South Sudan: Finding Courage Reporting on Dowries

With the support of Global Affairs Canada (GAC), JHR trainers continue their work in media development in South Sudan through enhancing the professional skills of experienced journalists in reporting and covering development, human rights and gender equality issues.

By Mustapha Dumbuya, Trainer South Sudan

Sarafina interviewing a divorce lawyer

My first encounter with journalist Sarafina Paul was not that friendly. She was ignoring my curiosity about her work at the station. It later turned out that she was very friendly but just too shy to talk about her work, like most other female reporters at the Bakhita radio newsroom.

During our second encounter, after some morning pleasantries, I wanted to ask “What are you working on today?” Instead I tweaked the question to, “What are you up to today?” This sounds less formal and not work specific.

With that I got a response. Sarafina said: “I want to do a program on the impact of how payment of costly dowries in South Sudan can affect young people, especially during this economic crisis.” “That’s a great program idea,” I responded. “How do you wish to go about it?”

With a stern look on her face Sarafina responded, this time with another female reporter as an interpreter (Sarafina said she couldn’t express herself as well as she wanted in English). She said she would introduce the topic at the start of the program and open the phone line so people could call in and give their take on the issue.  I suggested that we could make the program even better if she would try to go out and speak to young and old people who have been affected by the problem. That way the program will be more interactive, giving a voice to people.

Sarafina who apparently was not used to going out on her own as a female reporter to seek views, was not comfortable with the idea. “But people will not talk about these issues,” she said. However, together with the news editor we were able to convince her to give it a try. After a lengthy discussion about how the program should look like, Sarafina set out to do her interviews on the streets of Juba. Her focus for the interviews was on how dowries affect the relationships between young partners who may want to settle but lack the resources to do so.

After two hours in the field, Sarafina returned to the newsroom with a smile on her face.

When I enquired about how the interview exercise went, she said “good.” I asked, “Did anyone speak to you and do they talk about the issues we spoke about here?” She responded, “Yes, I am surprised people talked to me and it was good.” It was already late in the evening and I encouraged her to go ahead and edit the audios and proceed with the show later that evening as planned.

An excited Sarafina showed up in the newsroom in the morning searching for me. When she spotted me, she rushed towards me and asked, “Did you listen to the program last night?”  I did listen even though it was in Arabic and didn’t comprehend enough.  When I asked what the excitement was about she said she had more calls than usual after airing her interviews of people giving testimonies on their experiences with dowries.

After listening to her talking about the program’s outcome I asked, “What did you think about this whole dowry tradition?”

She said she doesn’t want her future husband “to pay for her”. “It will give the man so much power. Marriage is not about money or cow because all these things can come later”. Marriage to her is “about a very nice stay together and happiness and love,” she said with some giggling.

As a trainer, stories like Sarafina’s convinced me that female journalists should be encouraged to actively participate in the newsroom. And for media owners and managers to create a conducive space and providing the reassurance that they can do whatever they set their eyes on.

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