Authors: Foday Sessay and the NOW team
This year has already seen so many women pushing for progress. Across multiple industries, walks of life, communities and cultures, women are making their voices heard. The struggle for gender equity exists in all cultures in varying forms; rural Sierra Leone is no different. Here societal changes are both pushing, and being pushed by rural women’s growing desire to be respected and heard. At OneVillage Partners we understand that the struggle for gender equity is a collective one, and one that must take place from both a ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ approach. One of the first actions we make when partnering with a community is to select a gender balanced group of volunteers, endorsed by each community. Thereby signaling the commitment to gender parity in our approach.
In celebration of International Women’s Day, we look to the Nurturing Opportunities for Women (NOW) program. This program has been making significant inroads with community women, who would normally have shied away from participation. These are women whose voice, participation, and equal rights have long been restricted by their male counterparts and by society as a whole.
Focusing on women’s financial literacy and empowerment, this program encourages women to use their voice and include themselves in household and financial decision-making. In 2017 the NOW program saw 98% participants report an increase in the use of their voice, 96% achieve their financial goal, and 100% report improved household communication. Throughout this program we are seeing women become increasingly visible, and be regarded as impressive role models in many aspects of life.
While the progress is significant, with OneVillage Partners having trained over 200 women in nine communities in the past two years, there is still a long way to go. Unfortunately, the percentage of rural women pressing for progress is far below to the number of women who are actively experiencing the negative impacts of gender inequality. All of the NOW Coordinators we have working in our operational communities are female. With very few female role models in positions of authority in rural Sierra Leone, having women lead the implementation of the NOW program serves as a source of inspiration to community women. Through this we hope to encourage women beyond the NOW program to push for their voices to be heard.
While we know that gender parity can’t happened overnight, the good news is that across our working communities, women are making positive gains day by day with the NOW training. Here are some of the women in our current cohort speaking of their experiences:
“I never had the ability to participate in community engagement because my husband didn’t like me appearing in public. My voice was seen as baseless and my opinion invalid, but the NOW program is everyday increasing by ability to be bold and press forward.” Nancy Ansu, Lalehun
“I have never had the opportunity to speak in public, never knew the rights of a women in the community, and no opportunity to exploit my giving talent. The dominion of men over women was increasing, but our participation in the NOW program has brightened the darkness from our faces.” Baindu Mohamed, Lalehun
“Because of traditional norms and religious beliefs, the perspective of women’s rights has been downplayed and overlooked by most of society in rural communities.” Iye Tommy, Bandajuma
Every one of us – both men and women – is responsible for taking bold and pragmatic action in order to accelerate towards gender parity. Through purposeful collaboration, we can help women advance and unleash their unlimited potential in their community and in society as a whole. We have urgent work to do, and we must work together!