Editor’s Note: Bettie Johnson-Mbayo is part of the CCIJ community and founder of CCIJ partner organization, SheWrites, SheLeads. Social Media Director Ruona Meyer connected Johnson-Mbayo and SheWrites, SheLeads to CCIJ . Recently, Johnson-Mbayo worked with our Executive Director, Jeff Kelly Lowenstein, on a piece that evaluated Liberian President George Manneh Weah’s assertion that he is the country’s “Feminist-In-Chief.”
Liberian investigative journalist Bettie Johnson-Mbayo spent the first four years of her career unpaid, in a newsroom where she was one of very few woman.
“Growing up, I felt that the place for women to do independent journalism was small. It still is small, currently.”
Not much has changed in almost ten years, and she hopes that her organization, SheWrites, SheLeads, will give young women the mentorship she wished she had as a young journalist, and bring more women into the field.
“The first part of SheWrites, SheLeads,” she said, “is to mentor young women who have an interest in journalism as a profession.”
Over the past year, Johnson-Mbayo and her team have worked with 13 young women, aged 15-25, and drawn from various regions in the West African nation. The group completed a two-week training, learning leadership and journalism skills with a focus on telling women’s stories. Now, they’re putting these lessons to the test.
Johnson-Mbayo added that about half of the seven or eight articles by her mentees have garnered the attention of Liberia’s government officials, prompting policy change and kick-starting conversations around sex-trafficking, water shortages and domestic abuse.
But the organization is not only concerned with getting women interested in telling women’s stories. To change the narrative about women in Liberia, they need a seat at the table.
“SheWrites is strictly about journalism,” she said. “SheLeads is to inform them that in spite of you being a journalist, you can still ascend to an editorial position… not just a mere reporter.”
“Instead of the male-dominated managerial positions, we want to see women there in the next few years,” she continued.
SheWrites, SheLeads was gearing up to start another round of training when the Coronavirus pandemic hit Liberia. After the country began a lockdown in early April, Johnson-Mbayo said “everything was put on hold.”
For now, mentees have started sharing stories about their experience in lockdown on SheWrites, SheLeads’ social media pages.
In the next few months, Johnson-Mbayo wants “to see them writing about the things around them, and mostly stories concerning women.”
Johnson-Mbayo has big plans for her organization, which celebrated its one-year anniversary on May 17.
“SheWrites, SheLeads is a new organization,” she said, and they will continue to focus on young women in Liberia right now.
But eventually, she said, they want to grow across Africa and, hopefully, to the rest of the world, one story at a time.