The stories of women and girls matter

Day 16 of #16DaysofActivism

By Stephanie Mooney

Gender based violence is a multi-faceted issue and can encompass physical, sexual, economic, cultural and emotional mistreatment based on a person’s gender.

Among the root causes of gender-based violence are existing social norms and the imbalance of power between men and women. Gender roles are learnt through socialisation beginning in early childhood and can limit what we think we can do, who we think we are and who we think we can be. Societies with rigid gender roles often deny women and girls the opportunities to progress in life and leave them open to mistreatment and exploitation.

To really address the issue of gender-based violence, we need to work with individuals, families, communities and societies to change societal norms and envision a different future. This includes breaking the silence around gender-based violence and hearing the stories of those who have been affected.Sharing the stories and experiences of women and girls who have been mistreated raises awareness of this deep-rootedissue, challenges the negative stereotypes that limit women and girls, and is helping to change the societal systems that keep many women trapped and isolated. 

Over the last 16 days, we have tried to raise awareness of this global issue by sharing stories from around the world of women and girls that have been affected by gender-based violence. We have also looked at how individual people and communities are responding to this issue to empower women and create a different future in their communities based on dignity for all.

The stories of women and girls matter. They break the culture of silence and shame prevalent to some extent in all human societies. HCR will continue to use media rooted in local communities to provide a platform to share people’s stories, to bring groups together to address challenges and concerns, and to bring about lasting change that recognises every person’s equal and shared humanity.

 Stories of women break the culture of silence and shame prevalent to some extent in all human societies.

Stories of women break the culture of silence and shame prevalent to some extent in all human societies.

Amplifying Voices

Day 15 of #16DaysofActivism

By Stephanie Mooney

The Amplifying Voices Project was set up in 2015 as a collaborative venture between Feba UK, HCR and the Believers Broadcasting Network (BBN), a Christian radio station in Freetown.  BBN forms multi-stakeholder teams with partners including churches and local health clinics to visit people in their households and local communities and listen deeply to their stories, challenges, hopes and concerns.

These conversations with people feed directly back into radio programmes developed and broadcast by BBN. There is a twice-weekly show called Amplify that uses and responds to community voices and there is also a monthly radio drama produced to deal with sensitive issues identified such as sexual violence, rape, teenage pregnancy and ‘sugar daddy’ relationships. 

Listeners and those involved in the visits see themselves as agents of change. The conversations shared and issues raised in the radio broadcasts are leading the community to take practical action to protect women and girls. 

Scarcity of water and the vulnerability of girls collecting water were identified as major concerns, as men targeted girls and this was linked to high levels of teenage pregnancy. Djibrillah, a team member, said: ‘Girls used to go to the streams to collect water.  Water Tanks were installed so now this has reduced the need to fetch water and this has reduced teenage pregnancy.’ In another community they put in streetlights to improve the security for women and girls.

The project is also helping women and girls in relation to education and employment. A radio journalist and counsellor involved in the project said the following about *‘Patience’, a regular listener to the Amplify programme: ‘She was a lady who thought everything was lost and was intimidated by education.  Now she is very engaged. We encourage them and let them know they have something inside of them. All is not lost. She is about to complete her education.’ 

By working with the community to improve the safety and security of women and girls and to encourage them into education and employment, this work is having a transformative impact on the lives of people in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

*Not her real name

 Amplifying Voices Project team members on their way to visit a community in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Amplifying Voices Project team members on their way to visit a community in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Improving the lives of street living children

Day 14 of #16DaysofActivism

By Stephanie Mooney

Any form of abuse leaves scars. A few years ago I participated in some focus group meetings with street living children, aged from 6 years to 16 years, to explore starting a radio project for Feba UK for these children in Kinshasa, DR Congo. It was particularly difficult to get street living girls to participate but we where able to include a small group of teenage girls. I was deeply affected by a 16 year-old girl who showed me several scars on her body that she had suffered from being beaten and being raped. These were her outward scars but she also had deep psychological scars from her suffering that couldn’t be as easily seen.

Shockingly, this girl’s experiences are not uncommon; as there are approximately 25,000 children living on the streets of Kinshasa and the number is growing. Many of the children are on the streets because they have been accused of being witches and as a result, been thrown out of their homes and excluded from their communities. Any child living on the street is marginalised, but girls are particularly vulnerable and to survive, many are coerced into sex work.

As the Feba UK radio project developed, the group of street living children helped develop a script for a radio drama series to address child witch accusations and the girls in the group were particularly keen on their experiences being reflected. The part of the drama that they wanted to include was the traumatic ‘baptism’ of young girls on the streets, which is when a girl newly on the streets is ‘initiated’ by being raped.  The girls were very vocal about ensuring that this was reflected correctly in the drama as their experiences and their suffering had previously been ignored.

