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Corporate Responsibility

Sustainable change for girls and women

08 March 2018

​For International Women’s Day, we look at the long-term impact of our charity partnerships on women and girls in Africa.

Thursday 8 March marks International Women’s Day with a #PressforProgress campaign to motivate colleagues, friends and communities to be more gender inclusive. 

Across our international network, offices are marking the day with speakers, panel sessions and social events for women. 

But International Women’s Day is also an opportunity to look at the impact of our wider work. Several years on from our global charity partnerships with Amref Health Africa and AfriKids, we speak to some of the women from A&O and our charity partners who have helped bring about change in Africa. 

Breaking the cycle of poverty for girls in Tanzania

When our partnership with Amref Health Africa began in 2014, the future facing girls in rural Tanzania was often a continuing cycle of poverty, fuelled in large part by a lack of sexual and reproductive health education. For girls, this leads to unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, FGM and much higher rates of HIV. 

In Tanzania, one in four girls age 15-19 is either pregnant or breast-feeding and, once pregnant, girls are permanently expelled from school. Without a complete education, girls and their children after them are likely to repeat the same cycle of poverty. 

Community-led education

Elaine Johnston, a partner in New York, was part of the first A&O team to visit Tanzania with Amref in early 2015. 

“We knew very quickly that Amref had a good plan. They had done months of preparation with local communities to lay the foundations for the education programme A&O was supporting, and had a clear sense of how to bring about sustainable change without creating any form of dependency.”

Amref’s model was to train hundreds of teachers and peer educators, who could then go on to educate thousands of young people in rural communities about sexual and reproductive health.

Through our early fundraising campaigns we exceeded our initial GBP250,000 target within four months and were able to fully fund Amref’s education programmes across two large provinces of Tanzania. 

Nearly three years on, 2,500 peer educators (50% of who are women) have been trained to target children both in school and those harder to reach out of school. Almost 260,000 young people in the Handeni and Meatu Districts have received sexual and reproductive health education, and in 2017 Meatu had no school drop-outs from early/unintended pregnancies.

Shifting norms and breaking down taboos

“By training peer educators and involving families, we’ve broken down taboos and promoted a better understanding of sexual health,” explains Frances Longley, CEO of Amref in the UK. “Engaging influential leaders has mobilised communities to shift norms, rather than imposing dramatic changes from the outside.”

Using this community model has also resulted in a reduction in FGM, which as many as 70% of girls were subjected to, particularly in nomadic tribes. By educating 300 influential community leaders about the physical and psychological effects of FGM, Amref succeeded in reaching agreement to end the practice and replace it with an Alternative Rites of Passage in at least one of the communities. 

Building Amref’s advocacy skills

Overall, A&O contributed GBP1.72m to Amref during the partnership and delivered 27 pro bono projects, the most significant of which was led by Elaine Johnston. 

An international team of 30 people – lawyers and support professionals – spent six months building a toolkit and training programme for Amref’s project managers on how to use legal advocacy to campaign for changes in sexual and reproductive health education from community level up to government. 

Arpita Ashok, then a trainee and now an associate in London, played a key role in the team, researching the international and domestic laws relevant to Amref’s priorities.

“My particular area of focus was the law relevant to eliminating FGM,” explains Arpita. “It was important to help Amref understand the legal framework around the issues they are working to address, in order to be able to advocate effectively for change. 

“I had the opportunity to travel to Tanzania as part of the A&O team to present the final toolkit to Amref. We developed real life examples together to show how relevant laws could be used in advocacy strategies, not only to eliminate harmful traditional practices but also to highlight the government’s positive obligations in relation to girls – for example, to take active steps to stop schools expelling them for becoming pregnant and provide resources to ensure girls can return to school after giving birth.”

Being in Tanzania, Arpita says, was an eye-opening experience. “I was grateful not only to have the chance to work closely with Amref’s project managers, whose personal commitment is incredible, but also to meet the inspiring children who are setting up their own Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) clubs in their schools.

