The #defyhatenow Cameroon initiative caught up with Ms. Pedmia Shetu about her work, here is our conversation;
Who is Pedmia Shetu ?
I am a graduate from the University of Buea. I am a Communicator for Development Associate and I have over 10 years of experience in communication. Also, I am the communications person for the Bamenda regional hospital, and I am the founder of the Global Initiative for Digital Inclusion and Communications which seeks to bridge the digital divide that exists particularly in Cameroon. It also seeks open Internet, prevention of internet shutdowns, and also advances for relevant content online. Pedmia is equally a Facts Matter Fellow for the #defyhatenow flagship program today known as the Africa Fact Checking Fellowship (AFF) Cameroon. I am involved in engaging youths, women, and girls particularly in peace processes using technology for peace. The way they communicate on online platforms is of importance to me and digital literacy is one of the main thematics that I use to advance a sane digital space for everyone.
Does your role or job as a community leader permit you to foster women’s inclusion in peace-building processes in the community, at work or even online?
Basically, the work I do has a lot to do with technology for peace. In addition, one of the things I look out for is to stop the sharing of non-consensual intimate images. These are some of the things that get people so frustrated and because of that, they do not want to get into the online space. Therefore, it is very important we understand that these people who surf the Internet are first at peace with themselves, with the daily realities of what they go through online to meet and are able to continuously be on the online platform. We cannot talk about peacebuilding without talking about technology because if we take ourselves back to the beginning of this crisis, we will understand that the crisis came, and social media somewhat fueled it to what we have today. We had what the government termed as a Facebook government, and we had the realities on the ground. So, my role is simply to bring people together who can stop this mal and misinformation that circulates on the online platform including fake news. We counter them with narratives based on facts. My job permits me to engage more women, particularly women living with disabilities. This category of people are the forgotten peace-builders as I termed them, but by bringing them to the light, they are no longer forgotten. They have their own stories to tell, they have their applications that help them navigate the online platform, and they are victims of the online war which has a direct impact on the offline community.
From your experience what do you think can be done to increase women’s representation in peace-building?
First of all, women need to be sensitised. The concept of peace is not as easy as it sounds. First things first, we must sensitise these women, we must get into action. These women cannot get into action without understanding the concepts. They must understand peace, they must understand peace-building, conflict, the different stages of conflict, negotiations and mediation. They must also understand violent and nonviolent actions. What kind of peace they want to build. So, I still have the impression that we may have been targeting peace-builders, but we’re not targeting the real people who can actually bring the change that we want. Remember that if you educate a woman, you’re educating so many people, she has a small jungle she can talk to, and the buyers and sellers are mostly women. We have women mostly in church groups and if we target these places, we are going to get them in their small families. They will share with their families before getting out to the community to also share.
What do you think are the consequences of marginalising or sidelining gender issues in conflict resolution processes?
You cannot talk about peace processes on issues related to women without bringing women on board, who will speak for the women? You cannot talk about youth in peace-building processes without bringing the youths on board. The older people cannot talk for the youth the way the youths will express themselves. So side-lining people based on their gender is a huge mistake because when war comes, it doesn’t sideline. During the conflict that we’ve been going through for the past five years, I have never seen a day a bullet says no, I will not shoot at a woman because a woman did not start this thing or because a woman is not part of the decisions that have been taken in this country, or that a woman is less of anything we can think of within this country so, let’s kill just the men. When the bullet comes, it takes everybody. The consequences of the crisis have hit everybody. Women have become the breadwinners of their families. So, I think that side-lining people or a particular gender, is a huge mistake. Everybody has a quota to contribute to peace to return to the region and the country.
With the senatorial coming up, what do you think about more women taking up important positions at the Senate this time around?
