Photo: Awareness raising activity on the importance of voting in the community of Birban
Tostan partner communities in Guinea-Bissau are embracing democratic participation. Due to a lack of information and education around human rights and responsibilities, many people in Guinea-Bissau do not register to vote or participate in elections. Past political instability also discourages civic engagement. In this context, Tostan encourages community members to participate in the democratic process.
Because Tostan believes in fostering a culture of democracy, starting at a grassroots level, its Community Empowerment Program (CEP) includes non-formal class sessions in which participants learn about the fundamental elements of democracy, human rights, and the responsibilities associated with defending and respecting those rights. The first sessions of the Kobi 1—the first module of the CEP—focus on governance and explain democratic principles that can be applied on a national, regional, and local level.
Democratically-selected Community Management Committees (CMC) become a strong leadership presence in Tostan partner communities, contributing to the growth of fair governance. The CMCs work to increase democratic participation by encouraging community members to register to vote, register births, obtain national identity cards, and participate in national elections. The establishment of the CMCs in Guinea-Bissau has improved community leadership and significantly promoted female leadership in particular because most CMC coordinators and members are women.
In preparation for the presidential elections in the spring of 2014, CMCs organized 37 awareness raising activities to increase people’s understanding of the electoral process and to encourage civil participation. These activities led to many positive results.
In the communities of Birban and Lenquebato, for example, voter turnout rose from 38 percent in previous elections to 65 percent. In the community of Copa Mangui, awareness raising activities on the voting process led to a significant decrease in the number of blank ballots cast. Participant Fanca Mariama Cissé explains: “Before, I used to cast my vote without checking the box of the candidate of my favor. However, after the CMC explained how to vote, I was able to vote correctly without any problem.”
Aissatu Djalo from Olocunda says that awareness raising activities helped her understand the importance of her vote: “Before I thought that presidential elections did not concern me, as the president is far away from my village and knows nothing of our lives here. However, after the class session on the right to vote, I understood it is important that everyone participates in the elections. The decisions the president makes have an effect on everyone, including us here in our village.”
Tostan staff also noted that communities in which awareness raising activities were held accepted the election results without incident.