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A Changing Lens for Africa II

2011 December 5

This is the conclusion of a two part piece article on SFCG’s latest research that informs our regional strategy in Africa. Read the first part here.

A SFCG reporter interviews a councilwoman in Sierra Leone for a radio program on governance.

“Post conflict means that institutions are not strong. These are new countries,” says Frances Fortune.

One effect (or even cause) of weak institutions is women’s voices are underrepresented. To this end, Search embarked on a research project: Raising Women’s Voices, to find out how women were interacting with and benefiting from radio and mobile technology.

Women’s participation in public life is an indicator of a society’s health and stability, and it is therefore no surprise that women are marginalized in many post-conflict settings. Search interviewed and conducted audience surveys and focus groups with women from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The results were not always bright:

That gender issues were too narrow was a common complaint. Women-targeted shows and topics focused too frequently on domestic abuse and sexual violence. Yes these are concerns, women said, but we also want to know about business and crops; tell us about that. Women also did not want to hear a man speaking on “women’s issues.” They perked up and tuned in when they heard a woman’s voice on the radio. Timing was also found to be an issue. Shows airing midday will have a hard time finding an audience—between work and family most women were able to listen to radio either early in the morning or in the evening between 7 and 9pm. As far as interacting with their shows, women preferred to text rather than call-in and preferred to text when they were alone. This proves a particular challenge because evening radio listening is often a group or family activity. If radio is not reaching women, it’s because as one woman put it: “radio is not listening to us.”

It is Search’s hope that the research conducted can be used by women’s groups, civil society and community radio stations themselves to better target messaging towards women.

Listening to the radio in Sierra Leone

More than simply amplifying women’s voices, women’s participation must be sought. “We think voices are important but it’s not enough,” Frances says. Even at Search finding women who can and want to do our programmatic work can be difficult. Conflict resolution is almost always political. “We are nonpartisan,” Frances says, “but no one is ever neutral.” It comes back to livelihoods and fear again. This poses additional challenges for women and to do this kind of work, Frances argues, women need family support. As with voting trends, it comes back to fear and livelihoods again. Looking at the example of our Sudanese country director Entissar, she points out that Entissar has worked at the UN, has numerous contacts in the West and is married. Her family is fully in support of her work and thus she is able to engage fully. So many factors need to be in place for women to feel safe doing work that can potentially put them and their families in danger.

Lastly, Frances spoke about mobile phones, whose usage has surged throughout Africa, the second largest mobile market in the world. What are we as an organization in Africa doing about mobile telephony? It’s the fastest changing and most dynamic tool that is out there and has changed the very nature of radio through the interactivity it brings to radio programming. This is the leading edge in ICTs

in Africa, and SFCG is looking at ways it can be incorporated in our programs, data collection, and DM&E frameworks to keep programming relevant.

While challenges abound, one of the takeaways from our research is that approaches to conflict on the continent are dynamic, creative and informed and do have positive long term effects. “It serves the world to have Africa at the bottom,” Frances says, but that myth ignores present realities. Look at the shift in immigration between Angola and Portugal, she urges. Angola’s economy is one of the strongest in Sub-Saharan Africa and recently young Portuguese are rushing to their former colony for opportunities that they can no longer find in Europe. In ICT news, Sony Ericsson recently announced a competition for mobile application developers in West Africa, taking advantage of the widespread popularity of mobile technology.

“But these things are not the exception,” Frances says. “They are not exceptional…Africa is changing.” And Search is changing our approaches with it. One of our main tenants is that conflict is a natural aspect of society, but it is the way we respond to conflict that makes the difference. New approaches, tools and research allow us to continue to transform conflict in dynamic ways.


Learn more about our programming in Africa.

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