Sierra Leone: What hope lies ahead for women in the media?

13 November 2010 at 22:57 | 1314 views

By Rachel Horner , Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Women in the Media Sierra Leone (WIMSAL) will on November 20th celebrate its three years of existence. This year’s commemoration will be marked by a launch of the strategic development plan and a revisit of the teenage pregnancy project.

As important as these may seem, I believe there are more important issues that need to be addressed as an organization. The question that keeps ringing in my mind every other moment is what hopes has WIMSAL for the future as it enters another year.

At three, a toddler is able to walk, talk and do so many things for him/herself but for WIMSAL we are still crawling. My question is, Why? Have we failed to work on our aims and objectives in pursuance of our mission and vision? Have we attempted to look back at the reasons behind the setting up of this noble organization? What has gone wrong? I ask these questions with emotions because I think we really need to go back to the drawing board and get a focus and think as a unit.

When we decided to form a female media organization, several things prompted us to take that giant and daunting task. One of such reasons was to help female journalists get the appropriate training that will enable them to work alongside their counterparts in the male dominated media environment.

The fundamental intent of capacity building was to target the professionalism of the female folks in the profession and most importantly empower them to take the front row in the media world.

We also targeted, at that time, the government for the improvement of the economic, social and cultural rights of the electorate and to maintain the media’s stance as an important institution of good governance for the development of the country.

During that initial stage, we took the varied nature of our constituencies as female media practitioners into consideration and made it the cardinal reason for us to come together under one umbrella. We at the same time evaluated ourselves in accordance with the profession and found out that we were lagging far behind in terms of professional empowerment. Our determination was compared very strong.

Our first step was to harmonize our efforts to capture more executive positions in the media (of which we have modest success at the moment). Conscious of the stereotypes with regards to education, power and the characteristic attitudes of our male counterpart and mindful of our role in nation building and aspiring to be the voice of all women in Sierra Leone, we put ourselves on the line.

One of the main reasons for the formation of WIMSAL, which is in our constitution as “operation strategy”, is to cater for and promote the interests of members, especially in the pursuit of education and training programmes, both within and out of the country.

Another reason is to encourage members to opt for higher education and training programs to better prepare themselves for higher positions in their respective media organizations.

I doff my hat to past and present executives and the general membership for bringing some of our activities to reality.

But how far have we gone?

For WIMSAL to reflect a national character, in July 2008 we established the organization in the four corners of the country. The trip was made possible by a US$ 2,000 fund from the Foundation Hirondelle, Holland. The three regional district head quarter towns of Bo, Kenema and Makeni had their own chapters.

In June 2008, WIMSAL organized Capacity Building Training. The reason for that venture was to enhance one of our aims, which is to build the capacity of female journalists or media practitioners in the country. In April 2009, another seminar was held for its members in the country on the theme “Challenges Facing Female Media Practitioners in post conflict Sierra Leone."

We have succeeded in bringing a large part of the female journalists under one umbrella. WIMSAL has got more women registered with the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), and all other related organizations both within and outside the country. In terms of us being in decision making in SLAJ, we have been able to get women occupying strategic positions in the SLAJ executive. To that I say BRAVO!!!

However, much needs to done in the area of proper capacity building for female journalists in order for them to take the front row in the newsrooms. It really saddens me when people say that female journalists are in the profession as a last resort and to showcase themselves to men. The responsibility lies on us to show the public that we are not what they think we are; our image building depends on how we present ourselves in a number of ways; the way we dress, behave and showcase ourselves professionally.

Most people believe female journalists in Sierra Leone are merely news readers and radio announcers; something which many believe even a primary school drop-out could do. That cliché is sickening and WIMSAL must change such a demeaning myth.

During press conferences/briefings very few female journalists will opt to pose serious questions as our male counterparts do. That is largely because of a long standing culture of women being seen and not heard. As journalists, we must change that. We must believe in ourselves first, then others will believe in us.

Furthermore, the low level of education for most of us is also contributing to our inability to participate in public forums. A good number of female journalists only show up at promotional events while only a handful indulge in investigative and real journalistic reporting. This brings disrepute not only to female journalism but to our integrity as women.

I am quite confident that we have the capacity to perform better in investigative journalism as our male colleagues. It is only left with us to dedicate ourselves in doing so.

WIMSAL is a professional organization working towards the development of women in journalism. It is a pity that experienced and senior colleagues have refused to join hands with us. It is my view that everyone matters in issues of development; therefore it will be a bonus for us all if our senior female colleagues could embrace WIMSAL for the benefit of all. Your wit, wisdom and experience will be of great importance in pursuing our vision and mission.

Even though WIMSAL has greater chances to succeed, power struggle continues to pull us down. Leadership is innate; we should learn to work in unity with whoever has been blessed to lead regardless of our differences. In addition, there are those who solely believe in themselves leading and once such opportunity is lost they antagonize others. This bad blood must be eliminated from our midst if we are to succeed. WIMSAL is a democratic organization and we mustn’t allow our petty quibbles to divide us.

WIMSAL should endeavour to engage law makers and education officials to make the requirements of entering into university especially the Mass Communications department, more flexible for female journalists. We have our case on the table already; it is left with us to awaken it so that we succeed.

Girl child education is of prime importance to Africa, therefore in enhancing women’s empowerment to the fullest, female media practitioners who could not make the requirements should be encouraged by reducing both university and departmental requirements.

As WIMSAL celebrates its third year, I am craving the indulgence of the executive and members to reflect on the reasons for the setting up of the organization rather than towing the line of failed organizations.

Posterity will judge us if we fail. We have to wake up this time and offer the vital ingredients that are needed for WIMSAL to achieve its goals. I am very confident that we have what it takes to make the necessary difference. Organizations are waiting for us to tap on their door and they will enthusiastically get up and help.

These organizations will not come to us; we have to meet them with our proposals.

I am pleading to colleagues and all other Sierra Leonean sisters that are in the media to come to WIMSAL and contribute. It is time for women to rise in Sierra Leone…….we start here!!!!!!!