Rachel Jones - Training Journalists in Uganda How to Report on Gender-Based Violence

March 8, 2008
Rachel Jones, a reporter currently on leave from National Public Radio, has been a trainer for Internews in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Uganda; she also served as Resident Advisor in Uganda. She spoke with Annette Makino about Internews’ work supporting independent radio in Uganda, and specifically about training Ugandan journalists how to cover gender-based violence (GBV).

What is the most important thing for Westerners to understand about life in Uganda?

Westerners take communication and access to information for granted. Westerners need to understand what a day-to-day challenge it can be to live in extreme poverty, with the threat of war looming or actual war going on around you—and not know where the danger lies, where the landmines are, where troop activity has been seen. Where we would just turn on CNN or read the New York Times, Ugandans struggle to get access to that information—it’s just not available to them.

Internews is playing a crucial role in training Ugandan journalists to be more aggressive and more curious, and to feel more responsible for providing information to their communities. If journalists see themselves as a conduit for that kind of vital information, that exponentially increases the capacity for people to get the information they need.

What is unique about the challenges women face in this environment?

Culture—centuries of cultural perspective on women’s role in society. Those ingrained practices are hard to overcome. For women here, it is automatic subservience, and your rights and opinions are of less value than men’s. That’s the foundation for gender-based violence—when women are devalued, it’s a breeding ground for violence. Poverty is another factor, as well as ignorance, lack of education and warfare.

In Uganda, there is also the danger inherent in being a refugee, having no home, and in some cases, having most of your family killed. Women in this situation are extremely vulnerable. They are often violated at a very young age and scarred emotionally. In a society that is disrupted by war, vulnerability is heightened because there is nowhere you can turn for help; even the law is tenuous. Some forms of violence, for example wife beating, may not even be considered a crime here. When rape is used as a tool of war, it takes gender-based violence to a whole new level.

Describe a typical Internews training on covering gender-based violence.

Internews’ GBV trainings include significant amounts of basic journalism training—how to interview, how to research your issues, who to talk to. Every workshop also includes speakers with expertise in specific issues, whom the journalists interview. The speakers give the journalists the context they need to build on their stories and to write stories with deeper content.

Internews workshops also include a field trip. For example, GBV trainees visited a school for girls who had been sex slaves of rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). They returned from the bush with their education disrupted, some had children, and they were steeped in violence and terror. The school is attempting to reintegrate them into society.

What draws you to this work?

A reporter from Koboko, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, came to an Internews GBV training. The first day of the workshop she could barely speak, and would not look me in the eye. On the last day she came up to me and said, “When I first got here I was afraid to speak up, but after spending a week at this workshop, I will go back to my newsroom and I will shout at the top of my voice.”

It’s so important for a woman to feel empowered, to feel that her opinion matters, that she should have a voice in the newsroom. It’s just incredibly gratifying for me to see that happen.

Is the work making a difference?

In very short period of time, we’ve gotten overwhelming feedback from people who are saying they have gotten a lot out of the Internews trainings and that it has really changed the way they report. Some have held workshops in their own newsrooms where they have shared information they got in an Internews workshop.

For people who have never had any formal journalism training, it offers them a new vision of themselves and what they are capable of.

How do you feel personally about your work in Uganda?

I’ll say hands down, this is the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done as a journalist. When you produce a story and people tell you it helped them, that can be gratifying. But it is overwhelming, and humbling, to know that because of your work, a journalist is making a commitment to work harder and more skillfully to provide information for their community.

I was born and raised in poverty, and now I am grateful to be in a position to help empower other people in that setting to make a difference in their communities.