By Foday Moriba Conteh
The Deaf Women Advocacy Network Sierra Leone (DWAN-SL), with support from Plan International, through its She Leads Project, has successfully concluded a transformative Three-Day Training Workshop aimed at empowering hearing-impaired young men and women in the country. The event, held from January 17th to 19th, 2024, at the PLAN International Country Office Hall in Freetown, focused on critical issues such as Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH), Gender-Based Violence (GBV), Human Trafficking and Providing Referral Pathways and Call to Action for young hearing-impaired men and women.
DWAN-SL, established in September 2020 by three passionate Deaf and Hard of Hearing Young Women, has been committed to advocating for equality, human rights and empowerment among Deaf and Hard of Hearing Women and Girls in Sierra Leone. The organization addresses a spectrum of issues, including leadership, gender-based violence, self-awareness, healthcare, economic empowerment, early deaf girl-child marriage, teenage pregnancy and education.
Musu Kenyeh Golley, Executive Director of DWAN-SL, expressed heartfelt appreciation for the support from Plan International through its She Leads Project, highlighting the significance of addressing the challenges faced by Deaf and Hard of Hearing Women and Girls in Sierra Leone. She emphasized that the workshop played a crucial role in empowering the hearing-impaired community with essential information and resources.
Throughout the training, participants engaged in sessions that delved into the complexities of Sexual Reproductive Health, combating Gender-Based Violence and understanding the nuances of Human Trafficking. The Providing Referral Pathways and Call to Action initiatives were designed to equip young hearing-impaired men and women with the knowledge and skills to navigate these challenges effectively.
Golley underscored the profound difficulties faced by hearing-impaired women and girls, including discrimination, sexual harassment, and limited access to justice. She emphasized the urgent need for collaboration with other institutions to address the unique challenges faced by the hearing-impaired community in Sierra Leone.
Adama Finda Borway, the Global Representative for the She Leads Project in Sierra Leone, emphasized that various organizations have united to challenge negative social norms that limit the participation of women and girls in decision-making processes.
The She Leads Project receives support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands, she revealed while explaining that after its establishment, the project identified countries that would benefit from its implementation, furthering that currently, the project is active in 9 countries, including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lebanon, Jordan, etc.
In Sierra Leone, the project has consortium partners, including Plan International, Defence for Children, and Women’s Forum Sierra Leone. Each consortium partner operates independently with its own organizations to achieve the aims and objectives of the project. Borway noted that Plan International is actively collaborating with 10 young women’s organizations, including the Deaf Women Advocacy Network Sierra Leone.
Borway disclosed that the training organized by the Deaf Women Advocacy Network Sierra Leone aims to gather perspectives from persons with disabilities, especially the hearing-impaired.
She clarified that the project is a five-year initiative scheduled to conclude in 2025. However, through their support to local organizations, they aim to enhance the continuation of the project in Sierra Leone.
Babyluvivian F. Caram, the Social Services Officer at the Ministry of Social Welfare, commended DWAN-SL and Plan International for organizing the workshop. She acknowledged the Ministry’s collaboration with different disability organizations, including DWAN-SL, to address the challenges faced by persons with disabilities, particularly the hearing-impaired.
She assured the hearing-impaired community that their challenges would be discussed with the Ministry’s management for appropriate action.
Fatima Kamara, the Communication Officer at Women’s Forum Sierra Leone, lauded DWAN-SL for the inclusive workshop, which covered SRH, GBV, Human Trafficking, and Sign American Sign Language basics. Kamara, representing the umbrella organization for women in Sierra Leone, pledged support for addressing the challenges faced by the hearing-impaired community.
She commended the Deaf Women Advocacy Network Sierra Leone for the three-day Workshop focused on enhancing Sexual Reproductive Health, combating Gender-Based Violence, Human Trafficking, and providing Referral Pathways and Call to Action, which also includes American Sign Language basics. She shared that throughout the training, she learned a great deal, particularly the basics of American Sign Language, enabling her to communicate with the hearing-impaired.
As a culmination of the training workshop, James Amara Jusu, the Communications Officer of DWAN-SL, officially launched the organization’s website (www.dwansl.org) and its Facebook page (Deaf Women Advocacy Network-Dwansl). The website will serve as a valuable resource for the hearing-impaired community, providing information on their well-being and related issues.
The Three-Day Training Workshop featured sign language interpretation by Pharm Susan E. M. S Martyn, One of the Pharmacists at the Kingharman Maternal and Child Health Hospital and Elizabeth Bundu, Project Manager Defence for Children Bo Branch, ensuring the full engagement of all participants.
With tailored content, interactive sessions, and a focus on empowerment and self-advocacy, the program successfully equipped young hearing-impaired men and women with essential knowledge and skills in SRH, GBV, and Human Trafficking. The event concluded with a focus group discussion allowing participants to reflect on and discuss what they learned during the training.