By Alinah O. Kallon, Senior Journalist
Media Matters for Women (MMW) played an important leadership role in an elections project designed to promote peace leading up to and following the presidential and parliamentary elections, held June 24. These peacebuilding efforts helped to ease political tensions and avoid violence.
Through support from the United Nations PeaceBuilding Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, UN Women, and World Vision, facilitators engaged women in discussing and promoting peace in six districts: Karene, Pujehun, Bombali, Kono, Western Rural, and Western Urban. A parallel project was sponsored by Urgent Action Fund-Africa for the Kenema District.
The project organizers recruited more than 150 female leaders as peace ambassadors. They were trained by MMW leaders before taking MMW-produced peacebuilding podcasts into rural communities. After sharing a podcast, the women engaged community members – women, men and young people – in dialogue. MMW focused on potential hot spots in each of the six districts.
“Yoni village is one of the violent hot spots in Makeni and if not for the peace messages we were playing for the community, the elections would have been scary for us,” said MMW Peace Ambassador Zainab Tarawalie.
The project increased awareness of peacebuilding, group work promoting patriotism, and the dangers of regional and tribal divides. They also educated community members about the Gender Equality and Empowerment Act (see Executive Director Florence Sesay’s column for more details). The training helped break down political differences and promoted peaceful and productive community relationships.
MMW podcasts focused on non-violence, voter and election education, and how to identify fake news and misinformation on social media. MMW peace ambassadors encouraged women and men to see past differences to create healthy, long-term community relationships to maintain peace.
A section chief in Bambara, a chiefdom in the Kenema District, remarked that MMW’s work gives women “the opportunity to reach peace in their communities.” Chief Kadiatu Quee also said that “Bambara is one of the communities that always faces violence, so these podcasts from Media Matters for Women are important to stopping this violence.”
“For so long, before Media Matters for Women, women have suffered so much violence,” says Kadiatu Kamara, a regular MMW podcast listener. “But with the MMW podcasts, men have changed their minds about women, and women can stop violence by playing the podcasts to the authorities to spread awareness about women having rights.”
The MMW peacebuilding initiatives have given women new tools for building and maintaining peacebuilding relationships in rural Sierra Leone. This work affects individual lives as communities work together to end sexual and physical violence against women and girls.
“In Panguma, women were not allowed in any position of power because the Panguma people and authorities don’t believe in women’s leadership,” said Senya Quee, the town chief of Panguma in the Kenema District. “However, with the help of MMW podcasts, people can learn to value women and believe in woman power. Media Matters for Women can help get women that power.”