Makka is a small community in eastern Sierra Leone where most people support themselves through farming activities. Traditional leadership structures in Makka have put some people in power while others are left out. In Makka, the established women’s leaders had a contentious relationship with ordinary community women. The community women did most of the community works (i.e., community cleaning, communal farming, mobilizing household contributions for community projects) while the leaders enjoyed any financial benefit from the work. The leaders did not listen to the opinions of the women they represented. They never included them in major decisions and were not transparent or accountable to community members. For example, when Makka received a donation of plant seedlings for agricultural work, they did not consult the community women in the distribution, resulting in a biased distribution process. This behavior made the women in Makka become disobedient and disrespectful to their leadership. Anytime community women were called for a meeting they deliberately refused to attend. In response, the leaders levied heavy fines on community women for not attending meetings and used the money for their personal affairs. This led to a dispute between the community women and the women’s leaders in Makka, hindering unity among them and deterring progress.
One of the relatives of a Nurturing Opportunities for Women (NOW) participant, Jeddy Allieu, is a women’s leader in Makka who was a part of the leadership problem. One day, Jeddy Allieu attended the NOW family session (which invites family members of NOW participants). The session focused on effective communication for community and household development. After the blindfold activity, where partners lead each other through an obstacle course with one person blindfolded, she found the session very interactive, interesting, and meaningful. She went back home and started reflecting on the learning she received from the family session. She then realized that the women’s leaders have been making mistakes in their decisions and the exclusion of other women in the community benefit.
Jeddy visited her co-leaders and explained to them what she learned from the session and her idea to bring peace between the women’s leadership and the community women. The leaders realized that their actions were not effective and caused discord in the community. They discussed strategies they could use to bring peace and harmony especially related to their communication style. At first when the leaders invited the community women to the reconciliation meeting, the women refused to honor their invitation due to the bad treatment from the leaders. The leaders called a second meeting to tender their apology for their unfair leadership and to ask them to start working as one. Some women refused the invitation, but NOW participants worked to convince the women to attend. At the end, most community women attended the meeting. In the meeting, the women’s leadership started delegating some of their leadership responsibilities to ordinary community women to increase transparency and accountability.
There is now peace between leaders and the community women. The women are now the first people that come to the meeting hall. “When there is accountability and transparency between leaders and community members, unity and development prevails in the community,” said Jeddy Allieu. Now in Makka, women are highly engaged and involved in all community discussions and they are now the ones that prepare all necessary materials for meetings. In a jam-packed community meeting the chairlady for the NOW participants (Adama Mohamed) said, “When there is oneness and respect for each other in the community, development prevails.”
Author: Bernadette Mustapha