that they develop innovative ways to continually engage chiefs and build stronger partnerships. They, however, recommended the separation of the governance of MKQMA (a ‘formal’ organization) from the governance of queen mother (a traditional political institution). Separating the two institutions would mean that the MKQMA will no longer be under the direct control of chiefs. This will allow queen mothers to make their own decisions. Specifically, they will determine the criteria for leadership and membership and establish the responsibilities and benefits of membership.
Participants also recommended that MKQMA be governed by a written constitution and decisions be based on consensus. They also stressed the importance of two-way accountability, where members treat leaders with respect and support them to implement programs, and the leaders are directly accountable to the members. They listed the qualities of a good leader as transparent, respectful, humble and tolerant. They preferred leadership that is committed to improving the wellbeing of queen mothers, values the freedom of expression, sets high moral standards and actively engages queen mothers and stakeholders.
Overall, the Project provided a ‘non-customary’ approach to empowering female leaders and engaging with their citizens to consultatively develop strategies to empower queen mothers. It enabled queen mothers, who belonged to different factions and have not worked together in a long time, to brainstorm and reach consensus on how to provide efficient and effective leadership to their communities.
The participants were very satisfied with the workshop; they will participate again in similar workshops and will apply the workshop approach to their work. The queen mothers said they have been encouraged by the workshop and that encouragement will help to build their self-efficacy, self-image and self-awareness. They stated that the lessons learned from the workshop and the implementation of the recommendations will help them to transform the MKQMA from a male-controlled group to an association owned and managed by queen mothers for the benefits of their citizens.
The inclusion of stakeholders other than queen mothers is significant. It allowed the queen mothers to focus on the issues affecting MKTA instead of their personal interests. It also created opportunities for partnerships between MKQMA and other groups to share expertise and best practices to improve wellbeing in MKTA. This was demonstrated when social workers and community leaders volunteered to help queen mothers write the MKQMA constitution and establish a welfare scheme.