Sam Williams, Africell's Group Communications Director, signs an MoU at Africell's office in Freetown with Mariama Khai Fornah, Chairman of Media Matters for Women Sierra Leone

The initiative in Sierra Leone overcomes traditional barriers by using a smart combination of mini-podcasts and free file-sharing to provide vital information on human rights, health, education, politics and employment 

Watch the full interview here.

Because African women and girls often lack the critical information required to fully understand and enjoy their rights, Media Matters for Women, a non-profit organization, is partnering with Africell, a leading pan-African mobile company, to overcome this problem in Sierra Leone.

The partnership joins Media Matters for Women’s innovative mobile phone-based model for distributing information with Africell’s resources as Sierra Leone’s leading network operator, providing vulnerable Salone women and girls with improved access to information.

Poor or absent information reduces the power of women and girls to challenge injustice, demand fair treatment, and secure the resources needed to live happily and safely,” said Florence Sesay, program director for Media Matters for Women. “We are thankful to Africell for partnering with Media Matters for Women to serve our rural communities.”

Media Matters for Women uses mobile phones to address the unmet information needs of women and girls in rural Africa. Specially trained local journalists report on relevant issues, including human rights, health, gender-based violence, teen pregnancy, girls’ education, participatory democracy, human trafficking and income generation. Reports are created as podcasts, which are distributed in multiple local languages. By harnessing the practice of free file-sharing, which is common in Africa’s music-sharing culture, to generate a “viral” effect, Media Matters for Women ensures that women and girls across Sierra Leone are exposed to clear, accurate and timely information on subjects important to them. 

Media Matters for Women’s approach is innovative and highly effective: its female journalists take their locally generated podcasts directly into rural communities. To aid in this work, Africell will give Media Matters for Women privileged access to its media and communications network across Sierra Leone in addition to providing some physical hardware.

Podcasts are an increasingly popular medium. According to recent research[1], global podcast listenership ballooned in 2020 as consumers adapted to lifestyle changes brought about by Covid-19. Podcasts are versatile, and their growth over the past year has led to greater diversity in the forms and style of podcast content.

Research on global podcast consumption reveals uneven uses in different parts of the world. Despite being well suited to African markets due to their flexibility, relatively low cost of production and easy shareability, fewer podcasts are consumed in Africa than in Europe or North America. Media Matters for Women’s use of podcasts to transmit vital information to vulnerable women and girls in rural communities in Sierra Leone proves that this technology can be successfully adapted to a non-Western market.

Africell is the country’s leading mobile network operator in Sierra Leone, physically present in almost every community. The company also runs some of the most popular and influential nationwide media channels, including Afriradio, a radio station recognized as a key force in the successful public health information campaign against Ebola between 2014-16. Equipped with access to Africell’s channels for marketing purposes, Media Matters for Women’s reach into its target communities will be deepened and extended.

By using mobile technology to provide high-quality audio programming to women and girls in remote areas, we are transforming the way they receive, share and use information,” said Mariama Khai Fornah, chairperson of the Media Matters for Women-Sierra Leone Board. “Our listeners learn so much from our programs and there are many examples of how this knowledge has positively shaped their choices. We hope the success of our project in Sierra Leone, and our partnership with Africell, will demonstrate how the smart use of mobile technology can be an empowering force for African women and girls.”

Africell Sierra Leone CEO Shadi Gerjawi said partnering with Media Matters for Women will help the mobile company fulfil its objective of connecting people.

That vision will never be fully realized if a large segment of the communities we serve, including many rural women and girls, have limited access to information,” Gerjawi said. “Information engenders power, and power leads to more autonomous and intentional choices. Africell is pleased to be working with Media Matters for Women in Sierra Leone because their work offers an unconventional example of how mobile technology can have targeted benefits for vulnerable and under-represented sections of society. Podcasts also have extraordinary untapped potential in Africa, which Africell Group is excited to explore. The model being pioneered by Media Matters for Women could well be the first step toward seeing that potential unleashed in public services, education, news, entertainment and other sectors.”

Media Matters for Women’s work in Sierra Leone, supported by Africell, fits directly into U.N. Sustainable Goals 5 and 5b, which seek to achieve full gender equality by, among other things, using communications technology to supply women and girls with better access to information.

[1] Edison Research, The Infinite Dial, 2021 report