“At one of the schools, the new SRHR club performed a play covering issues such as forced marriage and FGM. Afterwards, one of the boys gave an impassioned speech about why children must educate themselves about the effects of these harmful practices. It was so touching to see a young boy show such compassion for his female peers, moved by his own experiences.”

Shifting power in communities

Amref has gone on to use the advocacy toolkit to lobby local district councils to allocate funding for sexual and reproductive health education. 

“As a result,” says Frances Longley, “the District Council in Meatu has allocated TZS36m (roughly GBP11,500) towards sex education, up from TZS2m the previous year. This indicates a long-term shift in the priorities of local government and puts power in the hands of the beneficiaries to hold the authorities to account. 

“Two hundred and fifty youths have also been trained on grassroots advocacy with the aim to not only sustain this intervention, but continue to influence national policy changes on sexual and reproductive health issues.”

Overall, the partnership with A&O has had an incredibly positive impact on girls’ futures, Frances believes. 

“We have pioneered sustainable change in how girls and young women in Handeni and Meatu are valued,” she says. “We’ve given girls a brighter future to become educated women with a greater chance of escaping poverty.”

Improving family livelihoods in rural Ghana

Our pro bono support was also a key factor in the long-term impact of our partnership with AfriKids (2012-14). A&O contributed GBP1.37m throughout the partnership to support AfriKids’ work with vulnerable children in northern Ghana, who face abuse, neglect and exploitation. In Ghana’s northern regions, more than half of all families live in poverty and one in ten children dies before the age of five. 

During the partnership, an international team of 35 lawyers conducted a major research project into best practice in microfinance institutions around the world. This provided AfriKids with the insight needed to develop a business case for expanding its own microfinance work – the Family Livelihood Support Programme (FLiSP). 

“The goal of FLiSP,” explains Amy Parker, CEO of AfriKids, “is to use microfinance loans to enable women to provide the basic needs for their families and send their children to school. 

“In northern Ghana, women often organise themselves into groups and set up informal systems for saving money. So we use this model to provide loans for groups of up to 35 members. We also join up with AfriKids’ staff working on other projects with children, to identify where a long-term, sustainable intervention is needed.”

Before obtaining the loans, women receive several weeks of training on how to run a business, and then have ongoing mentoring support, as well as social and health education on issues such as family planning and schooling.

So far, AfriKids’ microfinance programme has provided loans to more than 70 cooperative groups, benefitting around 15,000 people. One of the beneficiaries, Adagwine, used her small loan to set up a shea butter business, which now exports outside of her community. The profits mean Adagwine can afford to send her five children (three biological, two adopted) to school, and she donates any excess profits to the local care home for orphaned babies.

“The success of our microfinance work is all-encompassing,” says Amy. “The majority of women say their children’s education is the primary reason they apply for a loan – to be able to afford the materials and uniforms necessary to attend school, and to prevent children from having to drop out of education to work.

“Microfinance not only improves women’s futures economically, it builds confidence, improves health and empowers women to take control of their lives and the futures of their children. It gives them the place they deserve in society.”

For more information on A&O’s global charity partnerships, contact Kate Cavelle (Head of Pro Bono and Community Investment) or Daisy Wakefield (Global Charities and Communications Officer).


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Press contacts

Elaine Johnston
Elaine Johnston
Partner Co-Head Antitrust
United States
Telephone icon+1 212 610 6388
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Arpita Ashok
Arpita Ashok
United Kingdom
Telephone icon+44 20 3088 3594
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Kate Cavelle
Kate Cavelle
Head of Pro Bono & Comm. Inv.
United Kingdom
Telephone icon+44 203 088 2198
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Daisy Wakefield
Daisy Wakefield
Global Charities&Comms Officer
United Kingdom
Telephone icon+44 203 088 3443
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