New Project Proposal for Sierra Leone

Media Matters for Women Sierra Leone is now ready to roll out our concept into additional regions of the country. Our plan is to expand beyond our core work of producing and distributing original podcasts using mobile phones, and to also include leadership and advocacy training as well as communication and network building with local youth and women’s community associations (CSOs).

The aim of the training we envision is to build local women’s capacity to advocate for their rights in targeted campaigns and to use enabling technologies such as free Bluetooth transfer of audio content on mobile phones to freely transfer rights-based information.

Our newest project would also build the capacity of local and national media to report more frequently on issues concerning women and girls, hold local and national government to account, and promote innovative new media approaches to extend their reach and influence.

We plan to operate in six priority districts, building on Media Matters for Women Sierra Leone’s existing team of 3 local journalists and15 Listening Centers (now located at health clinics, training centres, and support groups) and expanding operations into two new districts which have the most isolated communities in the country (Koinadugu and Kailahun).

We plan to train 45 community leaders and 75 youth/women’s advocates to deliver five local advocacy campaigns on issues prioritized by the women and girls in their communities – targeting local district health authorities, ward committees, and national ministries in Freetown.  We anticipate reaching 15,000 women and girls with this rights-based information.

In addition, 250 local and national decision makers will increase their understanding of local rights based issues affecting women/girls. We also anticipate training 40 female journalists from radio, newspapers, television, and new media to increase their understanding of how we at Media Matters for Women use ‘enabling technologies’ like Bluetooth to reach the most isolated women and girls in Sierra Leone.

We believe this project will significantly enhance our work in Sierra Leone of producing and delivering information on issues of importance to rural women and girls. It builds on our many successes in promoting gender equality and the empowerment of poor, vulnerable, and marginalised women and girls living in the most remote communities in Sierra Leone.

Insights From Our First Summer Intern in Sierra Leone

By Jane Thurow
Senior in Communications at Carthage College
Wisconsin, USA

This summer I was fortunate to be Media Matters for Women’s first volunteer intern. It gave me an extraordinary opportunity to learn first-hand about Media Matters for Women’s innovative concept for delivering information to underserved women and girls in Africa. The highlight was working with their excellent team. I stayed in three places: the capital city of Freetown and the regional towns of Kenema and Makeni.

The highlight of my summer experience was meeting and working with Senior Journalists Alinah Kallon and Ndeamoh Mansaray, as well as Interim Project Coordinator Sybil Bailor. These women provided me with exceptional insight into Sierra Leone’s culture and challenges as a nation, as well as the important ways Media Matters for Women’s projects are addressing many of Sierra Leone’s most pressing problems.

Two things made my visit to Africa unique and wonderful: the privilege of meeting and interviewing listeners from three different regions and being welcomed into Alinah’s and Sybil’s homes. I was able to talk directly with many female listeners about our audio programs, My eyes were opened to how few options and opportunities these women have -- and how few options their daughters are likely to have.  Media Matters for Women brings hope and empowerment by providing much needed public service broadcasting in places where women and girls easily congregate – and it’s free!

When I stayed with Alinah in Makeni she was producing a program about epilepsy that ultimately reached about 500 listeners that week. Her program countered the local myth that the disease is contagious. It was a fascinating ten-minute program (you can hear it on Media Matters for Women’s archives on SoundCloud). The women I met appreciated the topic, and there was a strong connection and a sense of community when they discussed what they heard and shared the ways they had seen people with epilepsy ostrascized. This conversation spurred the women to talk about other medical misconceptions they had, for example about how
birth control works. Specifically, it was news to many of these women that birth control is completely unrelated to epilepsy. With this new information the women asked other
questions that revealed further misconceptions about other health issues.

These conversations among listeners in response to Media Matters for Women’s
programs brought out interesting stories, and some perplexed me. Alinah and I
discussed these later, and she demonstrated her wisdom and deep understanding of
how women in Sierra Leone think and how they relate to, and assimilate, new
knowledge.  When I asked Alinah how she had come up with the idea to report on the
topic of epilepsy, she said that misunderstanding through lack of information is a big
problem, and she knew epilepsy was an important topic to cover through talking with
her listeners about their problems and also observing what went on in their
communities.

Like Alinah, Sybil was generous in sharing wise cultural insights and her understanding of what women know and don’t know.  Sybil also taught me a great deal about where Media Matters for Women fits into the sphere of development projects in Sierra Leone. She was a great role model as I watched her manage routine Media Matters for Women managerial tasks, something she does with her whole heart and her unique knowledge of the context of Media Matters for Women’s work.   Sybil, Alinah and Ndeamoh took extreme care to teach and show me as much as they could about the serious challenges faced by women and girls in Sierra Leone.

I feel so lucky to have met so many women during my stay. In my view, it is the listeners and staff that make the Media Matters for Women’s concept work.  Above all, I learned that Media Matters for Women is extremely important because learning is the first step for women and girls to improve their lives and communities, and high-quality and relevant public service programming is essential to that process.

By Jane Thurow
Senior in Communications at Carthage College
Wisconsin, USA

Local Partner Activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Women who come for medical care at the Karibuni Wamama Hospital in Bunia in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) find that it is also a Media Matters for Women Listening Center. SOFEPADI, our local partner in the DRC, runs the Karibuni Wamama Hospital in addition to many other key services for women and girls. Together with SOFEPADI we have have created the “Wamama Tujenge” podcast series featuring lively, professional radio-style programs led by internationally recognized women’’s rights advocate Julienne Lusenge.

