By Madeline MacKenzie
Media Matters for Women hosted an event in connection with the United Nations’ 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York City on March 10. Part of our team from Sierra Leone shared their knowledge from a collective 30+ years of experience championing the rights of women and girls among rural communities in Western Africa.
MMW Executive Director Florence Sesay hosted the panel discussion, “Addressing the Unmet Information Needs of Africa’s Hardest-To-Reach Communities,” which also included MMW Senior Journalist Alinah Kallon; Dr. Mildred Mushunje, of Zimbabwe, co-chair of the Civil Society Regional Reference Group, a Spotlight Initiative of the African Union; and Kassoum Coulibaly, founder and chairman of the Afrika Global Gender Academy in Mali. We were pleased to host around 30 in person attendees and more than 20 attended remotely.
Kallon shared some of what she’s learned from 10 years of working for MMW in Makeni: She shared the problems that she has seen when there is a lack of access to information, leading to misinformation and negative societal pressure on women and girls. Kallon compared the experience of rural women and girls in Sierra Leone to the American experience, showing the similarities and the vast differences to help the audience better understand the various experiences.
Mushunje shared insights about her work to educate girls about their sexual and reproductive healthcare rights, a movement that she began in Zimbabwe that has branched across southern Africa. She spoke about the importance of having community champions who keep an eye on every girl within their community, checking on any girls they haven’t seen in a few days. She emphasized the importance of working within communities and developing solutions from the last mile.
Coulibaly spoke about his work empowering women and girls in rural Mali. Through his experience, he has concluded that the key to female empowerment is access to economic opportunities, which provides long-term change and independence. Additionally, Kassoum emphasized the importance of involving men and traditional and religious leaders in the fight for women’s rights as they hold much societal power. Coulibaly wrapped up his words with a stand-out quote: “God is a Woman.”
Not only was the panel discussion insightful and well attended, the UN conference provided opportunities for MMW staff and supporters to meet others working in the fields of women’s rights and empowerment, which inspired them with new ideas for their work and may lead to innovative partnerships.