Survey launches to attract women journalists for training fellowships in Burkina Faso, Senegal and Togo

Radio journalist Sira Sow. Photo provided by Sira Sow, used with permission.

Journalist Sira Sow sits behind a green microphone in a recording booth in a hot rural village in eastern Senegal. She speaks in the local language of Wolof on La Laghem FM community radio, her words radiating out into the taxis, homes, stores, and cellphones of hundreds of locals in the N'Dofane region. She is reporting on stopping gender violence, and the local imam she interviewed for her story agrees with her. Gender violence is not supported by the Quran, Islam's sacred text, he says. Her radio broadcast reaches many ears that day, as many locals only speak Wolof and may only get their news from an oral medium like radio.

“Sometimes in Senegal, we encounter victims of violence, particularly very young women, but in our culture, even if you are a victim, sometimes [you] hesitate to report the violence,” Sow says in a later interview with Global Voices. 

Sow is part of a pilot group of women journalists participating in the Reporting Fellowship for Women Journalists in Francophone Africa Project, which is now working to start a women's journalism fellowship in West Africa through a new survey and a new online community. The news initiative in charge of this program, The Africa Women Journalism Project (AWJP), is conducting research with the goal of launching a new journalism fellowship in the francophone countries of Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Togo to create a pan-African network of women journalists covering women’s issues.

The live survey in French and English on X (formerly Twitter) is gathering data on gender coverage topics in the newsrooms of these three countries. With this data, they can create a curriculum to teach fellows journalism skills. On May 27, AWJP launched a new online space,#AWJPWACommunity, to unite women journalists in all of francophone West Africa. This budding community can unify women journalists through new peer-to-peer relationships and regional training. 

As the director of the AWJP, Catherine Gicheru explains that gender-based violence and maternal-fetal health issues are significant topics that affect women in every African nation. The women journalists covering these topics from Benin or Togo, bring to the newsroom highly specific local knowledge from their respective cultures. Combining each journalist's local knowledge of women's issues — such as gender violence in Senegal compared to Nigeria — can help enrich and strengthen collaborative storytelling. 

“How do I get together the Senegalese journalist, and the Ghanaian journalist and the Tanzanian journalist who may be working on the same story? The issues are the same; the stories can be better if we are sharing how we are dealing with this problem; we have the same problem,” Gicheru told Global Voices in an early April interview.  

Coverage by past AWJP fellows has had a huge success among local African audiences, with some fellows winning major awards. Nigerian journalist and past AWJP fellow Fadare Titilope published a hard-hitting collection of articles on female genital mutilation (FGM) in the Nigerian newspaper “Premium Times” which won her the national Nigerian ReportHer award in 2023. She received several months of coaching and editing from her AWJP mentor, Nigerian journalist Vanessa Offiong. Offiong said when she worked with AWJP fellows in Nigeria, she helped editors back in Kenya understand Nigerian cultural contexts. For example, the Nigerian practice of a mother or mother-in-law visiting a daughter who has just given birth is called omugwo, but it differs substantially from the country’s northern region versus the southern region. 

“I have to give these kinds of local insights … I was saying to them [AWJP editors] even this practice of omugwo differs from culture to culture in Nigeria. So this was an instance where AWJP was willing to listen to me,” Offiong said in an interview with Global Voices from Lagos. 

AWJP is a news initiative that was started by Catherine Gicheru in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, with funding from the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). At the time, Gicheru was an ICFJ Knight Fellow based in Kenya; AWJP’s goal was to fund a cohort of women journalists in their coverage of COVID-19’s impact on women and children in vulnerable communities in different African nations. Women journalists from Uganda, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania worked as fellows and received coaching from AWJP.

To return to Sow's broadcast in rural Senegal last year: her story ran on La Laghem FM, and covered breaking the silence around domestic violence and assault in Senegalese traditional culture. The term “non-denunciation” or ” failure to report” in Wolof is ndeup neupal (pronounced “n-puh n-puh”). Sow's story was broadcast in both French and Wolof to reach a wider audience, as the term ndeup neupal carries greater cultural significance for local villagers who may not speak French. She interviewed a young woman who had been assaulted by her uncle.

Sow included interviews with an “homme culturel,” which is a locally respected patriarch of the community or village, as well as a local Muslim leader (an imam) and a therapist. The imam was quoted as strongly against violence against women, saying the Quran doesn’t support domestic violence or assault. Breaking such cultural taboos, Sow said, made her radio broadcast gain resonance with community organizations that support women in her area. 

“The “hommes culturels” really appreciated it. Because they saw that the production was done in the context of our Senegalese culture … we honored our culture in the broadcast and the “hommes culturels” really liked that. We showed that violence isn’t appreciated in our Senegalese culture, nor by our religion. We had a lot of positive feedback on that publication,” Sow said.

Sow was happy with the impact of her radio broadcast. 

“The women who volunteer for our local community health organization [“Badianou Guokh”] who help women, especially the health of mothers and children … they reached out and gave us very positive feedback,” Sow said. After hearing her radio story, Sow said volunteers with Badianou Guokh cited the story in their street outreach with pregnant women and nursing mothers. 

Funding for the current survey for francophone journalists comes from New Venture, a media development fund. With the survey results on the barriers facing women journalists in these three francophone countries, Gicheru hopes to land more funding to launch the journalism fellowship. 

One question on the survey asks: 

Certaines salles de rédaction ont une politique éditoriale (lignes directrices qui contrôlent et modifient la couverture). La politique éditoriale de votre salle de réduction énumère-t-elle des lignes directrices pour la représentation des femmes dans les textes ou photos?

Some newsrooms have a political editorial line (a guiding policy that controls and edits coverage). Does the editorial policy of your newsroom outline any guidelines for the representation of women in text or photos?

The cultural treatment of women —  as newsroom employees, but also their representation in news coverage across Africa — is at the heart of Gicheru’s dreams for her AWJP fellows. “Are there common areas between Senegal, Togo and Burkina Faso or are there unique challenges? … The research might tell us there are other issues,” said Gicheru. 

“For Togo and Burkina Faso, any intervention we design will be informed by the research we are conducting now,” Gicheru added. 

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