By being based on the real life experiences of young street living children, the radio drama series and the wider radio project were able to give these children an opportunity to talk about their lives on the streets. Skills development was provided for these street living children to become youth journalists.  This innovative project helped the children find ways to improve their lives and helped change the perception and behaviour of the wider community towards them.

Improving the lives of street living children is a massive challenge and will not happen overnight; however, these youth journalists are persevering and using the media space to share stories, to promote healing and to protect the rights of street living children.  

If this article raises any personal issues please contact your local professional services or contact the helplines below.

In Australia: 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

In UK: National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 2000 247

 Any child living on the street is marginalised, but girls are particularly vulnerable and to survive, many are coerced into sex work.

Any child living on the street is marginalised, but girls are particularly vulnerable and to survive, many are coerced into sex work.

Helping women and girls in Kenya

Day 13 of #16DaysofActivism

By Stephanie Mooney

Combatting gender-based violence can take courage, sensitivity and wisdom. I met Mary*, an ordained minister working in a rural area in Kenya, who showed all of these qualities in her work to help women and girls. 

In this particular area of Kenya, the challenges facing families include limited access to food and water, and high levels of illiteracy. Conflict within families and domestic violence is rife. It is common to see women with missing teeth as they have been so badly beaten. 

Women cannot own animals or land and are very dependent on men. Early marriage is common, with girls as young as eleven often married to men in their fifties and over, frequently as a second or third wife.  When a girl is prepared for marriage she will have to go through the painful ritual of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). 

Mary explains that she is ‘surrounded by this community - I could lose trust and [do more harm than good], so I interact with the families.’ Mary is notified if a marriage is likely to take place. Mary will try and talk with the family and if the wedding cannot be prevented in this way, then they will find a discreet way to get the young girl to safety and the care of the government. 

After a girl is brought to safety, the government will start working with the family. The family is not informed that Mary has helped to get the girl protected and she would be at risk if her involvement was discovered:

‘I see girls, I feel angry, so sympathetic, they are very young and innocent. They don’t even know the man she will marry’. 

Mary is not always able to prevent a child marriage, or stop girls being ‘cut’ before their wedding ceremonies, or women being harmed or murdered due to domestic violence. Mary helps girls to remain in their communities, providing support, fellowship and togetherness.  

All of HCR’s work with partners engages with and supports people and local communities and it is from within these communities that change can and does happen.

*Not her real name

 Photo credit: Olivier Asselin - UNICEF

Photo credit: Olivier Asselin - UNICEF

Stigma – a personal perspective!

Day 12 of #16DaysofActivism

By Shilpa Shinde

Let’s face it, India doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to valuing women! We rank 174th out of 189 on the gender inequality index.  As the leader of a small NGO I can tell you, it’s a man’s world and I have to work very hard to make my voice heard!  But the issue that has been bothering me most lately is the issue of stigma and particularly how women are affected by it.  

Take my close friend Anugrah*.  She got pregnant before marriage and was unaware that she had been carrying a child for 3 months.  She admits she was very naïve and not aware of much in those days but she was very afraid that her parents and her community would reject her.  

After she and her boyfriend discovered that Anugrah was pregnant, he secretly gave her a drug which he had been told would induce an abortion.  The effect however was to make her very ill, which raised the suspicion of her family, who eventually found out.  Anugrah and her boyfriend’s family then entered discussions and she was put under great pressure, particularly by his family, to abort the baby.  Augrah felt compelled to go through with the abortion, with the promise from her boyfriend’s family that they could get married soon afterwards.  Sadly, not only did they not keep their promise or help her through the procedure, which made her very ill, but they rejected her. They seemed more concerned for their image in society and the church.  

Anugrah was blamed for not ‘not keeping her purity’, while the son was exonerated from any blame, stigma or shame. She has endured rejection and shame from her church and community and even been kicked out of her youth group.  Many of her friends rejected her.   

Thankfully the story doesn’t end there.  Anugrah is now one of our key workers, helping our charity, Seva, serve poor and marginalised indigenous or Adivasi communities in our state.  She has amazing empathy, especially with girls and women, who suffer greatly.  And they love her… they know she feels their pain. 

Seva is a key HCR-partner in India, using a community-centred media approach to bring about holistic transformation among tribal communities (see http://www.h-c-r.org/news/2018/9/12/village-gets-a-new-voice)

*Not her real name

Anugrah.jpg