The Karibuni Wamama facility offers family planning and other services for the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. They often treat victims of sexual violence. Our Focal Point at the hospital, Francoise Akelo (in the white coat), is a registered nurse and she plays our “Wamama Tujenge” podcasts for women in the waiting area. Afterward playing the podcast, Franciose leads the women in a discussion about what they heard, which often leads to further discussion.

Gender and democracy

Promoting the rights of women and girls to vote in Sierra Leone national elections

In the lead up to the 2018 presidential elections in Sierra Leone, our female journalists were engaging women from local communities on their right to equal participation and representation in democratic processes.

Our senior journalists produced weekly podcasts for distribution through fifteen community-based listening centres and peer-to-peer phone transfers that encouraged women to exercise their right to vote and be informed.

Women's rights activists raised concern about the lack of female candidates and were disappointed with the fifteen political parties for not supporting more women to run for office.

Doris Webber, who hosts one of our listening centres (WADDO), said: "I am worried about what the governance system would look like in Sierra Leone in the absence of women in the system as it keeps dropping down from 30% in 2007 to less than 7% in 2018 although women form a higher overall percentage of the voting population."

It was also reported that women faced discrimination and intimidation during the electoral process. Rd. Nemata Majesk-Walker, the founder and first president of the 50/50 group, an organisation advocating for equal opportunities and representation of women in Sierra Leone, expressed her concern on the issue of the unwillingness of women to support their fellow women in the election process. 

We will continue to work with our journalists and communities to promote equal participation for women in all governance processes.

Ndeamoh Mansaray, Senior Journalist
Media Matters for Women Sierra Leone

Director of DRC partner receives global award

Julienne Lusenge honoured with International Women's Rights Award

A cross-regional alliance of 25 human rights organisations in Geneva, Switzerland has chosen Julienne Lusenge, Country Director of Media Matters for Women's Wamama Tujenge podcast programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to receive the 2018 International Women's Rights Award from the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy.  Julienne is a grassroots activist in DRC who also leads the fight against rape as President of Female Solidarity for Integrated Peace and Development (SOFEPADI). She received the award at a ceremony held at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva on February 20, 2018, where she addressed an audience of 700 U.N. diplomats, human rights activists, students and journalists from around the world. 

“I am humbled and deeply moved by this recognition from the Geneva Summit coalition,” said Ms. Lusenge, who accepted the award just before the DRC took its seat for the first time at the 2018 opening session of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

When war erupted in eastern DRC in 1998, Ms. Lusenge was a journalist who heard first-hand from victims of abuse by warring parties, including rape and sexual slavery.

An estimated 48 women are raped every hour in the DRC, a country known as the “rape capital of the world.” Outraged, she founded the Female Solidarity for Integrated Peace and Development (SOFEPADI), a coalition of 40 women’s organisations in eastern DRC.

Today, Ms. Lusenge and her group help survivors of sexual violence in the DRC to bring perpetrators before courts, and promote reintegration of survivors into their communities.

 “Women are the first victims of war, but only they hold the unique key to peace,” says Ms. Lusenge.  “I dream of the day when there will no longer be any weapons that support violence in my country.”

Ms. Lusenge was chosen for the award "for her selfless dedication to the human rights of Congolese women amid the horrors of war, and for being a voice to the voiceless," said Hillel Neuer, the executive director of United Nations Watch, a co-organizer of the conference together with Liberal International, Human Rights Foundation, and more than 20 other human rights groups.

Ms. Lusenge was honoured with other of the world's most courageous champions of human rights at the Geneva Summit, including dissidents, activists and former political prisoners from Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Pakistan, Turkey, Venezuela and China, who will be testifying on the human rights situation in their countries.

“I am humbled and deeply moved by this recognition from the Geneva Summit coalition,” said Ms. Lusenge, who accepted the award just before the DRC took its seat for the first time at the 2018 opening session of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

When war erupted in eastern DRC in 1998, Ms. Lusenge was a journalist who heard first-hand from victims of abuse by warring parties, including rape and sexual slavery.

An estimated 48 women are raped every hour in the DRC, a country known as the “rape capital of the world.” Outraged, she founded the Female Solidarity for Integrated Peace and Development (SOFEPADI), a coalition of 40 women’s organisations in eastern DRC.

Today, Ms. Lusenge and her group help survivors of sexual violence in the DRC to bring perpetrators before courts, and promote reintegration of survivors into their communities.

 “Women are the first victims of war, but only they hold the unique key to peace,” says Ms. Lusenge.  “I dream of the day when there will no longer be any weapons that support violence in my country.”

Ms. Lusenge was chosen for the award "for her selfless dedication to the human rights of Congolese women amid the horrors of war, and for being a voice to the voiceless," said Hillel Neuer, the executive director of United Nations Watch, a co-organizer of the conference together with Liberal International, Human Rights Foundation, and more than 20 other human rights groups.

Ms. Lusenge was honoured with other of the world's most courageous champions of human rights at the Geneva Summit, including dissidents, activists and former political prisoners from Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Pakistan, Turkey, Venezuela and China, who will be testifying on the human rights situation in their countries.