Mama Sosa means “Woman speak!” in the local Bemba dialect. The main share of the Zambian population who live off of less than 1 dollar a day are women. This makes them the largest marginalised group in the country. And their situation is even worse in the slums of Lusaka, home to 80% of the capital’s population. Here, women not only have to deal with poverty, but are also exposed to crime and prostitution-related violence on a daily basis.
The local media barely pay attention to these issues. According to Free Press Unlimited’s Programme Coordinator Nada Josimovic, women in Zambia are seen as second-rate citizens. As a consequence, they hardly have any opportunities to have their say: “If the media pay attention to women at all, they are usually treated in a very stereotypical manner.”
In the small-scale pilot project Mama Sosa, Free Press Unlimited worked together with the Zambian youth organisation House of Consciousness (HOC) to improve women’s situation in the capital. Nada Josimovic enthusiastically tells us about the project’s unexpected success.
What did the Mama Sosa project involve?
“In March 2015, we organised a journalism training for 30 women from Kanyama, the largest slum in the Zambian capital of Lusaka. The women were taught how to produce short video and audio reports with the aid of the StoryMaker app and a mobile phone. It took them only three months to master the basic skills of journalism. They learned about aspects of producing a visual report, such as using different camera angles, and by the end of the programme they were also able to edit a feature. At the end of three months, each of the women had a total of 16 productions in her portfolio, which were distributed via YouTube, Facebook and SoundCloud.”
Why is this project so important?
“Women in Zambia are at a serious disadvantage. They often drop out of school prematurely, marry far too young and become mother at an early age. In districts like Kanyama, their situation is even worse. Local media pay little to no attention to problems in these impoverished areas. This is due, among other things, to the fact that it is difficult to work in these neighbourhoods. And if you’re not a local it can even be dangerous. The result is that the issues in districts of this kind – particularly the problems faced by women – tend to receive very little exposure. Through this project, we not only aimed to draw attention to the difficulties of the women, but also to the neighbourhoods in which they live. By telling the stories of the women of Kanyama, the project also sheds light on the larger problem faced by this township: a system that is failing them when it comes to water supply, health care and education.”
What makes this project so unique?
“No one else is doing anything like it. Other development projects tend to focus on rural areas. The result is that the problems faced by residents of Lusaka – as well as other parts of the country – remain out of the public eye and nothing is done about them. In this project, we explicitly focus on the urban population.”
Which obstacles did you encounter?
“Working with this target group requires a lot of preparation. For example, the women first needed to receive permission from their father, brother or husband, who were usually dead against the whole project. And when it comes to stereotypical perceptions of women, the girls themselves are often the strongest believers. Occasionally, we needed to really challenge them to break out of this mind-set: “Do you really think it’s normal that you’re not allowed to talk about menstruation?” On top of that, many of the girls lacked even the most basic digital skills. At the start of the project, they still had to learn simple things like opening an email message, or typing an ‘at-symbol’.”
Which results are you most proud of?
“Of the 30 women, 28 completed the entire programme and earned their diploma. Despite the difficult circumstances in which they live and their limited formal education, they nevertheless managed to produce very good items. This is the first time these women received respect and recognition from people in their environment for their contributions to the community. All kinds of people asked us to continue with this project. The remarkable thing is: the most fervent advocates were the men who were initially so opposed to the project. And the importance of this initiative was also acknowledged by the EU, which has extended funding to continue the project for another three years.
Working under the name Speak Up Zambia, we intend to repeat the successes achieved within Mama Sosa and train new groups of girls to become spokeswomen for their communities.”