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Interview with our Founder and CEO (Anna Anet Sambou)

by Fancess Cowan

Q: How would you describe SHOAW?

SHOAW is a social innovative organisation that seeks to address the increasing harassment and online abuses of women and girls in The Gambia.

Q: What led you to start SHOAW?

When I saw horrifying comments being made on a video of a high school girl wearing her school uniform that went viral. She was dancing inappropriately with a boy and online she was being harassed with all sorts of insults and name calling. Following her ordeal the girl was expelled from school and when human rights activists reached out to the school authorities to review their decision, one of their best teachers said if the girl came back to school he would quit. The Ministry of Education failed to address this.

This pushed me to start SHOAW, providing a SAFE Space for victims to be able to openly share their stories and also receive counselling at the same time because this is a girl that had a bright future ahead of her and now she will carry around the shame and trauma of this for the rest of her life, effectively limiting her future opportunities and if these issues are not addressed now and I keep saying where are we tomorrow as WOMEN in terms of National Development.

Q: What are some of the challenges you face starting and advocating for women?

The biggest challenge faced during the implementation of SHOAW Gambia initiative is that women and girls affected by this trauma find it difficult to open up and talk about these issues affecting them because they have already been silenced by society.

Q: How do you define success for SHOAW?

Since the inception of SHOAW Gambia in May 2018, we have been able to accomplish the following:

  • Completed the first round of youth trained in prevention of online harassment and digital-security among other relevant topics.
  • Launched SHOAW Bantaba to effect positive changes among young people providing them with the enabling environment to come up with hard to talk issues affecting them in their daily lives while coming up with solutions in addressing those issues.
  • Going on Radio/TV Talk Shows to sensitize/educate the general public on cyberbullying, the harmful effects it has on victims and how to protect yourself online.
  • Partnered with INGO’s working locally to each impoverished communities to teach women and girls about online harassment, cyber-security, and menstrual health management.
  • Recipient of the GIS Watch Grant 2019 to develop methods to ensure Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be used to protect women and girls in The Gambia, and beyond.
  • Q: What advice will you give young people who want to be involved in advocacy work?

    Advocacy in all its forms seeks to ensure that people, particularly those who are most vulnerable in society, are able to have their voice heard on issues that are important to them, defend and safeguard their rights and also have their views and wishes genuinely considered when decisions are being made about their lives. Therefore, my advice to young people who want to be involved in advocacy work is to understand the impact of their voices to be able to use it wisely and stand for their beliefs in effecting positive changes within society.

    Q: Where do you think your growth will be in the next year?

    I hope to see the SHOAW Gambia initiative impacting the lives of young women and girls not only within the urban areas but also in the rural areas where the use of technology is still lagging behind.

    I also hope to see that the successful impact of SHOAW Gambia Rural Projects which focuses on rural community development, identifying the root causes of inequality within communities while advocating for the rights of women and girls through our activities, engaging them in trainings and projects that will improve their living conditions, as well as the living condition of their families and communities.

    Q: How was your trip to Berlin for the "Get in the Ring-Global Meetup"? and did that has anything to do with SHOAW?

    My experience during the Get in the Ring Global Meetup 2019 in Berlin presenting SHOAW as a Social Startup based on the work we’re doing within rural communities has been a learning experience understanding the fact that you cannot effectively run an organisation/business if you don’t have a proper business model within it making money to keep your organisation/business running because investors want to invest where they are seeing money return (profits). As someone put it “where is the money to buy your groceries coming from if you are not making money/profit?”

    This has really served as an eye opener to redefine our model to fit in the business aspect for the successful growth of SHOAW.