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The African Union Empowers Media Practitioners to Report on Harmful Traditional Practice

By Siatta Scott-Johnson

The African Union Commission Department of Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development  (AUC-HHS) in collaboration with the Spotlight Initiative Africa Regional Programme, train media practitioners from West, Central and North African Countries on sensitive reporting on harmful practices. The training which focuses on the classification of harmful practices, audience mapping, the “dos and don’ts” of  telling stories on harmful practices, protecting victims/survivors and the families, telling children stories amongst others brought together journalists from Niger, Nigeria, Mauritania, Egypt, Chad, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Ghana, DRC, Liberia, Djibouti and is being held in Africa Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The regional body is calling on African media practitioners to report harmful traditional and cultural issues including Child Marriage and FGM with an ethical sensitive lens.

The training which is a way of mobilizing support of media practitioners and university journalism faculty members from member states, is being attended by over 70 media practitioners from West, Central and Northern regions of Africa

Making opening remarks on behalf of the Africa Union Commission, Director for social Affairs Madam Angela Martins, Ms. Nena Thundu who is the coordinator of harmful practices, said to achieve zero harmful practices, the African Union has to work with the media, noting that the media plays a very critical role which cannot be understated. She noted that the media has the powers to break the stories and hold stakeholders accountable therefore she encourages the media to engage the Government on policies that will better the lives of women and girls and eliminate harmful practices with specific emphasis on FGM. She urged the media to bring issues affecting women and children to the frontlines and not on page ten of the newspaper. “how can we reach more women and girls with prevention and protection if we ignore the media, the media needs to stand up for survivors” she added.

In a brief online remark, the UNICEF Representative to the African Union Commission, Dr. Laila Gad said African children bear the brunt of harmful practices like child marriage, and female genital mutilation. She said the media serves as the voice of the marginalized therefore the media facilitate the communication between policy makers and the community. She encouraged the med to change the mindset of the society by creating a wave of social movement that will challenge harmful social norms. “in the next three days you will have the chance to explore issues on how best to enhance the role of the media on ending harmful traditional practices, you will explore the principle and guidelines on reporting on these harmful practices” Dr. Gad stated.

The UNICEF Representative at the AU encouraged media practitioners to apply the “do-no-harm” theory in reporting on harmful practices. Adding that the media needs to be careful on how they report on harmful practices so as to not endanger the survivors.

In a very appealing voice Dr. Esther Muai, the head of the UNFPA Representative office to the AU UNECA said the more organizations and partner strengthen the fight against harmful practices, the more it seems like the act is increasing. She reminded participants that as the training is ongoing a girl is somewhere being cut or given up as a child bride. Despite the progress toward ending FGM, we still have more than two hundred million girls and women globally who have experience FGM and with more girls being subject to the practice before the age 15 this is unacceptable. She expanded that for the world to get to zero harmful practices for women and girls, everyone needs to work together acknowledging that the media is the most critical partner that needs to be there before even the programmers and services providers. She believed the media remains a critical partner to UNFPA in achieving their goals. Concluding, Dr. Muai noted that no nations can achieve development if they ignore the wellbeing of the people that supposed to benefit from the said development. “Together let’s look at how can we be able to reach more women and girls with prevention, protection and healthcare for FGM and adverting early marriages let’ not wait for follow ups when the damage is already done so you who in the digital age that we are dealing with there are so much more to your disposal to help fight this…we are depending people like you to work with the young people because they are the leaders for tomorrow.  

For her part speaking Ms. Azwe Success Barbara the communication officer of the AU International Center for Girls and Women Education in Africa (AUCIEFFA) said it is heartwarming to see the media joining the fight to end harmful practices. She urge the media to not just see their involvement as just another job but a personal engagement to make their meaningful contribution in ending harmful practices. “At the AUCIEFFA we are conscious of the effect that harmful practices like FGM, SGBV, and Child Marriage  have on girls education and consequently and significantly on the progress of a nation and we are univocally dedicated to this call”

In an overview of the training Mr. Bryan Tumusiime, the knowledge Management Specialists in the AU Ending Harmful Practices Unit said the objective of the training is to enhance media awareness, garner media support for advocacy-based reporting and to mobilize social behavioral changes at all levels led by the media against harmful traditional practices, particularly child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). He stated the training will also culminate into the creation of a network of an AU network of African media professionals that is engaged, connected, collaborating and is learning from each other to lead and influence populations towards ending harmful practices by 2030.

Journalists shared their experiences from their various countries on how it feels like reporting on these issues including the risks associated. “Reporting sensitive and harmful traditional practices in risky in most countries. We need to work together to minimize the risks and create ways to protect ourselves while highlighting the facts and dangers of FGM and others to victims especially children” Some of the participants in both English and French speaking Africa said.

The journalists reminded the organizers that the media is a business in as much as it is the watch dog of the society therefore media manager and editors concentrate on highlighting stories that will be of business interest to them.

According to participants, most editors and managers who are typically men do not understand gender issues and will have no interest in making it headline news.

The participants also encouraged organizations and international partners to engage in investing in the media if the media must sway from “business as usual” and focus on sensitive harmful reporting.

The media experts are expected to lead actions and reforms towards ethical, informed, balanced, and human rights focused reporting on sensitive and harmful traditional practices with a key focus on survivors including women and children who have been affected by this issue (cultural human rights abuse) in the region.

The three day media training will end with a development of a country workplan where each participant will commit to publish or air a harmful practice media piece in the next three months.

Sexual and Gender Based Violence including Child marriage and FGM are harmful practices that violate the rights and dignity of women and girls in Africa. They have negative impacts on their health, education, empowerment and well-being. The African Union has launched several different campaigns to end these practices and has developed policies and programs to support the elimination of child marriage and FGM in Africa

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