Albertans Combating Gender Inequality: FIIDI
“Religion has an important role to play in promoting and maintaining peace.” - Shaka Ceesay
Image: Pictured above are participants sewing garments in FIIDI's Empowering Women through Lifelong Vocational Training project.
The next story in ACGC’s 5-part series on Albertans combating gender inequality centres the work of the Foundation for Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogues Initiatives (FIIDI), led by Executive Director, Shaka Ceesay. FIIDI works in Burkina Faso, Canada and Sierra Leone, supporting peace-building through education and awareness work. This story is a look at several of FIIDI’s initiatives focused on gender equality.
Disclaimer: Details and quotes below are taken directly from the interview with Shaka, unless otherwise noted.
FIIDI came to be out of the belief that religion can be a driver of peace-building, conflict prevention, and conflict resolution. As religion is experienced both on the individual level and the community level, the FIIDI team believes that it can be used to facilitate peaceful coexistence between different groups of people. FIIDI’s practice is to bring together religious leaders and community members, including women and youth, “to promote a culture of peace, reduce intolerance and prejudice, and minimize the risks of radicalization,” says Shaka. For a brief explanation of how FIIDI operates, please check out FIIDI’s approach to project implementation here. FIIDI’s successful work shows how religion can be a powerful instrument of unity, anti-oppression, and equality.
FIIDI has several initiatives spanning different areas and countries of focus, and detailed descriptions of their projects and country-specific strategic plans can be found here.
FIIDI currently runs a Citizen Action to End Child, Early, and Forced Marriage project, and another project on raising awareness about the experiences of teenage mothers in Sierra Leone, called Pinkin Mama Tokabot Project (a Child or Teenage Mother Awareness Project). FIIDI also provides skills and business training for women, through their Empowering Women through Lifelong Vocational Training project. This project changes women’s lives by providing lifelong business building skills that empower.
Shaka explains how FIIDI believes in taking a dialogue-based approach to support equity-seeking groups. Telling communities what to do results in disengagement, and so using an “African traditional approach of settling disputes” is the best way to go, according to Shaka. For their Citizen Action to End Child, Early, and Forced Marriage project, this means choosing an accessible and natural location and inviting men, women, girls, and boys all together to voice their opinions on child and forced marriages. Shaka shared that this type of platform has allowed more women to speak in front of their male counterparts.
Image: Community members in Sierra Leone gathered together for discussions on child, early, and forced marriage, as part of FIIDI's Citizen Action to End Child, Early, and Forced Marriage project.
For their Empowering Women through Lifelong Vocational Training project, FIIDI conducted a survey on the reasons for domestic violence – with overwhelming responses indicating that one of the greatest challenges to women’s ability to leave these relationships was financial dependence on male partners. “This project has given them an opportunity to feel that they can become [financially] independent,” says Shaka, of the 50 women going through the trainings, many of whom are teen mothers and single mothers.
The Pinkin Mama Tokabot Project (a Child or Teenage Mother Awareness Project), supports sexual and reproductive health awareness to prevent teen pregnancy. “It’s very important to train young people on sexual health education and highlight the problems surrounding child or teenage pregnancies in schools or communities. Up until now," explains Shaka, “there hasn’t been any project focusing on child and teenage mothers in the Marampa Chiefdom (Port Loko district) of Sierra Leone.” This project is financially supported by the Ark Foundation, based in Calgary.
Image: FIIDI's Pinkin Mama Tokabot Project (a Child or Teenage Mother Awareness Project) banner.
Community mobilization and engagement is crucial to addressing gender inequality. As Shaka explains: “It is very important that we don’t work in isolation.” FIIDI is taking a whole-of-community approach to combating gender inequality, working with teachers, religious leaders, families, etc. Shaka also mentions that, for all of their projects, the community has been incredibly involved.
When asked about the impact of this work, Shaka shares: “I’m a proud Canadian and proud Albertan, so being able to translate our vision into a progressive mission from Canada to countries in Africa, makes me feel like we are global citizens. What affects one country, affects other countries around the world.” Shaka truly believes his commitment is representative of what Alberta stands for, and that Albertans genuinely care beyond borders.
What can Albertans do?
“We should never doubt when a group of people come together to make a change to affect other nations. We are a global entity and we live on the same planet. It’s all about global citizenship participation.” - Shaka Ceesay
Shaka sees fundraising as key to enacting their mission on the ground. FIIDI is always on the lookout for folks to join their fundraising team.
Youth can volunteer with any of the FIIDI offices, either as interns in their Sierra Leone or Burkina Faso offices, or join their Albertan offices.
FIIDI is also looking out for supplies, ranging from pencils and notebooks to laptops and phones. They also collect old backpacks to donate to their program beneficiaries in Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso. FIIDI welcomes any donations that Albertans are willing to provide.
To donate to FIIDI, please visit here: PayPal.Me/fiidi2019
To learn more about FIIDI's activities please visit their Facebook page.
Image: Participants in FIIDI's Empowering Women through Lifelong Vocational Training project.