A Message from Executive Director Florence Sesay
We continue to campaign against sexual and gender-based violence by Florence Sesay
I am pleased to welcome you to our new quarterly Media Matters for Women-Sierra Leonne (MMW) newsletter with updates and stories about our work.
Foremost in mind for myself and MMW has been the 16 Days of Activism Campaign against Gender-Based Violence, a global human rights day that we participated in this month. MMW has been a leader in organizing Sierra Leone activities for this annual international campaign, which women around the world have commemorated for 31 years in their fight to end sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).
Our 2022 campaign focused on the theme From Awareness to Accountability. MMW’s weekly podcasts examined issues related to SGBV, HIV/AIDS, human rights and disability challenges. Please visit our website to listen to a podcast.
SGBV is a very serious problem in our country, with an estimated 62 percent of women aged 15-49 reporting that they have experienced sexual or physical violence (many don’t report), one of the highest rates in West Africa. Many community organizations, NGOs, and government officials have worked to end this scourge, and laws have been passed, but the problem continues.
This year to commemorate 16 Days of Activism, MMW recognized 30 SGBV Ambassadors (i.e., community influencers) who are outstanding citizens actively working to end violence in their communities. These people labor tirelessly without recognition or pay. MMW’s awards have a big impact: It helped one of last year’s champions get a job as a social worker where she continues her work on SGBV issues.
This year’s SGBV Ambassador Award recipients received a plaque and a food basket. We’ll soon be able to share more about our award winners on our Facebook page.
We also produced a series of special events in rural areas to raise awareness, provide information, and generate a commitment to ending gender-based violence.
Meetings hosted by MMW journalists and staff provided a platform for frank discussions about SGBV support services and community needs with community stakeholders (i.e., traditional and religious leaders). These candid discussions were important because there is a risk that SGBV is becoming normalized; even women don’t talk about it.
Additionally, an intergenerational dialogue with adolescent girls and boys, parents, community leaders and the SGBV Coalition were held to discuss the visibility and access to sexuality education within their homes, schools and other environments.
Finally, MMW partnered with AfriRadio to commemorate this year’s 16 Days of Activism in MMW’s three regions of operation: Bombali, Kenema and Western Rural. A one-hour radio discussion program was held in each area.
MMW-SL Executive Director Florence Sesay is a highly respected and experienced journalist and broadcaster. She has received numerous prestigious awards, including a Vital Voices Global Leadership Fellowship and the 2021 B-Peace International Mentors Award. She’s a member of the UN Spotlight Initiative Civil Society-Regional Reference Group and a longtime advocate for gender equality and women’s health.
MMW Helps Promote Peace During Pre-election Strife
During the past year, Media Matters for Women (MMW) has produced and distributed a series of podcasts about civic education and voting rights for women in Sierra Leone. The podcasts, which were designed to encourage more women to vote and to participate in the political process, are part of the campaign “Uman, una Lisin, en Vot!” (Women, Listen, Vote!).
The elections will take place next June, and tensions are high. Violence erupted in Freetown on Aug. 10 and in other areas in the north. Hundreds of people took to the streets against the government to protest the escalating cost of living, food shortages and high unemployment. The ensuing violence resulted in the deaths of six police officers and 21 protesters. Dozens of people were injured. Political divisions remain heated, but violence has abated.
“People can’t speak up. You can’t express yourself,” said MMW journalist Ndeamoh Mansaray. “We are living in a very difficult time right now. It’s challenging.”
Mansaray noted that youth (particularly young men) are on the streets — hungry, angry and with no jobs.
Media space in Sierra Leone is shrinking, with journalists and activists more reluctant to speak out, according to MMW-Sierra Leone Executive Director Florence Sesay.
Journalists must contend with harassment and intimidation for reporting unpopular news, she said. Tensions between political parties are high, and journalists are pressured to take a partisan stance, which runs contrary to journalistic ethics.
Voter registration, conducted in September and early October, was plagued by numerous technical and logistical problems.
MMW will play a vital role during next June’s elections by reporting objective and nonpartisan information backed by facts and statistics. MMW podcasts will inform women and men about voting and elections. Our podcasts encourage people to keep pushing for participation in the political process and for change in their families and communities.
Girls’ Empowerment Through MMW Period Power Project
One of MMW’s most exciting projects is helping to empower girls by providing information and teaching skills related to menstrual hygiene and sexuality. As in many African countries, when girls in Sierra Leone get their monthly menstrual periods, they often stay home from school – missing 20% of school days — due to a lack of safe sanitary products. They also face negative social stigma.
MMW works to combat “period poverty” with The Period Power Project to educate girls about menstrual health and the importance of staying in school. Providing fabric and materials, MMW teaches girls to sew their own eco-friendly reusable pads.
The project has proven successful: 30 schools in rural Sierra Leone have adopted MMW’s curriculum. Workshops also include MMW podcasts followed by discussions about menstrual hygiene, teen pregnancy and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).
Schools appreciate the project because it addresses sexuality issues that have long been taboo in traditional cultures, said MMW senior journalist Alinah Kallon. Girls also learn how to deal with the serious problems of sexual assault and teen pregnancy.
Schools have developed sanitary pad “banks” where girls can pick up a pad, said MMW senior journalist Zainab Sheriff. Some students have taken an entrepreneurial mindset by creating their own businesses — sewing reusable pads and teaching others.
The Period Power Project was originally funded by MADRE and the Urgent Action Fund–Africa.
MMW Impact: Widow Wins Land Rights
MMW journalists live in the rural communities from which they report. Our journalists have developed strong credibility and trust among residents. Listeners frequently come to our journalists with their problems and issues, and the journalists assist by referring them to resources or in some situations by investigating and reporting about a case.
One recent example is a contentious land rights case between a woman and her uncle investigated by MMW senior journalist Zainab Sheriff of Kenema.
Women in Sierra Leone have long faced land ownership discrimination. For centuries in this part of the world, women have been unable to inherit land from their fathers or a deceased husband. Tradition held that when a husband died, a widow must marry her husband’s brother so his family could oversee the land.
Despite a new land rights law enacted last summer that promoted gender equality, many women remain deprived of the right to own inherited land. Sheriff’s report shows that tradition is giving way to women’s rights.
In response to a podcast about women’s rights, Hawa, a widow who lives in a Kenema district village, approached Sheriff about her struggle to take possession of inherited land. It had been confiscated by her uncle, pa Bockarie. The dispute had been stuck in the court system for nearly three years.
Sheriff’s extensive research and reporting led to a podcast that included this and several other examples of land rights disputes affecting women in rural Sierra Leone.
Sheriff’s investigation resulted in the local village chief inviting three chiefs from nearby villages to discuss the case. They resolved it, awarding the land to Hawa.