First regional network for media women in the Great Lakes of Africa
By Francesca Bessey
“Everyone, give yourself a hand!”
As Floride Ahitungiye’s congratulations echo through the conference room at the Star Hotel in Bujumbura, Burundi, those present cannot help but enthusiastically join in the applause.
I just witnessed the inception of the Great Lakes’ first network for women in media.
It is July 10th, day two of the first Great Lakes Regional Conference on Women and Media, and Ahitungiye, the National Director for SFCG Burundi, has just led the room in the creation of the region’s first network for women in media.
The conference, the first of four regional gatherings planned as part of Search’s ambitious project “Media: A Voice For All,” has brought together over 60 journalists, women leaders, and representatives from NGOs in Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to confront the challenges faced by women in the media sector of Africa’s Great Lakes Region.
The establishment of le Réseau des Femmes des Médias de la Région des Grands Lacs (the Great Lakes Women’s Media Network)is one of several initiatives within the project designed to strengthen connections between women media professionals throughout Burundi, Rwanda, and the DRC.
Additional initiatives include the creation of an SMS-based “early warning system” for area journalists, as well as regional exchanges, capacity building for women journalists, and the production of local gender sensitive radio programs. They will support the project’s overall goals:
- To increase diversity in the Great Lakes media sector, particularly through the reinforcement of women’s involvement in journalism.
- To increase the general public’s access to high-quality, gender-sensitive media programming.
I attended the conference as an observer and videographer. As someone who ‘s worked in journalism and women’s advocacy in my own country, I was struck by the similarities between the struggles of these women and those I’ve faced in my own work: cultural paradigms, stereotypes, lack of esteem…etc. At the same time, I was moved by the passion of those present—both men and women—to eliminate obstacles that I was fortunate enough not to experience, in particular a lack of access to higher education.
Along these lines, the conference was also highly successful in its capacity to bring together individuals from multiple backgrounds and experience levels, offering some attendees their first ever opportunity to network outside of their own country or region. For one journalist from Rwanda, the chance to meet other women in her field and hear about their projects was an inspiration.
“There are others who have experienced more than me, who have been far as journalists, so I want to try more,” she said.
‘Collaborative inspiration’ is a common effort for change among people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, nationalities, genders and levels of expertise. This is what Search is striving for through “Media: A Voice For All”.
“There are challenges that perhaps we cannot overcome on our own, but that we can overcome with the united force of the three countries,” said hopeful Barakukuza of the Association of Women Journalists in Burundi at the close of the conference.
These challenges are great, but with such a force in place, it would seem that there is good news still to come.
List of distinguished guests:
- Frédéric François Sigejeje, the Permanent Secretary to the Burundian Minister for Telecommunications, Information, Communication and Relations with Parliament
- Representatives from each of the region’s three women’s media associations, whose partnership with SFCG will support the “Media: A Voice For All” project throughout its two-year duration
- Agathonique Barakukuza of the Association of Women Journalists in Burundi (AFJO)
- Emma Caudine Ntirenganya of the Women’s Media Association of Rwanda (ARFEM)
- Anne Mayimona Ngemba of the Congolese Women’s Media Union (UCOFEM) also gave presentations on gender and media in their respective countries
Francesca Bessey is an international relations student at the University of Southern California and a current international intern at the SFCG office in Bujumbura, Burundi. Francesca has a passion for internet journalism and human rights, and has spent several years as a researcher and advocate on Africa’s Great Lakes Region.