It will be just a plus for us because we’ve advocated enough for more women in politics. I remember the works of Kawala in initiating with other women the whole idea of more women in politics, given that the fate of a country cannot be decided just by men. It’s a blend of various people who come on board and see what is good for a country and what is not, but I think that the representation of women at the senatorial level will be of utmost importance to us because women will see the community with a different eye than men will. When views are blended, you understand what can be passed as laws and what cannot, how it affects the people we are leading, and the impact on the younger generation. So to say, a blend of these people, for me, should be a 50:50 or a 60:40 race. In the worst-case scenario, let it be a 70:30 race. Let there be a considerate representation of women and not just a .1 representation or a 2 representation. No, let us have women represent us too, and let us see what they can do. Give us a chance and see what we can bring forth.
Have you ever heard of #defyhatenow? If yes, what do you think of their work and what do you think the team can do to make their work known and have more impact in #Cameroon?
Yes, I have worked with #defyhatenow and I am still working with #defyhatenow. What I know about #defyhatenow is that they’re a youth-based organisation, so much into building community actions for youths. #defyhatenow is out to fight hate speech, misinformation, disinformation, with the flagship program Africa Fact-checking Fellowship (AFF) Cameroon. I’m an alumnus of the Africa Fact Checking Fellowship (AFF) Cameroon. It started as facts matter and we came up to the Africa fact-checking fellowship. I equally had the opportunity to be one of those who were part of the first hate speech mitigation field guide that the#defyhatenow came up with. It was the first edition that I worked on with a couple of other organisations. So that’s as much as I know about the #defyhatenow and their flagship program – Africa Fact Checking Fellowship Cameroon (AFF), which has greatly helped particularly media men and women across the ten regions of Cameroon. It started just with us from the northwest and southwest regions, but it has spread from Littoral to the centre and other regions that have benefited from this program. Moreover, this particular program has opened many opportunities for me. I was able to canvas for a digital literacy program with Meta, which just ended in December 2022.
Also, I think that with the existing partners in the various regions, #defyhatenow should be able to put regional representatives and regional offices so that they don’t need to leave Yaounde to go to Ebolowa or from the southwest regions to the northwest or the far north region. They can always just get their representatives there and maybe send one person from Yaounde only when there is need, they get their activities running that way. You also minimise costs because you have to go there, you have to lodge, and you have to carry out other responsibilities that are cost-wise. So, if you don’t want to do that, just put these regional people and then let them facilitate the work. If you put a regional person and I’m in the region, I don’t think that they can call me to come and assist them and do something and I would say no. I think #defyhatenow has opened up great opportunities for some of us and we’re ready to give back. Whatever it would take, we’re ready to give back because the wider the message of peace that #defyhatenow struggles to send out with Tech for Peace and other avenues, Media for Peace, Women for Peace, Youth for Peace, etc, is a wider opening for other people to get involved. Peace work cannot be done by one person, so it needs a concerted effort from everybody. Furthermore, for the Africa Fact Checking Fellowship I’ve realized that the work of the Africa Fact Checking Fellowship is not just to write fact-checking stories, it’s to help you advance the work that you’re doing. For instance, normal information that you get on social media, you should be able to verify for yourself before even sharing it. That’s the work you should be doing. So I would suggest that when the fellows are to be selected, some of us are in the regions and don’t see what they write on their application forms and think that it is the utmost. We can be contacted to know when some people are applying for the fellowship. We can assist the vet if they are a good breed for the fellowship. This is because I also understand that you don’t just want to mould people, but you want to mould people who will in turn mould other people and create an impact in the community. So, always reach out to us. We will keep emotions aside and I speak for myself, to tell you whether or not this application should move forward. Yes, I am open to #defythatenow to work at every level.
Do you have any advice for young girls aspiring to impact their communities?
Yes. They must also understand that volunteerism is key. Start from somewhere, volunteer with organisations, make yourself available, be consistent in what you do and get an online presence for yourself and for the organisation you are working for. Use your social media handles genuinely for the purpose you actually want, use them for the course you choose. If you want to fight sexual harassment online, use your social media handles and build the audience that you need, that’s how you get it working for you.