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UN Raises Awareness on Gender Violence in Africa


As part of a week to raise awareness against gender violence in Africa, the U.N. Population Fund is training local journalists to report on the issue in a way that can help solve it. Kari Barber attended a day-long workshop in Dakar and has this report for VOA.

20 journalists, representing seven African countries share their experience covering violent crimes against women.

With the help of workshop leader Lesley Abdela, the men and women look for ways they can use their reporting to improve the lives of others.

Gaspard Safari, the president of the Rwanda Journalist Association, says it is important to recognize the different struggles of each country.

He said, "The unique thing about Rwanda is that genocide and gender violence was used as a weapon of war in that genocide. So as journalists we are looking at issues a little bit different as compared with other African countries."

What works to alleviate violence in one country, might be helpful in another says Sow El Bachir, an editorial advisor at a newspaper group in Dakar.

El Bachir says Senegal has not suffered like some of its neighboring countries. He says he can learn a lot from colleagues who have covered civil wars and genocides.

Gender-based violence is personal for some journalists.

Radio reporter Mariama Coker from Sierra Leone underwent female genital mutilation, also known as female circumcision, as a child.

She said, "I went through this process, but I was a very little girl. My parents did not ask my consent. In fact I was happy. "

Coker says her experience gives her a different perspective from many in the group. She does not think reporters should use an aggressive approach against those who perform female circumcision.

"It is only the manner that they want to do this thing that I do not agree with. You should do it step-by-step. You should sensitize the people," she said.

At the end of the workshop, Abdela asks the participants to make lists of short-term goals they can work towards to make their countries safer for both genders.

Some participants say they will write columns about gender violence to address the underlying issues, rather than just sensationalizing cases.

Others say they will organize similar workshops in their communities.

But for real results, Abdela says, she is looking further into the future.

"As in all our societies it takes 10 years to change perceptions. And sometimes longer," she said.

Abdela says journalists have to work harder to find women as sources. Many local articles are filled with quotes of just men who are often more willing to speak.

The two-day conference kicked off a week of anti-violence activities organized by the U.N. Population Fund in Dakar.

A film festival with movies denouncing gender violence is also taking place.

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