The first step in addressing inequalities is providing a platform for girls and women to voice their concerns, tell their stories and bring them into the light, says Haja Bangura.
I’m Haja Mariama Bangura. I was raised in Makeni, Bombali District, which is in the northern part of Sierra Leone. I became aware at an early stage of my life that women and girls face too much abuse inside and outside of their homes. I saw and experienced this abuse growing up as a young girl – waking up to the bitter realities of suffering in the daily life of women and girls in my neighborhood and I wanted to see things change.
So, I decided to be part of the change, by joining the Children’s Forum Network (CFN) in Makeni. CFN is a leading child advocacy organisation in Sierra Leone; it helps children to speak out on issues affecting them through media and outreach programmes.
At junior secondary school, I continued pushing my passion for advocacy by introducing a School journal club. We did news presentations on student issues in and around campus. I conducted assembly talks and I became popular for doing children’s programmes in schools, which earned me the opportunity to work for many organisations as a peer educator and a girl child mentor.
It felt great whenever I was working with my peers, but sometimes it saddens my heart when I hear their stories. I help when I can by talking to relevant people. But there are situations that I can’t help to resolve immediately, but I always share the platform I have in the media and speak for them, give them the courage to remain focused. What I feel for these vulnerable women and girls is deeper than just passion, I’m always ready to sacrifice my happiness to make life better for them.
Media informs the wider public – the human beings who generally need information in order for us to make sense of our world. And this information goes a long way to influencing people’s behaviour. The media helps in building public opinion and consciousness, which helps people to make decisions based on the information they receive which comes with or triggers emotions and feelings dictating our reaction. Emotions influence almost all aspects of our everyday life. It influences the choices we make, from our behaviors to the food we eat.
It is believed that the mainstream media (radio, television and newspapers) have got the power to control the thought and emotions of the masses. When used correctly, the media is powerful enough to allow young people to behave positively in society. That was why I gave these girls and women the opportunities to voice out their agonies through the airwaves for society to hear them and help bring an end to their suffering.
Last year, I was employed as a field lead on the Leave No Girl Behind/Every Adolescent Girl Empowered And Resilient programme with Restless Development Sierra Leone. This has been an opportunity for me to continue my work with more vulnerable girls and women in hard to reach communities. Working for Restless Development has always been a dream of mine, having followed their activities in communities within Bombali district and the country at large, seeing them supporting girls, and helping young people and communities access services. It feels good working here because it gives me the opportunity to give back to society and impact change through our programmes.
I have gained a lot of experience working with out-of-school girls in Koinadugu district, in the northern part of Sierra Leone on the Leave No Girl Behind programme. It has been a blessing to get first-hand information as to why some adolescent girls are out of school or have never been to school. Through Restless Development, I have been given the platform to engage communities and stakeholders on the importance of girl’s education, and I’m grateful to serve. The teamwork and professionalism at Restless Development can’t be overemphasised, and I’m super happy to be a part of the agency. As I continue to serve vulnerable girls through the programme, I have the vision to achieve a violence-free, peaceful and equitable society for women and girls in Sierra Leone. I hope that young girls in Makeni won’t experience or witness the challenges that I did growing up.