Gender and Protection Trainings in Sierra Leone

It has been a busy, intense, and energizing week in Sierra Leone with the Sustainable Nutrition and Agriculture Promotion Plus (SNAP+) program. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was invited to conduct gender equality and protection trainings with SNAP+ staff and partners in order to help them identify and address possible negative or unintended impacts of the cash transfers that are being distributed by the program to poor and vulnerable households.

So what does that mean exactly? Well, for anyone who wants to know more about the kind of work I do, I thought I would share a little more detail about what we’ve been up to this week.

I have been joined in Sierra Leone by Lydia, the Africa Regional Gender and Youth Advisor who is based in Kenya. Lydia serves as the primary gender advisor for this project, and I was asked to conduct these trainings because of their specialized nature and because Lydia was originally scheduled to be in Liberia during the month of July. However, we were fortunate that Lydia’s schedule opened up and she was able to join me for this field visit, so we’ve been collaborating on the trainings throughout the visit.

We spent Monday meeting the SNAP+ leadership and staff, confirming details/logistics of the distribution program and finalizing the training content (which is always customized for each program and context).

On Tuesday, Lydia and I co-facilitated a one-day Gender Equity Training with all of the SNAP+ staff and partners. The goals of the training were to improve staff and partner understanding of gender concepts and gender equality issues in relation to SNAP+ sectors and activities in addition to ensuring that SNAP+ staff had practical skills to support the integration of gender equality and women’s empowerment perspectives in program implementation, monitoring and evaluation. We designed the training as a participatory workshop, so that all activities involved participant interaction, feedback, discussion, and peer learning. As a group, we explored the differences between gender and sex; gender roles, stereotypes, and ideals in the Sierra Leone context; power and privilege; and how to incorporate these concepts into SNAP+ work so that it is gender sensitive, equitable, and safe for participants.

On Wednesday, Lydia and I held a half-day Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) Training with SNAP+ staff and partners as well as representatives from the mobile money agency that is supporting the cash distribution process. The goals of the training were to teach participants how to identify sexual exploitation and abuse; to share international, donor, ACDI/VOCA, and Sierra Leone regulations that prohibit sexual exploitation and abuse; to inform about our Zero Tolerance Policy and reporting requirements; and to explore strategies to mitigate against sexual exploitation and abuse in the SNAP+ cash transfer program. The training included a powerful video created by the UN as well as a vigorous discussion on the ways in which abuse hurts individuals, communities, and agencies. After the morning training, I facilitated an afternoon of reviewing and strengthening the SNAP+ reporting and protection structures to ensure that cash transfer recipients would be educated on their rights, be sensitized on how to report problems, and that structures would be in place for receiving and responding to reports in a sensitive, confidential, and timely manner.

On Thursday, Lydia and I were joined by the HQ Gender and Social Behavior Change Communications (SBCC) Specialist, Sarah, who had also been visiting Sierra Leone and had returned to Freetown after spending two weeks reviewing the status of mother care groups for the SNAP program. She was in Sierra Leone for just a couple more days, and we were thrilled to have her join us for the final training day. For the first half of the day, we conducted a training and planning session with staff and partners on Community Sensitization. Through the workshop, we worked with participants to identify the key information (messages), that must be conveyed to SNAP+ recipients in order to ensure they know the correct program details, their rights, and how to report problems. An informed community is better equipped to identify and avoid potential fraud or abuse, and we wanted to ensure that we not only share the necessary information to keep them safe, but that we share it in an effective way that reaches recipients who live in far distant, rural parts of Sierra Leone. After brainstorming effective methods of sharing messages, we began developing some of those sensitization activities, and groups wrote songs and short plays could could be performed in villages, where literacy rates are low.

[Bandwidth is low, so I’ll return and post a video of one of the songs once I get a stronger connection, possibly after I return to the US!]

In the afternoon, we discussed how SNAP+ would conduct monitoring of the cash distribution process, to ensure that we were achieving our goals and identifying and addressing any potential problems as soon as possible. We conducted a Focus Group Facilitation Skills Training, so that staff can collect information after each cash distribution to ensure that our participants are receiving their funds safely and that we are identifying the impacts of those funds on the individuals and communities.

As you can tell, we had done quite a lot in just a few days! We had amazing staff and partners who participated in the trainings, and everyone remained fully engaged and enthusiastic throughout. They firmly believe in what we are doing and repeatedly explained how important it is that we identify these issues so that we can work with the highest level of integrity and impact.

Friday was our chance to catch our breath and plan for the upcoming week. where Lydia and I will be traveling to Kailahun, one of the three districts where SNAP is conducting agriculture and nutrition activities and where SNAP+ will begin cash distribution soon! We’ll be working with the Gender Focal Point in the Kailahun SNAP+ office to train the local staff, and we’ll be conducting focus groups with several communities to help us plan the cash distribution.

After such a full week, Lydia and I planned a few fun activities over the weekend, and I’ll share more about that soon. I’ll be without Internet access throughout most of the week, so I may be a bit delayed in updating this blog on further adventures. But please be patient — I’ll return with more information soon!