Our message to the world on International Women’s Day 2018

Mar 8, 2018

Read these inspirational messages from the women we work with in Sierra Leone, who are working to empower women living in rural and extremely poor communities through our project.

Isatu Koroma, Assistant Chairlady of a cooperative in Rogbesseh village, set up as part of Feed the Minds’ project empowering rural women farmers in Sierra Leone.

Today we celebrate the achievements of women around the world. We stand in solidarity with the women who are suffering. And, we look to the future to strive for a world where women are free from violence, discrimination and marginalisation.

Despite the fact that many countries have come a long way in closing the gender gap, the road ahead is long – especially for women and girls living in extreme poverty in rural communities who haven’t had access to education. They still face huge daily obstacles; from abuse, discrimination, violence and poverty.

But there is a hunger for change, one that we’ve seen first-hand by working alongside strong, bold and motivated women who are changing their futures and the attitudes in their communities.

As the UN theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives”, we decided to shed a light on two inspirational women who work for our local partner organisation in Sierra Leone, MEWODA. They are both helping to implement our project empowering rural women farmers there, through agricultural skills training; by setting up cooperatives; and by addressing women’s rights issues.

Mary Palmer is 51 years old, and is the Field Supervisor, she survived the brutal eleven year war and the Ebola epidemic, and despite the hardships she’s personally faced, she continues to be a force for change and is determined to continue empowering rural women and standing up for women’s rights. She said:

“After the war, I started working for international NGOs. That’s when I started working for women, advocating for women. What really pulled me to have this passion is my experience of going deep into these rural communities, where you really see the women – how they are struggling with making decisions for themselves, and struggling to know of things that are happening in the big towns.

I also worked during the response for the Ebola outbreak. It was awful to see how the women really suffered. You’d see widowed women sitting with their children, with no hope. Many people were left with nothing. But thanks to interventions of projects and donors, like MEWODA, we have resuscitated their food production and incomes with seeds; cooperatives; and knowledge of women’s rights.

“So that is the passion I have: to take the correct message to women in rural areas, to tell them that they don’t need to fear, that they need to stand up for their rights. Today, on International Women’s Day, my message to women around the world is that we need to have love for ourselves. We need to have passion in what we are doing. We need to stand firm, without no intimidation, no fear, and respect the laws and the importance of education. Because we women, we have talent. Whatever they say, we are wise.

“Standing for your rights doesn’t just mean to challenge authority – if you know your rights you know what to do: you go to your farm freely without no fear, without no threat, you take your decision in selling, you buy what you want to buy, or wear what you want to wear – and not just to support the men.

My message to world leaders is: love the women, promote their issues, advocate for them. Then, I think it will be better. Please, stop intimidating women. And, stop the wars: where there is war, women are the victims. But, where there is peace, women will have the chance to move ahead.”

Photo: women from one of the cooperatives set up for rural women farmers in Karefay Themne village, Sierra Leone, as part of Feed the Minds’ project.

Augusta Adama Koroma, 30 years old, who is a Field Officer, said:

“Even us women who have had an education, we are still some of the most vulnerable [in Sierra Leone], so imagine those that are not well educated? Most of the women we work with in rural areas are in my age bracket, but because of hardships you find them deteriorating. Someone who is 30 looks as if she is 50 or 60. Life can be so hard for women in rural communities.

“There are so many issues that will make life difficult for them. Let alone the recent disasters, such as Ebola and the mudslide in Freetown. You find that most of their male children and their husbands died. And most of them are widows living with some four, five, six children. With the intervention of this Feed the Minds’ project, we’ve seen that the culture of silence in communities we work in is no more. Women are now enlightened, they know what they are supposed to do for the empowerment of their children.

I believe it’s only when somebody is not able to understand his or her rights that the silence will continue. But once you are able to identify your rights, you know your rights, you know what you should do for your development, you will be able to advocate. My hope for the future is to see more women in politics. That’s my big hope, my big aim, my dream, my vision.

“Today, on International Women’s Day, I have a message to women around the world. First of all, I would like to express my sympathy to all women around the world who are suffering. Those that are born in a humble background, I would like to encourage them and motivate them to move on. They can still change the present for the future. Continue moving ahead, continue to just dream high, think big, don’t listen to whatever forces of, how do I say, forces of corruption, intimidation.

You know, intimidation is one of the key weapons that discourages women from moving ahead. As for the global leaders, they need to remember that if they are there today, then people made them be where they are so they should not forget that. And, they should elevate every sector of the people; try to empower women as well as the men – not just empower a certain set of people.”

Video above: Augusta’s International Women’s Day message

Learn more about Feed the Minds’ project empowering rural women farmers in Sierra Leone here

Video above: Mary’s International Women’s Day message

The interviews of Mary and Augusta were collected by Feed the Minds’ Programme Manager, Hannah Walters, on her recent visit to Sierra Leone in February 2018. We are really grateful for the time Mary and Augusta put in to talking to Hannah – to share their stories, their experience of working in rural communities and their messages to women and global leaders around the world for this year’s International Women’s Day.