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Queen Mothers: Every Child is Our Child

Our partnership with the Queen Mothers of the Manya Krobo region of Ghana enables us to help provide education to children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS. This partnership was formed with the knowledge that one of the most effective ways to fight poverty and the spread of HIV/AIDS is to increase access to education, especially for girls, and give the local community ownership of issues and of solutions. It is a grassroots process of development that lies in combining community capacity and effective partnerships with outside organizations like the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO). The Every Child is Our Child Program resulted from meeting directly with the Queen Mothers, learning about the community issues and having joint planning sessions to prioritize their requirements.

The Queen Mothers: Ghanaian Traditional Female Leadership Support for Children and Youth Affected by HIV/AIDS

In Ghana, the Queen Mothers have been serving their communities in a variety of functions, ranging from ancestral heads equal to the male chief to respected persons within the community charged with the responsibility of performing various traditional rituals and rites. The position of Queen Mother is inherited, and Queen Mothers are recognized as leaders of other women within the community. They are leaders and custodians for girls and women, and oversee their livelihoods and transition from youth into adulthood. 

However, the role of the Queen Mothers in some traditional areas has been challenged in the face of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Illiteracy, lack of resources, incomplete knowledge of HIV/AIDS and reproductive health and poor coordination among stakeholders have further constrained community intervention. The Queen Mothers' decision-making power and leadership skills need to be enhanced, and their role needs to be made more influential rather than simply symbolic and ceremonial. 

Ghana has a 3.1% prevalence of HIV/AIDS, with an estimated 320,000 adults living with HIV/AIDS by end of 2003 (Source: UNAIDS). There is a disturbing trend in that the disease in the general population is showing no signs of stabilization and two out of every three reported cases of HIV infection occur among females. Two reasons for the higher infection rate among females are migration of Ghanaian female sex workers and socio-cultural values pertaining to premarital sex. Many young people adhere to the Ghanaian cultural value of abstinence from pre-marital sex only in principle, not in practice. 

The context of the HIV/AIDS epidemic requires effective community intervention. The Queen Mothers employ the influence and respect they command as community leaders to mobilize, educate and inform youth and women in the community about HIV/AIDS and related health issues. Having traditional female roles to provide a voice for community women and care for their youth is vital to sustainable community development.

In recognition of this threat to their traditional roles, the Queen Mothers of the seven regions in Ghana came together and formed the Queen Mothers Associations. The Associations are regionally based and have enabled the Queen Mothers to demand the restoration of their traditional roles and to be part of the decision-making process. Some chiefs are also supporting the female leaders in their bid to have representation at the national level (National House of Chiefs). In spite of the numerous obstacles to the Queen Mothers, they are still a formidable force within Ghanaian Society.

The Every Child is Our Child program has partnered with the Manya Krobo Queen Mothers Association to assume responsibility for the care and education of hundreds of AIDS orphans in various communities in Eastern Ghana. According tothe United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as a response to the plight of nearly 600 children in the area orphaned by HIV/AIDS, 370 members of the Manya Krobo Queen Mothers Association have been responsible for the care and education of 466 of the children. Civic groups, with support from the Ghana AIDS Commission, are caring for 120 more children.

In terms of HIV/AIDS knowledge and capacity building for care and prevention, the Queen Mothers have received sensitivity training on issues of HIV/AIDS. They have been empowered to work with their communities to reduce the stigma surrounding people who are living with HIV/AIDS and provide HIV/AIDS prevention messages. They are currently trained to become coordinators for various UN development programs in various districts. They have shown a keen interest in assisting and participating in UNDP-funded activities to educate communities on the effects of narcotic drug usage and abuse.

The Queen Mothers and other traditional leaders all have a role to play in the education of the girls on the implications of early pregnancy, abortion, and failure to attend antenatal clinics or hospitals when pregnant. The Queen mothers can act as a focal point in organizing forums in their communities to educate young girls on pregnancy and other maternal health issues. They can work with parents to ensure that women check unwanted pregnancy, and discourage them from using unorthodox methods to abort pregnancy.

In support of the leading role of the Queen Mothers in community care, the Every Child is Our Child Program builds on a traditional approach to orphan care, and seeks to expand to a larger number of children who are affected by HIV/AIDS. We acknowledge the significant role of traditional female leaders to care for the well being of children in their community when parents die or become too ill to look after their children. The Queen Mothers have organized in the Manya Krobo district and have welcomed up to 6 orphans into each of their homes. The Queen Mothers Association of Manya Krobo now supports nearly 600 orphans in the district and is expanding its support to a further 400 orphans in the neighboring Hiro Krobo district. With support from our Every Child is Our Child Program, the Queen Mothers Association pays for the orphans’ basic education. By doing this, we can share the burden of medical costs, food, clothing and miscellaneous expenses to provide comprehensive care for orphans. Based on our progress so far, our modest approach in funding for education forms a vital part in comprehensive care, and may hold promise for further replication in other parts of Ghana.

According to a 2004 World Bank study, a wide range of options exist for the care of orphans. The most common types of orphan care include:

  • A statutory residential care facility, serving primarily HIV infected children.
     
  • A statutory adoption and foster care program, where a welfare society owns homes and appoints community mothers to care for a group of children (preferably no more than six).
     
  • An unregistered residential care setting, which houses HIV+ and destitute mothers with their children and offers continued care for the children when the mothers are ill or die.
     
  • Home-based care and support, where caregivers are identified and children are legally placed in foster care, and assistance is given through foster care grants.
     
  • Community-based support structures, where grandparents or other close relatives care for their orphaned grandchildren, with no government support.
     
  • Informal fostering or non-statutory foster care, where women in the community volunteer to care for orphans in a group home setting, with no government support.

For more information contact unitednations @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Wednesday, March 13, 2013.

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