Founder, Grandmother Project
Girls cannot change deeply-rooted cultural traditions on their own. This is the fact that inspired Judi Aubel when she started the Grandmother Project in 2005. After years of working in youth and girls’ development programming across West Africa, Judi knew that in order to make the significant changes that would enable girls in the region to enjoy greater autonomy, improve adolescent and reproductive health, and decrease harmful practices like early marriage, culture needed to be employed as a resource. Too often, she saw programming that left out the key influencers in a young girl’s life. These programs happened in isolation with girls being expected to navigate on their own the powerful cultural influences in their homes, communities, and extended families.
Judi knew that grandmothers around the world have tremendous authority within families on matters concerning women and children, and specifically in the socialization of young girls. And yet, development programming focused on empowering women and children too often ignored the experienced and influential grandmothers. These programs sidelined their authority with the idea that they were the source of negative cultural traditions. Judi was struck by a simple idea that excluding grandmothers did more harm than good and she began to test a grandmother-inclusive empowerment model in Vélingara region of Senegal. Over time, she has been able to powerfully demonstrate that when grandmothers are actively involved in programs, and respected for their wisdom they are open to new ideas and can be strong supporters and protectors of women and children, especially girls.