Garima Sood | Social Media Intern
Megan Ainscow joined a group of eager Concordians at le Bull Pub on Friday, Oct.26, to tell us about her internship through Journalist for Human Rights in Ghana. She began by painting a portrait of her overall experience there. Spending months in the town of Tamale, a predominantly Muslim area amidst a primarily Christian population, the contentious environment inevitably led her to some interesting encounters. Ainscow claimed, “Although Ghana is considered the most progressive nation in West Africa, human rights issues are nonetheless prevalent.”
The issue of election violence is the first story that she pursued in Tamale. Despite the political stability in Ghana, election violence is a common phenomenon,that requires fair and rigorous reporting by journalists to deter aggression. Ainscow worked with proactive student leaders to provide for them empowerment, knowledge and technical support to assure efficient reporting in the upcoming 2012 voting process.
Next, various stories relating to women’s issues were on her agenda. The most vital and the poignant story uncovered by her was the unfortunate, yet exemplifying account of three young women raped by joint military police. The women, she said, contacted the appropriate authority in charge only to have their efforts defeated in futility. The women were no older than eighteen, the sexual abuse they suffered portending to life-long stigma and other afflictions. Ainscow passed around a photograph of these women who had callused eyes piercing through the shot with an expression seeking for justice, perhaps, or a mere justification for their plight. Her eyes rested on this photograph as it circulated around the room while she addressed the group with a voice quivering with sentimental reminiscence. Emotionally entangled in nostalgia, she said, “Talking to these women made me want to cry”. Ainscow’s evident vulnerability allowed a more humane perception of the frequently misunderstood portrait of stoic journalists.
With her next story delving into women’s issues pertaining to the culture of witchcraft in Ghana, the talk momentarily took a lighter turn when she recounted anecdotes that revealed a paradoxical perception evident in various testimonies she acquired. Ghanaians seem to be both mystified by and fearful of such practices, meanwhile frequently use it for opportunistic ends. To suppress women’s voice, outspoken women in the north are frequently accused of witchcraft and exiled to witch camps. This institutionalized discrimination against women is a huge blow to women’s rights, meanwhile diverting attention from other manifesting issues.
She most passionate when she talked of her time covering the story on teen pregnancy and abortion. Although Ghana has relatively progressive abortion laws in relation to other African countries, high frequency of botched abortion is prevalent. She was able to conduct interviews in an abortion clinic to reveal the social and governmental pressures felt by the patients and those performing the abortions. “There were tons of maternity clinics performing abortions, but it is still a hush-hush issue.”
Evidently, there is an indubitable need for human rights journalism in Ghana and internships through Journalist for Human rights is an effective way to accomplish socio-political change, without the use of highly intrusive and pressuring measures. She revealed that “the biggest difficulty was to get the people’s trust, because there are so many international organizations and NGOs established.” Ainscow was able to establish some fruitful connections with locals. She channeled her journalistic capacity and JHR’s mission through proactive Ghanaians who pressure status quo transitions through empowered reporting. Although Ainscow has recently veered away from human rights reporting, her story is nevertheless an inspiration for those pursuing journalism, human rights, international development, etc. When asked what advice she would give to young human rights journalists in Montreal, she said, “There are so many parallels in our own society. I would seek out vulnerable communities here with the same effort as I did when I was there.”