International Women’s Day: Elevating Women’s Voices in Sierra Leone
World Hope International is staffed and led by an incredible team of passionate professionals around the world. Meet Bintu, WHI’s Gender Empowerment Field Officer who has made it her mission to fight for gender equality in Sierra Leone.
What do you do at World Hope International?
I am the Gender Empowerment Field Officer. I started working with World Hope in October 2019. I have worked on a few main projects – COVID 19 support to adolescent girls and mobile power (MoPo). However, my job encompasses many areas. I train women and adolescent girls to become entrepreneurs, how to save their money and budget, and non-violent communication skills.
Many people in our country still hold traditional gender-stereotyped views, so we train women on gender-based violence to empower women to speak up when violence occurs. They do not have to accept this treatment. Our team teaches them human rights and empowerment. For example, teaching women about certain laws that can protect them from entering a marriage forcefully.
We want women to have equal rights and be involved in community development programs and in all aspect of decision making in Sierra Leone.
Who or what inspired you to work as a Gender Empowerment Field Officer?
When I went to university, for my first degree I studied social work and one focus was on gender roles. However, I grew up in a rural setting and I used to see the ways women are marginalized. So, since then I’ve wanted to make a change. I want to find ways for women’s voices to be heard. That was my motivation to study social work. I continued my education and got my master’s in peace and development in 2019.
What do you think is the biggest issue today facing women in Sierra Leone?
The biggest issue women are facing in Sierra Leone is traditional stereotypes. There are people in my country that still believe that women should not have equal rights as men. There are still areas in this country that think a woman should not be a paramount chief. Currently, we do not have any female paramount chiefs in the North. Also, we have some legislation in Sierra Leone that is not gender-sensitive.
What are you most proud of doing?
I love working in the field with women and girls. I enjoy walking alongside women and girls and seeing changes happening in their life. This motivates me to continue doing the type of work I am doing.
What advice do you have for the next generation of young girls in Sierra Leone?
My advice to the women and young girls in Sierra Leone is to have self-confidence. Women disqualify themselves from jobs here in Sierra Leone because the traditional stereotype against women is dragging them down, so they don’t have the confidence that says “I can do this.”
I want to advise them that they should be confident. I work with other women in our Mobile Power project working with technology and they are amazing at their job. Continue to push yourself and don’t sit around waiting for other people to push you.
How important is it for women to lift each other up and what does that mean to you?
Women in my country are mostly not supportive of one another and some are pushed behind because of the gender and traditional stereotypes within their communities or Localities. We have more women than men in Sierra Leone, if we all or the majority of us are supportive of each other then we can be developed.
It means to me that we need to do more sensitization and community engagement so that women should be helpful and supportive to each other in terms of developmental issues.
What does the International Women’s Day slogan, #ChooseToChallenge mean for you in your work life?
I have chosen this job so I can challenge gender stereotypes and the pull-down syndrome that we have against women in our country. I said to myself, “I will challenge this and fight it.” My dream is to see a female president. Right now we have females in the cabinet, but I want to see more women in positions of power. This is the path I have chosen and I will continue to challenge these things.
On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?
To my fellow women in Sierra Leone: Please let’s learn to support each other as women because I am a Sierra Leonean and I know how we are. Let’s stop the pull-down syndrome and let’s support other women. Do your best to push yourself to learn and ask questions. Don’t say this job is for a man. There is nothing a man can do that a woman cannot also do. Let’s have self-confidence in ourselves.