Upskilling young women in Cameroon and Sierra Leone

Dr Ross Wignall and Dr Brigitte Piquard

Young women in Cameroon and Sierra Leone are building skills through a mentoring project so they can expand their employment opportunities. The project, called GEN-UP, also sets out to challenge gender stereotypes within the workplace. Young women in many African countries are under-represented in vocational skills training, and are typically unable to transition beyond ad hoc low-skilled work.

GEN-UP, funded by the British Academy Youth Futures Scheme, is led by Dr Ross Wignall, Senior Lecturer in Anthropology, together with Dr Brigitte Piquard, Reader in Humanitarianism and Conflict. Designed with input from young women in local communities, it enables them to take part in technical and vocational education and training in a supportive environment, paving the way to sustainable longer term employment. 

Building skills and confidence

Young women in training centres and community groups are learning skills such as tailoring, catering and hairdressing as part of the programme. The Don Bosco technical centres, an NGO vocational training network for vulnerable young people, are one of the project’s main partners.

Each young woman receives advice and guidance from a mentor, an older woman already established in the workplace. You can learn more about GEN-UP and participants’ experiences in these testimonials.

As well as empowering young women to build careers in male-dominated labour sectors, the project fosters a more inclusive and diverse workforce. Young women in training face sexual harrassment and exploitation, child marriage and other problems such as educational dropout, all of which escalated during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Featured staff

Dr Ross Wignall

Dr Ross Wignall

Senior Lecturer in Social/Cultural Anthropology

Dr Brigitte Piquard

Dr Brigitte Piquard

Reader in Humanitarianism and Conflict

Triggering change at multiple levels

GEN-UP also aims to broaden understanding amongst employers and policy-makers of how technical and vocational training for women is vital for sustainable employment. There is significant interest in skills development across Cameroon and Sierra Leone but women are often overlooked when it comes to developing policies focused on building skills. 

To influence policy-makers, the young women’s progress is being captured in a film produced by local filmmakers, as well as in journal articles, policy briefs and a written account of the project. 

woman working at sewing machine

CLIM-UP: skills for sustainability

The next stage of the project, CLIM-UP, will focus on training young women in sustainable ‘green skills’ to work in recycling, solar tech and other climate-friendly areas. In this way, CLIM-UP will marry up the lack of opportunities for girls in Cameroon and Sierra Leone with the need to address the climate crisis.

Next steps

GEN-UP is also set to expand to Ghana, working with partners including the Catholic University of Central Africa in Cameroon and Njala University in Sierra Leone. Its other main NGO partner, the Don Bosco technical centres, also provides good connections and scope for expansion.

In July, a workshop about GEN-UP will share findings from the project before hosting a policy discussion to discuss the new CLIM-UP phase. The event brings together researchers from Cameroon with experts in the field from Queen Mary’s University, London, Leeds University, NGO representatives and a number of other institutions. We aim to generate a series of academic articles, policy briefings and grant proposals from this event leading to future collaborations and networking opportunities..

The impact of GEN-UP is being highlighted across other platforms too. The video testimonials linked above, available on Youtube, will be broadcast at film festivals in the UK and the project’s home countries, along with virtual events and in-person conferences in Cameroon, also bringing together government ministers and NGOs.

a group of cooks in a kitchen

A better, fairer workplace

GEN-UP’s work ensures that  vulnerable young women across Cameroon, Sierra Leone and Ghana are given broader opportunities to develop their skills, build professional networks and grow in confidence, both professionally and personally, as well as powering economic growth. By promoting better, fairer workplace conditions, the project challenges entrenched views of gender bias and ensures a more just society where young women can contribute and develop on an equal footing.