Author: Olabisi Olu Garrick, February 23 2015 - Despite my fourteen years as a journalist, I didn’t always want to work in the media. I actually wanted to be a lawyer.
The ability to hold people to account and help people understand their legal rights always appealed to me. Little did I know that a chance meeting with a woman one sunny afternoon would change my life.
This incredible woman was Hannah Foullah, who was at the time one of Sierra Leone’s most formidable female journalists. She believed in empowering women to take control of their own lives and – despite no longer being a journalist - still works today to make sure women’s issues are heard and talked about in Sierra Leone’s media. Most of all, she taught me that you can help many more people understand their rights through media than you can through representing just one person in law.
Empowering women and girls
Fourteen years later, and after presenting on a number of BBC Media Action shows - Tok bot Salone (Talk about Sierra Leone), Fo Rod (Cross Roads) and Aw for waka wit High Heel (How to walk in High Heels), I now have the pleasure of working on Leh Wi Know (Let Us Know), a brand new BBC Media Action weekly radio drama and discussion programme. Combining a compelling drama series with insightful studio discussion, Leh Wi Know will reach local listeners with important information on the rights and entitlements of women and girls in Sierra Leone.
The 15 minute drama is followed by a 45 minute discussion with guests - from ordinary people with stories to share; to government officials, chiefs, lawyers and representatives from civil society organisations. Discussion topics range from corporal punishment, political leadership and teenage pregnancy to psychological violence, sexual harassment and rape. Although we’re covering serious subjects, we want to do it in an engaging way, so music, interviews, poetry and comments on social media will also form an important part of the format.
In the second Leh Wi Know episode due to air later this month, I interviewed Sierra Leone’s first lady, Sia Nyama Koroma, a campaigner for women and girls’ rights in Sierra Leone who is known for her commitment to reducing teenage pregnancy and maternal mortality. She spoke of the impact of Ebola on women and girls in Sierra Leone, an issue rarely covered by media. She believes Ebola’s closure of schools across the country will only increase the country’s rate of teenage pregnancies - because it leaves more opportunity for sexual offences against young girls who would normally be safely in school. Highlighting under-reported issues like this through debate and drama is exactly why Leh Wi Know is crucial in ensuring women’s issues are on the national agenda and that women can participate in a society that protects and respects them.
I shed a tear...
Having the confidence to report crimes to police is also a huge issue for women in Sierra Leone. Leh Wi Know aims to tackle this by using drama and debate to help more people contact police on crimes of a sensitive nature such as sexual assault and domestic violence. Recently, I shed a tear on hearing the harrowing story of young girl whose father decided to inflict wounds on his child by burning her hands. For this reason, we’re not just targeting women with our programmes - we want to show men that wives, sisters and children should be respected as humans, not beasts they can beat and abuse. But it’s not all about highlighting the “baddies”; we want to tell husbands, brothers and sons that they can play a key positive role in championing the rights of women and children and assisting them to access security and justice services when they need them.
Meeting strong women, sharing their stories and supporting access to security and justice services are some of the perks of my presenting job at Leh Wi Know. It’s a comfort to know that despite the difficult topics and stories I face each week, the programme is trying to empower women to access the services available to them – and change perceptions in the way women should be treated.
Leh Wi Know is produced with support from the UK's Department for International Development (DFID).
Image credit/caption: BBC Media Action, Olabisi, BBC Media Action presenter, interviews Sierra Leone's First Lady with a colleague for Leh Wi Know
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