Fatima Sesay: ‘Thanks to Irish support, it is a dream come true to be the head of Sierra Leone’s women’s radio station’
In most parts of the world, women are under-represented in decision-making processes from national to local governments, to businesses, to their own households. When women’s voices are not heard, decisions fail to meet their needs, and can often deepen harmful socio-cultural and gender norms that increase inequality.
The media is in danger of reflecting and amplifying these inequalities if women’s voices and issues are not heard. In fact, it has the potential to become a tool for women’s empowerment and to create a space where women feel heard and valued.
Nyapui Radio is a new women’s radio station in Sierra Leone, and it is being credited with changing the lives of the many women who participate and listen.
Funded by Irish Aid, the radio station was set-up and managed by Trócaire’s partner SEND Sierra Leone, which has thus far worked to empower more than 36,000 women in Sierra Leone. The radio station serves as a platform for women to provide information, education, and entertainment – and to promote democracy and good governance through diverse programmes.
Fatima Sesay (37) from the Kambia District in Sierra Leone, said it is a “dream come true” to be Nyapui Radio’s first Station Manager.
“I previously worked with Radio Democracy and the BBC and I was very interested in the partnership with SEND because I know the importance of women in Journalism in Sierra Leone. Becoming station manager has had a huge positive effect on my life as I have a passion for women and girls so working for a women’s-only radio station is a dream come true,” Fatima said.
“I also now have the opportunity to develop my career as a Station Manager, as there aren’t many opportunities for women in leadership roles in the traditional media. I feel so proud to be in my role and to have a positive impact on women and girls in Sierra Leone.”
Nyapui Radio has a wide range of programmes that discuss women’s issues and includes news updates, live and pre-recorded interviews, panel discussions, music and weather.
“We have a segment that profiles women and showcases their contributions to society, such as in engineering or in agriculture, and this is very important as many women listening would not be aware that women could have such roles. We also have a health programme that focuses on sexual and reproductive issues which can teach a lot of women about these issues. Our daily news programmes also keep women informed about upcoming issues and how they can become involved.”
Fatima said that the radio station has received great feedback from the communities it covers in the eastern region and parts of the southern region of Sierra Leone as they “really appreciate” that their voices are being heard.
Looking to the future, Fatima hopes that the radio station can expand its team and listenership and sees the potential for a women’s TV station.
“Currently we have nine staff, six are women, and we would like to expand so that we could hire a female producer. At the moment, we don’t have the resources and skills for a producer, so I’m doubling up as station manager and producer. We currently have four female reporters, but I’d like to expand this number also. I’d also love to develop a TV station for women to further advocate women’s issues,” Fatima said.
Fatima added that the importance of radio was also highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic as restrictions on movement in Sierra Leone made it harder for information to spread.
“The radio station is vital to spread the message about Covid-19 and to give information on good hygiene practices and vaccinations. Now more than ever, having healthcare experts and discussions on the radio for everyone to hear is so important.”
The radio station will also play a large role in upcoming by-elections. In Sierra Leone, with a population of almost eight million people, just 19% of local politicians are women, and only 13% at national level. But efforts to increase these figures are rapidly underway.
A new Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Bill, developed by the Ministry of Gender and Children’s Affairs, is calling for 30% of parliamentary seats and cabinet positions to be held by women in the West African state. The Bill also aims to improve women’s access to finance, more positions in employment, and to link government spending to improving gender equality.
The Bill would be monumental for the women of Sierra Leone who are routinely discriminated against and at risk of gender-based violence. Sierra Leone is ranked 182nd out of 189 countries on the UN’s 2020 Gender Development Index.
“There are two women candidates running in our regions and it will be important for them to have their voices heard to spread their campaign messages. We will give the election full coverage to show that women are deeply involved in politics and that the opportunities are there. This will be a huge cost to us at the station so we are very grateful to Irish Aid and Trócaire for their support,” Fatima said.
Joseph Ayamga, Country Director of SEND Sierra Leone, said it has been wonderful to see the radio station take-off.
“SEND has been a partner of Trócaire and Irish Aid for years, to empower and promote women’s participation in decision making processes. Previously, women didn’t have a platform to discuss their rights, contributions and empowerment issues. These issues are often silent in traditional communities in Sierra Leone. We wanted to create a platform to give a voice to women so they can share whatever information they want to. It is wonderful to see it progress and we would love if any Irish journalists would be willing to come and see our work and to help develop our skills,” Joseph said.
Minister for Overseas Aid and Diaspora, Colm Brophy TD said it is vital that women’s voices are heard in Sierra Leone.
“When women’s voices are heard, they can influence the direction of their communities and play a full part in the development of their countries. That’s why community radio in Africa is so important. It presents an opportunity for women to voice their concerns and discuss the issues that affect them. This new radio station will give women in Sierra Leone the chance to discuss, debate and inspire each other to create a more equal society. It will allow women to share their experiences and collectively work towards further strengthening their voices.”