Can girls use social accountability to challenge social gender norms? Palestinian girls monitoring the construction of a swimming pool in Arraba

Jul 31, 2017
Education
Gender
Youth

Around the world we are witnessing a boom of citizen-led social accountability initiatives[1] to increase transparency, responsiveness and accountability in public service delivery. Cardinal to this approach being successful is a symbiotic relation between citizens and their government. Active citizens need to be empowered to access information and communicate their needs and demands whilst governments need to be transparent, inclusive of citizens in decision making and willing to accept and act on feedback to benefit the majority[2].

In the past year Integrity Action has developed our Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) strategy, which looks to mainstream gender and inclusivity in all of our projects. As part of this we look to understand what effect does engraining GESI in our projects have? Can this interaction between citizens and power holders bring about deeper social change?

Teachers Creativity Centre

The Teachers Creativity Centre (TCC), Integrity Action’s partner in Palestine, work with boys and girls. In the past seven years TCC have looked to teach lessons of Integrity in schools, teaching students the concepts of transparency and accountability and enabling them to take these lessons and practically implement them by democratically selecting a project to monitor. To record their findings they use Integrity Action’s social accountability tool, DevelopmentCheck. At the end of the initiative, a jury selects the best projects among the participating schools for the Social Audit Prize.

Female students carry out monitoring

One of the winners of this year Social Audit Prize is the Girls Secondary School in Arraba. The 15 years old students selected the construction of a swimming pool to monitor. One of the reasons behind this choice was that despite women representing more than half of the population, the municipality built a male-only swimming pool. The Government and implementers, in a male-dominated society like Palestine,  did not think to include women in the decision making process, or indeed cater to their needs, it was assumed that the project was not intended for the community as a whole.

We, as girls, lack spaces and facilities where to socialise, particularly during summer break; there is no place where we can gather other than at wedding parties. We decided to work on this project because we wanted to claim our right to have a space of our own, and this was our message for the municipality” the students said.

Students started by visiting the municipality and the construction site. They then requested and reviewed all the financial and administrative documents related to the project (including list of materials, blueprints and health and safety certificates).

At the public hearing which was held in front of local authorities, implementers and the community, the students highlighted a number of issues. First of all, they found that the lifeguard assigned the pool had no qualification. Also, the type of tiles used was not of the same standard as specified in the contract. Finally, students highlighted the fact that women were not included in the decision making process and that the project prioritised only half of the community.

A successful initiative

The student monitoring was successful in terms of social accountability and in fostering inclusion. The direct benefits are that the municipality has now replaced the lifeguard with a qualified one, while the contractor has re-done the tiles work following contract specifications. The request to have the swimming pool open only for women in specific days and covered with shades for privacy is still under consideration by the municipality.

In terms of social benefits the above case highlighted the following:

  1. The local government was held accountable by a group within the community which it does not traditionally have to deal with. This could lead to a subtle change in mind-sets and attitudes among the leaders which will lead to more inclusivity in the decision making process.
  2. Female students highlighted an issue that had been overlooked – if not consciously ignored – by the local government. By bringing up a gendered issue, they demonstrated that each group within society have different concerns, needs and demands which have to be dealt by the government equally.
  3. Female students developed the capacity and confidence, and were given the opportunity to voice their concerns and demands. They were empowered to be active and vocal citizens.

 

In other terms, not only girls were given the opportunity to speak, their voices were also heard and finally, issues which were relevant to them were raised[3].

In terms of empowerment, the following statements are enlightening: “Working on this project was one of the most successful things we did in our lives. We were finally able to raise our voices, and to make them heard by the decision makers. We forced them to fix the problems!” A mother of one of the students said: “I am incredibly proud of my daughter’s achievement. She took the project so much to heart that she talked about it every day. She practised her speech in front of the mirror every morning for weeks”.

The young girls were able to interact with the local government and contractors achieving a tangible change in the form of the problems with the swimming pool being fixed, while challenging social norms amongst official representatives, as well as the rest of the community.  

What can we take home

The Arraba Girls School example proves that Social Accountability initiatives can lead to successful projects, and positive effects on social inclusion and gender equality. Inequality and exclusion have high economic, political and social costs[4]; therefore, ensuring that the government is accountable to their whole community is essential. By planning initiatives which are inclusive and make an active effort to remove the social, economic and cultural barriers to the participation of marginalised groups, it is possible to increase participation, accountability, transparency and equality, all at once.  

 

[1] For example Citizen Report Cards (CRCs), Community Score Cards (CSRs), Social Audits, Participatory Budgeting, Public Hearings, and so on.

[2] Bismonte, Marie. Gender and Sustainable Livelihoods, a Social Accountability Perspective, 2010. http://voices.ansa-eap.net/2011/07/gender-and-sustainable-livelihoods.h…

[3] Bradshaw, Linneker and Overton, ibidem

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