Girl talk unveils lives

Girl talk links Ghana and the UK.

Online video, writes James Hole, has brought together young women from a marginalized Islamic community in Accra, Ghana, and students from Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School for Girls in London to explore their experience of gender and sex.

The six month pilot project, DIVO which stands for Digital Interactive Video Online encourages the two groups to get together on the internet to make films about their concerns.

In Nima, Ghana, Fussina is 16. A boy at school has caught her eye, but she knows she’s forbidden to meet him. Her family are poor – the mother is a market trader – but they have high hopes for Fussina, who is a scholarship girl. She needs money to buy a pamphlet for school. The boy is keen to meet her. He is also from a well-off family and can probably help her financially. In the end, she agrees to meet him. But should she accept his money?

In London, Maria hears her teenage friends boasting about having sex. She doesn’t want to be the odd one out, so feels compelled to try it even though the boy “doesn’t give a shit about her”. She becomes pregnant and is abandoned first by her lying friends, who are in fact virgins, then by the boy, and finally by her mother who throws her out.

Fussina and Maria are both fictitious – their stories scripted by the thirty-strong combined group.

“Gender issues, particularly teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, were easily identified as common problems faced by both groups,” said project coordinator Kirston Disse. “The aim was to offer participants the opportunity to communicate their experiences to a partner group through digital technology and provide a compelling and motivating basis for the project.”

The Ghanaian girls had assumed everyone in the UK was white and Christian, so they were surprised to find some of their counterparts were Muslims like themselves. Not only that, the UK group included some Ghanaians who also spoke their language.

For their part, the London girls were struck by the Ghanaians’ strong sense of national belonging. In contrast, most of the UK group didn’t think of themselves as ‘British’ but rather as Chinese, Jamaican, Ghanaian and Iraqi. Their sense of identity was individualistic and more related to fashion, trends and popular youth culture. Talking to the Ghanaians made them think about the symbolism of the Union Jack, and for the first time in their lives they listened to the national anthem.

They discovered a series of striking social and cultural differences:

Aside from gender issues, most girls felt they had gained in knowledge and confidence from using digital technology.

The project taught them filmmaking skills, such as storyboarding, camera shots, angles and in-camera editing.

Although some girls were hesitant to begin with, they soon made friends with their opposite numbers. From working together, they became more confident and gained self-esteem. “Fascinating, educative, entertaining, fantastic,” was how one London student summed up the experience. A Ghanaian counterpart said simply: “I don’t feel shy in public any more. I can talk freely now.”

DIVO’s next step, says Kirsten Disse, is to make the project part of the UK curriculum so it continues as a learning and development tool and “a bridge between young people in the UK and sub-Saharan Africa”.