A Man Working For Women’s Empowerment
Interview with Michael Boateng, advisor in the ATVET4W project in Ghana
That’s what a women’s empowerment champion looks like: Michael Boateng⎮Photo: ©GIZ/ Sara Jabril
Michael Boateng is National Advisor in GIZ’s Agricultural Technical Vocational Education and Training for Women (ATVET4W) Project in Ghana.
ATVET4W is a project under the African Union’s Skills Initiative for Africa (SIFA), which seeks to improve employment prospects, especially for women, in agriculture and food security in selected countries in Africa through innovative and gender-transformative skills development.
Michael joined the ATVET classic project at its inception in 2012 and transitioned to be the National Lead for ATVET4W at project start in 2017.
As a man how did you get to work with women’s empowerment and a project on gender transformation?
Michael Boateng: I was asked if I’d be interested to be the National Expert for the ATVET4W project in Ghana, because of my experience as a junior advisor in ATVET. I gladly took up the opportunity.
Since this was a project designed for women and I happened to be a man, the feeling was funny initially. But I had my experience from the ATVET classic project and I felt I could use it with another project targeting women.
I’m convinced that women’s empowerment is important. In my day-to-day work, I look out for dots that need to be connected to advance women’s empowerment.
In 2017, national advisors for ATVET4W were tasked to develop innovative projects. I had read a report that mentioned that there were few women in agricultural mechanization as it was considered a male profession.
This got me interested and I decided to question the status quo and the social-cultural norms that say that women are not supposed to be operating a tractor.
Based on my conviction that women should be able to utilize their knowledge and skills to have economic gains in whatever value chain they are interested in, I developed the “Women in the driving seat” project. The project trained 182 women in tractor operations, maintenance and management.
This was a one-of-a-kind project, to have women receive a license E under the driver vehicle licensing authority and become tractor operators!
Additionally, we used partner funds to support all these women to undergo a minimum of three months attachment. This helped in three ways: To change the perception about women being in tractor operation, for the women to understand the full range of the profession as one they can take up, and for them to get jobs.
This project had a real impact, and we received positive feedback on the women’s attitude towards work, commitment and skills. A few weeks into the attachment, some of the ladies were offered jobs!
One of my highlights was the change in how people were seeing women. In some places, when the women were driving, we noticed men coming closer to confirm if it was a woman operating a tractor. This changed their perception of the kind of jobs women can do and confirmed that women can do anything they want to do if given the opportunity.
The women who got jobs have served as role models in their communities. They’ve become stronger decision-makers, are more confident and they challenge themselves to do more.
Putting women in the driver’s seat: Michael (l) and intern Andiswa (r) during a field visit with Agnes Addai, an ATVET4W tractor operations graduate. Photo © GIZ/ AgricToday
Why do you believe in empowering women in rural development, what drives you?
My purpose stems from my family. There’s my late dad, mum, sister and me, so I am the only man among two strong women! Most of the time when my mum or sister has an issue or wants to do something, they share with me for advice.
I’ve always felt that there’s a need for me to extend such engagement to other women. I see other women in my mum and I see other women in my sister.
Also, having worked with development partners for almost nine years, I have traveled the length and breadth of Ghana. I’ve engaged a lot of players in the agriculture and rural development sectors, and I’ve seen the many social-cultural challenges and barriers that women face.
Seeing these challenges and seeing the opportunities that the women could have, gives me the drive to work in this project and to always think about what can be done to change the status quo.
Do people question your role or motives?
When I first took up this position, most of my colleagues teased me by calling women champion. Initially, I felt bad about it because it was more teasing than encouraging me in my work. But because I knew what I wanted to achieve, what people said did not discourage me. It motivated me to become a better women champion.
A colleague once asked me “You’re a women champion in ATVET4W. Why are you doing that?” I responded, “Why can’t a man also champion women’s empowerment?” He felt that women should be at the forefront of women’s empowerment. I explained that the space, equal opportunities and level playing field that women’s empowerment is looking for are currently taken by men. Women engage men, but the men do not understand because they have not appreciated what women go through.
When I designed the Women in the Driving Seat project, people were excited that a man could design a project like that — and it got me out of the teasing. I have now moved beyond any negativity, and I only look out to engage with people so that we share ideas and thoughts to come up with innovative projects that address women’s needs.
What have you learned as a man working in women’s development?
One of the biggest lessons I have learned is not to think for people. We should not think “this is what people want to see in their lives”. It is good to listen because one begins to appreciate and understand the issues.
My other lessons are to always listen and to always share. The more one listens, the more they get ideas. And the more one gets ideas, the more they share. And the more one shares, the more they improve.
When you listen to people, whatever you design speaks to their needs. This makes implementation easier. When I was designing the Women in the Driving Seat project I had read a report on the low participation of women in agricultural mechanization and could have gone ahead to do the training. But first I started talking to policymakers, industry players, women and men, on what they thought about women’s participation in agricultural mechanization, especially targeting women with tractors.
I got a lot of information, with which I came up with a well-designed training approach that was acceptable to everyone. It had a lot of participation from the ministry side and all stakeholders.
Michael and two tractor operation trainers during the “Women in the Driving Seat” graduation ceremony. Photo: © GIZ/ AgricToday
What is your advice to men who want to support gender transformation?
My advice is to embrace the four quadrants of change. The first quadrant is the individual. Change always starts with you, the person who wants to effect the change!
Change always starts with you, the person who wants to effect the change! As a man going into women’s empowerment or gender-transformative change, always listen to the sense of you and couple this with information and sharing. You will learn a lot from people coming from diverse backgrounds. Understand the situation and perspective that people are coming from.
The world will become better when women have control and say in the things they do, and when both men and women join their hands as one.
Michael Boateng, National Advisor, Agricultural Technical Vocational Education and Training for Women (ATVET4W) Project in Ghana, email@example.com
The Women in Tractor Operation project in Ghana.