In Niger, civil society groups are helping to ‘put women and girls in the driving seat’
ZINDER, Niger - Amadou Moumouni Soumaila, 37, has been a gender equality and human rights activist for two decades. He is a member of the civil society organization (CSO) Comité Nigerien sur les pratiques Traditionnelles ayant effet sur la santé des Femmes et des Enfants, which focuses on traditional practices affecting women's and girls’ health, and has been on the board of the Spotlight Initiative Civil Society Reference Group (CSRG) of Niger since 2019.
“The Civil Society Reference Group has contributed to amplifying the voices of women and girls, including survivors of violence, men and boys, service providers and community leaders benefitting from the Spotlight Initiative,” says Mr. Soumaila.
He is also the technical lead of Niger’s pilot project on participatory monitoring and evaluation, which aims to ensure that the voices of women and girls guide Spotlight Initiative programming to end gender-based violence. Mr. Soumaila and the members of the Niger CSRG have decided to test more participatory methods of monitoring and evaluating programme results, paving the way for other Spotlight Initiative country and regional programmes.
“Participatory monitoring and evaluation is a new way of measuring and analyzing the impacts of our programme.” explains Mr. Soumaila. “Through monitoring visits, we are able to collect impact stories, testimonies and lessons learnt from those who are directly impacted by the Initiative.Through focus group discussions and key interviews that use specific data collection tools, we document feedback and recommendations on how to improve our strategies and services. Participatory monitoring and evaluation contributes to building trust with local communities and enhancing our understanding of the needs of women and girls,” continues Mr. Soumaila.
Participatory monitoring and evaluation is a process that helps to ensure direct engagement with civil society and rights-holders, ensuring that local stakeholders, including feminist and women’s rights activists and organizations,have decision-making power.
“Thanks to the information collected, we have been able to provide substantive input into the planning, monitoring and coordination meetings organized by the UN agencies,” says Mr. Soumaila “The most important contribution that we have provided to the Spotlight Initiative programme in Niger has been to bring civil society and right-holders’ experiences to the center of the discussion. Today, we serve as an interface between civil society, UN agencies, and local communities.”
CIVIL SOCIETY IS CHANGING THE NARRATIVE
During the monitoring visits conducted in all four target provinces of the Spotlight Initiative in Niger, the members of the CSRG have listened to the stories of women and girls served by the Spotlight Initiative, learning more about their expectations and hopes. In a safe and secure environment, Civil Society Reference Group members transformed “programme beneficiaries” into valuable advisers and agents of change.
During the past year, Mr. Soumaila and his colleagues have collected many stories, testimonies and lessons that have informed programme strategies and plans.
"Thanks to Club Dimitra, I can say today that I am a confident woman,” said one rights-holder who took part in the Spotlight Initiative participatory monitoring mission in Zinder. “I have also found a support network that is there to advise and support me in difficult times. My life has completely changed."
"At the [Spotlight Initiative-supported] Safe Space, I learned so much about gender-based violence, menstrual hygiene, sexual and reproductive health, but also my rights and responsibilities,” adds another member during a focus group discussion. “Before, I was unaware but now I am raising awareness among my sisters.”
“Thanks to participatory monitoring and evaluation, civil society is changing the narrative,” says Mr. Soumaila “We are putting women and girls, and more generally, target communities, in the driving seat. We are listening to marginalized and stigmatized groups, women and girls with disabilities, those with albinism and others. We are shifting our focus from what we need to achieve to what has really changed or needs to be changed in the lives of each community member. We want to produce real and sustainable change in the lives of women and girls.”
By Federica Patton