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AU, African Media Practitioners Discuss Harmful Traditional Practice

The African Union Commission Department of Health along with partners have begun training media practitioners from West, Central and North African Countries on sensitive reporting on harmful practices.

The three-day in-person media training is expected to end with a development of a country work plan, where each participant drawn from Niger, Nigeria, Mauritania, Egypt, Chad, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Ghana, DRC, Liberia, and Djibouti, and is being held in Africa Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia will commit to publish or air media piece on harmful practice in the next three months.

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 their families, amongst issues, is being conducted also with Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development (AUC-HHS) in collaboration with the Spotlight Initiative Africa Regional Program.

Making opening remarks on behalf of the Africa Union Commission, Director for social Affairs, Angela Martins, 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 Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

She urged the media to bring issues affecting women and children to the frontlines and not on page 10 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.

The UNICEF Representative to the African Union Commission, 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 facilitates the communication between policy makers and the community.

She encouraged the media 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 Rep ended by encouraging media practitioners to apply the “do-no-harm” theory in reporting on harmful practices.

“The media need to be careful on how they report on harmful practices, so as to not put the survivors in harm’s way; please ensure that you are guided by the do-no-harm theory,” She concluded.

The head of the UNFPA Representative Office to the AU UNECA, Esther Muai, lamented that the more organizations and partners 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.

She reiterated, “Despite the progress toward ending FGM, we still have more than two hundred million girls and women globally who have experienced FGM and with more girls being subjected to the practice before the age 15, this is unacceptable.”

She furthered that for the world to get to zero harmful practices against 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 service providers.

She believes the media remains a critical partner to UNFPA in achieving their goals and concluded that no nation can achieve development if it ignores the wellbeing of the people that are supposed to benefit from said development.

“Together, let’s look at how we can reach more women and girls with prevention, protection, and healthcare for FGM and adverting early marriages; let’s not wait for follow-ups when the damage is already done,” she maintained.

The Communication Officer of the AU International Center for Girls and Women Education in Africa (AUCIEFFA), Azwe Success Barbara, said it is heartwarming to see the media joining the fight to end harmful practices.

She urged 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,” she said.

Giving an overview of the training on behalf the organizers, Bryan Tumusiime, 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 FGM.

He stated the training will also culminate into the creation of an AU network of African media professionals that are engaged, connected, collaborating and learning from each other, to lead and influence populations towards ending harmful practices by 2030.

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; report by Siatta Scott Johnson in Ethiopia.

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