IMdev Launches Gender Sensitive Media Project with Funds from UNESCO

The Initiatives for Media Development (IMdev) with funds from the international Programme for the Development of Communication, within the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is commencing the implementation of a project “Women’s Empowerment through Strengthened Gender Sensitive Media”.

From 1991 to 2002, Sierra Leone experienced a brutal civil war and about 120,000 people died and hundreds of thousands were displaced. Years on, enormous challenges remain for a country still struggling to throw off the legacy of war. Women in Sierra Leone are particularly at risk with Sierra Leone ranking 150 out of 189 countries – 2017 UNDP Gender Inequality Index. In law, the women of Sierra Leone are guaranteed many rights, but few understand what their rights are with 29% of the women literate, and only 9.2% of with secondary education or higher. This makes it difficult for women to access positions of decision-making or authority, a situation exacerbated by patriarchal traditions. This situation is particularly pronounced in Sierra Leone’s media. Media ownership is male-dominated and in the capital of Freetown, there are a few female-run radio stations. Not surprisingly, women’s issues are not always accurately portrayed, or addressed. Barriers and constraints facing the media include lack of training and professional development opportunities, lack of organizational support.

Sierra Leone’s national electoral processes in 2007 and 2012 for example witnessed an increasingly visible role of women as voters, candidates, representatives, protesters, journalists and civic educators in the home, the community and beyond. There were increased calls for female participation through civic advocacy groups such as the 50/50 movement and intense lobbying and negotiations for a 30% minimum inclusion of women in politics during the constitutional review process in 2016/2017.

However, women in Sierra Leone still struggle to consolidate in the struggle, overcome stereotypes and most often falter and breed disillusionment in political processes. In such a complex context of male superiority and dominance, political processes require the introduction of a granular gender lens which can present a new framework that accounts for all forms of gender-specific documentation and responses to breaking the mould of exclusion.

In April 2015, in a study conducted on women peace and security by the Initiatives for Media Development (IMdev) with support from the World Association of Christian Churches (WACC) through the Global Media Monitoring Project noted that 39% of women were directly quoted, compared to 60% of men in addition to the insignificant presence of women in the news reports overall. Three years on in 2018, IMdev with funding from UNWomen on ‘Who Makes the News- 2018 Elections project’ collected empirical research from the print as well as the electronic media, covering 20 media houses in the 16 political districts and the evidences pointed to the fact that newspapers and TV outlets, especially, are unwilling to open the space for women to freely express themselves. This runs counter to the ideals of a free and pluralistic media, which among other considerations, not only calls for multiple voices but also diverse sources, including a fair and robust gender representation. 

“This apparent stifling of women’s voices in the public arena, and the tendency to look at public issues from a male perspective, and by extension, influencing public policy with a male-dominated narrative, is no doubt, contributing to the undernourishment of our fragile democracy in Sierra Leone,” says IMdev Executive Director, Yeama Sarah Thompson.

IMdev proposed to implement this project in collaboration with local media partners through these principal activities.

  1. Investigative Fellowships for journalists
  2. Newsroom mentorship of journalists
  3. Editors and Owners’ Forums
  4. Leadership in Media Training
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