The silence and taboo surrounding reproductive health have grave consequences on girls and women especially in rural communities in Cameroon. UNESCO estimates that 1 in 10 girls in Sub Sahara Africa will skip school at least 5 days a week during menstruation making them to lose about 20% of class time. More girls skipping school contributes to school dropouts, teenage pregnancy and reinforces the feminization of poverty. This is just one of the many challenges that affects girls and women in rural communities in Cameroon as UNICEFalso estimates that 1 in 3 Cameroonian girls will be married off before their 18th birthday contributing to the 15 million teenage girls married off annually around the globe (Girls Not Bride, 2016).
This Digital Action Campaign (DAC) aims to use videos/animations and role plays as advocacy and educational tools to raise awareness on some of the issues affecting girls and women in rural communities in Cameroon. Being a woman from the global South and a Media for Development practitioner, I am conscious of the implication of representation and power because I believe that when people represent themselves, they exercise agency. This is why in implementing this Digital Action Campaign, I will work with girls and women not just as content producers but also as solution providers. Our Girls Excel team will travel to different communities, conduct focus group discussions with girls and women, either in schools or other social gatherings, to investigate which of the challenges are pertinent to them and how they would like to address it. Together, we will use the experiences of women and girls in these communities and express them through storytelling. My job and that of my team will be to provide the digital tools and facilitate the process for these girls and women to tell their stories from their perspectives.
ABOUT THE CAMPAIGN
THE ADVENTURES OF BESSEM AND BIH is a Media Action Campaign with the objective of using storytelling to raise awareness on the challenges that girls and women face when they try to access reproductive health education and advocate for better health policy in Cameroon. Experience from some of the campaigns that I have seenin Cameroon, most of the videos and stories comes from developed countries or elite’s communities in Cameroon and are being streamed in rural communities. While the intentions of these videos are good, it may affect the way girls and women in these communities perceive strengths as something that happens to people outside of their community. I am passionate about starting a campaign that makes use of the potential, creativity and agency of ordinary Cameroonian girls and women in discussing their reproductive health challenges from their perspectives and providing solutions that they think works for them. This explains why the campaign is entitled “THE ADVENTURES OF BESSEM AND BIH”. BESSEM and BIH are two very common tribal names for girls in the South West and North-West regions of Cameroon and use of the tribal names symbolises the daily experiences of ordinary Cameroonian girls. In summary, the main characters of the videos BESSEM and BIH will travel from one community to another where they will meet different girls and women and discuss some of the challenges affecting them such as menstruation, early forced marriages, sex education, peer pressure and body image, teenage pregnancy, breast ironing, etc.
The campaign aims to raise awareness on the reproductive health challenges in Cameroon by using animated videos/role plays which exposes how different communities, traditions and religions perceive girls and women’s access to reproductive health and the impact of this perception on girl’s and women’s education, health and future. Each episode of the videos will present the challenges, consequences and a step-by-step presentations of different solutions that girls and women in these communities can adopt to address these issues. These solutions will be presented in line with specialists working within the different thematic areas that the videos will be discussing.
The first phase of this campaign will involve the release of 4 videos on the following topics for a period of one year:
- Menstrual Hygiene Management
- Money Woman Phenomenon in Akwaya, a form of early and forced marriages that has gone highly under reported by both the national and international media. I am currently conducting a qualitative research on this topic.
- Teenage Pregnancy
- Breast Ironing
Based on the successful implementation of this first phase, coupled with audience reception, feedback from communities, schools and government agencies, my team and I will ensure that the second phase of the project reaches out to more girls and women and addresses more issues. Even though these stories are in the context of the lives of girls and women in Cameroon, they represent challenges thatgirls and women face in many communities worldwide.The absence of the insights and talents of the girls and women has a collective impact on humanity. To ensure that this campaign continues to contribute to be part of the larger conversation to raise awareness about the plight of girls and women in the world and a possible replicable program for addressing the issues at a grassroots levels, with each community customising content and grassroots solutions, Girls Excel will do a compilation of all short videos to facilitate distribution and screening of the video beyond Cameroon.
WHY WILL PEOPLE PARTICIPATE IN THIS CAMPAIGN?
People will be interested in participating in this campaign because it will be a series of videos, plays and animations in which ordinary girls and women in rural communities in Cameroon profile their challenges and successes from their own perspectives.
By using role plays, animations and short videos, the campaign will create a fun way for adolescent girls to engage in a debate about their reproductive health without being bored. Most importantly, the videos/plays and animations will feature the realities of Cameroonians as much as possible such as the names, colour, hair styles and environments so that the girls and women in these communities don’t see agency as an abstract concept that does not apply to them. The campaign believes in their potential and will encourage them to use this agency and advocate for better reproductive health education policy in Cameroon.
WHO PARTICIPATES IN THIS DIGITAL ACTION CAMPAIGN
The primary focus of this campaign is to work in collaboration with girls and women in rural communities in Cameroon to ensure that issues affecting their ability to access sexual and reproductive health education is discussed and grassroots solutions to these challenges provided. The Digital Action Campaign will:
- Engage Women and girls both as story tellers and solution providers;
- Target government agencies to advocate for better reproductive health policies in Cameroon;
- Stream the videos in schools and community gatherings to raise awareness; and
- Involve parents, traditional and religious leaders as part of the solution and not the problem.