In Sierra Leone, as many other African countries, women traditionally are not allowed to address communal meetings that include the chiefs and elders of their community. It was seen as a taboo for women to be recognized in community gatherings. OVP’s intervention has totally changed the mentality of community leaders over such beliefs and we are seeing high levels of participation of women during community gatherings.
Mamie Joseph was selected as a Community Action Group member to mediate between Kigbai village and OVP. She successfully went through the trainings in effective team building, facilitation and communication skills, and PRA tools. She is now one of the active members among the volunteers trained. In most community meetings, she is the leading facilitator, and she was an active leader during a recent meeting with the chiefs, volunteers, OVP staff, and skilled workers.
The aim of the meeting was to gain support from the community chiefs and elders prior to the implementation of the pilot phase of the latrine project in Kigbai. Mamie encouraged all women in the community to fully participate in the project as it is targeting children to whom mothers are so closely connected.
She also appealed to the chiefs and elders to stop acting as the sole leaders of the community and to support and empower the leadership roles of Community Action Group volunteers, Sanitation Officers, “power house” youths, and other community members. Furthermore, she pressed the chiefs and elders to enforce project bylaws regardless of their relations to the potential defaulters.
Reassuringly, the town chief thanked Mamie and said he has now realized how impactful the OVP training is in transforming people, especially women. He promised that everything that was spoken during the meeting would be put into practice.
The voices of women are now being heard irrespective of traditional barriers and norms. Mamie’s story embodies the truth that women are key contributors to community development. Women in the communities where OVP works are now seen as role models in their community by their fellow women and hence having a great influence in the direction of community development.
OVP contributes towards this change by being gender inclusive in their approach and creating a forum where women are comfortable engaging in development dialogue. Coordinators will continue giving responsibilities to female volunteers to perform during social gatherings, and will
continue to engage with women personally or house to house for them to know how important they are in decision-making processes.