Taking the Coady International Institute’s Community Development Leadership by Women course last spring convinced Måimouna Lehman she needed to come back to Antigonish and the institute.
Now in the Diploma in Development Leadership course, Lehman, gender advisor and ‘Because I Am a Girl’ campaign co-ordinator for Plan International in her native Benin, talked about her desire to further her training.
“When I took this course, a three week course, I changed myself … even in my family I was another person,” Lehman said.
“It’s not a matter of better but that you’re convinced you’re doing the right things and this confidence translated in my relationship with my colleagues, with my boss and within the communities. As I was working with women’s groups, girls’ clubs, it was translating in the way they were acting … being able to stand publically, speak their minds.”
Lehman said it was “too beautiful” to stop and while her organization couldn’t necessarily support her returning to the Coady, they did promise to hold her position while she returned to the Coady.
“I don’t have any salary; I go, pay for my fees, support myself but when I come back I have my position again,” she said, noting that was all she needed to hear considering the value she placed on the Coady program.
As for her position with Plan International, Lehman explained it has evolved since she took on the role of community development facilitator which involved dealing with sponsorships for their work.
“I worked in the department of building relationships between the communities and sponsors,” she said. “And later on there was an opportunity of program assistant. I applied for this position and was selected and, with that position, I had contact with all of the programs that were going on … this opened my mind to new opportunities.
“I tried to know more about health issues, education issues, so I had a diversity of knowledge and I also took some online courses with some institutions in America … I built on my competencies.”
She noted in 2011 her organization added a gender policy and hired a specialist to oversee this addition. She noted her role was to support this person and when the specialist left for another job opportunity, she sought out the job.
“She (woman leaving the job) recommended me acknowledging the work I was doing with her and it was at a moment when there were great challenges in the organization in terms of gender,” Lehman said.
“I told myself, if I want to go forward in something I’m passionate about, this is the moment to show my capacities. So I took again, additional course online. I would come back from work, do my family responsibilities and then study at night. And when I was studying, I was also thinking how am I going to make it with my work and show my capacities to my boss, who is a great lady, and develop some kind strategies to implement the policies of the organization.”
Lehman said she had some “great” achievements during the four months she was in the position with the ‘interim’ title.
“At the end of the four months they decided to offer me the position,” she said.
“Within the organization some people were asking, ‘she has the competencies, why don’t you give her the chance and just appoint her?’ Other people were ‘no, she hasn’t showed enough her competencies.’
“It was another challenge for me. I stayed organized, went to meetings, conferences where there were gender specialists, attended discussions on issues at the national level and also discussions about what is going on at the global level in terms of gender. I came away with more competence and knowledge that helped me a lot.”
It also helped she scored highest on a written and interview for the job.
As for her passion with the gender role and empowering women and girls, Lehman said it has been brought on by her environment.
“I was brought up in an environment where women don’t have a voice … even if you have a concern you just have to shut-up. In your family if you have a male relative, even if that male relative is younger than you, his opinion counts more than yours. I grew up thinking that was normal because I saw it and nobody was questioning it but when I went to university, I began to come in contact with rights issues.
“I started asking myself questions; why is it so? Is it possible to have a shift? I started reading some about the great works ladies have done with the idea that ‘yes’ it’s possible.”
She noted her Coady training is helping her make it possible.
“In the communities it’s not only about knowledge, it’s easy to tell them you have this right but the most important thing is to get them to take action to make those rights realized,” she said of her work.
“To make people see their own reality and decide what is good, what is bad and what needs to be done to change.
“You don’t change people, you show them the choice and you create the spaces for them to choose what is good for them and take action … that’s what Coady is doing for me.”