At first glance, the Académie de L’artisanat in Benin looks a like beautifully-designed workshop for girls to master hard skills—but when you look deeper, you will see it is an agency-instilling space for them. At the Académie, they can gain control of their lives when transactional sex often feels like the only recourse to meeting their basic needs.
The project is a partnership between PSI, a global nonprofit organization focused on healthy behavior and affordability of health products, and IDEO.org aimed at tackling the challenge of unplanned pregnancy amongst adolescent girls in rural Benin as part of Transform/PHARE, a USAID-funded project.
Despite equality-pushing policy advancements and the communities’ laments that pregnancies are taking girls out of school, women in Benin still face early and forced marriages, fewer economic opportunities, and social stigma surrounding reproductive decision making. Women are encouraged to finish school and to earn money after graduating—but what are their financial options? Transactional sex is a currency amongst teens, ranging from the cost of fulfilling the most basic of needs (food, photocopies, school fees) to sponsoring aspirational ones (a new pair of underwear or a necklace). If a boy needs money, he goes to work; if a girl needs money, she goes to her family then to boys, and may resort to transactional sex for lack of alternatives.
IDEO.org and PSI worked together to create an alternative. Académie workshops are held at teen-friendly locations that offer sexual and reproductive health services. Here, instructors teach girls new crafts, like beading, which they can then sell. As a girl hones her craft and advances through the program, health coaches reward her accomplishments and link the mastery of a skill with the positive feelings around reproductive decision making and planning for a better future.
The workshops are propelled by an aspirational brand that balances passion and practicality, it excites and grounds. The tagline “Make Your Future” encapsulates the uplifting nature of the brand while the official-sounding name, Académie de L’artisanat, elevates the role of these girls in their community.
Equipped with tools to sell their craft and an understanding of their options, girls can make more meaningful decisions. The experience is designed to empower and uplift, starting with a brand, Académie de L’artisanat, that was intentionally chosen to sound official, that elevates the role of these girls in their community.
Since the Académie de L’artisanat piloted in Dassa-Zoumè, Benin, PSI has shared the success stories of girls who participated in the program and is now in the process of securing funding to expand the program nationwide.