Empowering Change: Digital Activism for Environmental Protection and Women’s Rights

Guest Speaking event with Florence Blondel of Population Matters

Florence Blondel, Content and Campaigns Specialist with Population Matters, is a seasoned reporter with extensive travel experience in rural Uganda. During her travels, she’s witnessed pervasive issues such as large families, widespread poverty, deforestation, and challenges young mothers face. Motivated by these stories, Florence draws from her African womanhood and journalism background to embark on a digital activism campaign.

Her focus lies at the intersection of environmental protection and the rights of young girls and women. Through her activism, she aims to explore the transformative potential of online platforms in driving positive change. Florence seeks to amplify the voices of girls and women, advocate for environmental sustainability, and catalyze meaningful action using the power of digital spaces.

Presentation Date: January 23rd, 2024


Florence Blondel

Content and Campaigns Specialist, Population Matters

Florence was born and raised in Uganda and holds a Master of Science in Population & Development from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is an accomplished journalist and digital storyteller, having received awards for her work and dedication to advocating for the environment, health, science, and the rights of women and girls.

Florence previously worked for Population Matters as Campaigns and Projects Officer and then as Outreach Coordinator. She currently assists with the organization’s communication efforts, particularly their social media. Additionally, she serves on the Program Advisory Board of the Population Media Center. In her leisure time, Florence focuses on the development of FlowReady, a menstruation awareness campaign to prepare girls in rural communities for their periods.


Questions from audience, with responses from Florence Blondel

How might women in Africa get a better education and reproductive choices?

Women and girls across Africa require leaders who not only express concern but also possess the ability to effectively enforce the well-crafted laws safeguarding their rights. These leaders must confront and challenge prevailing cultural norms, combatting detrimental practices like FGM and addressing the root causes of educational hindrances and poverty. Active engagement with local communities is crucial to fostering gender equality and empowering women to autonomously shape their educational and reproductive paths.

A robust commitment to allocate resources for improving school facilities, securing quality teachers, and ensuring unhindered access to education is paramount. Initiatives like financial support and scholarships, of which I am a beneficiary, play a vital role in enabling girls to pursue education. Alongside this, implementing awareness campaigns emphasizing the significance of education for girls and women is essential.

Furthermore, comprehensive and age-appropriate sex education programs need to be in place. These programs would equip women and girls with the knowledge and tools necessary for making informed decisions about their reproductive health. Topics covered should encompass family planning, contraceptives, sexual health, prenatal and postnatal care, and maternal health services. In doing so, this will contribute significantly to breaking barriers and fostering a future where women and girls have the agency to shape their destinies.

What programs are there to show/model to young girls that there are other options to have a meaningful/contributing life with fewer children? Are there programs specific to Uganda?

The majority of initiatives addressing these issues stem from collaborative endeavors involving local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), government initiatives, and international organizations actively engaged in the country. An example of such collaborative efforts is illustrated by UNICEF Uganda’s past campaign, ‘School in a Box,’ which I reported on 11 years ago.

Comparable programs, often reliant on donor funding, exist to promote education and empowerment. Unfortunately, a persistent challenge is the misappropriation of funds, significantly impacting women and girls who are the intended beneficiaries of these initiatives. This issue of fund embezzlement continues to hinder the effectiveness and reach of programs designed to uplift and support vulnerable communities.

Will women and girls face repressive measures from the men in their lives if they receive contraceptives?

The inclination towards larger families prevalent in many patriarchal African societies, coupled with entrenched gender roles and societal expectations regarding women’s childbearing responsibilities, leads to reluctance or opposition towards contraceptive use. This resistance takes diverse forms, spanning from disapproval and emotional coercion to explicit restrictive measures. During visits to health centers in rural areas, health workers reported instances where men forcefully took women for contraceptive implant removal, and some men undertook this action independently. Despite persisting challenges, it’s crucial to acknowledge that attitudes are gradually changing, with an increasing recognition of the significance of women’s reproductive rights and health.

Can you please specify the basis of “Partner opposition” and why the partner is opposing? Is this due to a lack of contraception availability, religious prohibition, or paternalism?

Cultural and religious beliefs exert a substantial influence on perspectives regarding family planning in various societies. Certain partners may adhere to conservative values that prioritize large families or oppose modern contraceptive methods influenced by religious teachings. During interviews conducted for my dissertation, some women revealed that their partners objected to contraceptive use, particularly those who experienced side effects like frequent bleeding and weight gain. The significant impact of side effects often leads to discontinuation, an issue that hasn’t received adequate attention. Of course, the men desired intimacy whenever possible, and some harbored suspicions when pregnancies did not occur, especially among women who used contraceptives discreetly. Additionally, there are prevalent misconceptions surrounding contraceptives. Fortunately, paternalism hasn’t emerged as a major concern yet.

What differences do you notice in sustainability, women’s empowerment, access to reproductive healthcare, etc., in the US vs the UK?

While I haven’t extensively studied both countries, my observations in the UK have highlighted the ease with which people unite to advocate for a healthy planet. Whether it’s a cause related to wildlife or climate change, there’s a notable collective effort, with citizens actively participating and leaders being responsive. Skepticism seems to be relatively low. The UK has set ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions and has been a leader in offshore wind energy. In the US, sustainability initiatives can vary by state, and there has been ongoing debate about the level of commitment to global environmental agreements.

The accessibility to reproductive care in the UK is genuinely among the best globally, despite a few shortcomings. Personal experience with a sexual health clinic impressed me, especially considering there was no direct payment involved (acknowledging the indirect contribution through taxes, which demonstrates the tangible benefits of tax allocation for residents). The UK has a publicly funded healthcare system, the National Health Service (NHS), which provides universal access to healthcare services. In the US, healthcare is primarily provided through a mix of public and private systems, and access can be influenced by factors such as insurance coverage and socioeconomic status.

Is it known if the treatment of females as ‘unclean’ during menstruation is associated with fertility rates?

The treatment of females as “unclean” during menstruation is primarily a cultural or religious practice, and its association with fertility rates is not direct. The perception of menstruation as unclean is rooted in social and traditional beliefs rather than biological factors influencing fertility. Fertility rates are influenced by various factors, including socioeconomic conditions, access to healthcare, education, and family planning methods, among others.

What is the view of older women on large families, prevalent poverty, and children having children? Is it possible to approach them on these matters?

In patriarchal societies, older women often uphold the glorification of large families, female genital mutilation (FGM), and child marriage. While they harbor an aversion to poverty, some remain silent when their daughters are married off at a young age in exchange for ‘gifts.’ Effectively communicating the consequences of these practices to older women requires compelling evidence, and interestingly, this evidence is being disseminated through unconventional means—drama shows. During my exploration of child marriage issues, I encountered a group in Eastern Uganda actively engaging communities through dramatic storytelling. They travel from village to village, staging shows that vividly depict the detrimental effects of child marriage, population growth, and the overall neglect of the girl child. By portraying relatable characters and real-life scenarios, these performances resonate deeply with women, effectively conveying the adverse outcomes associated with such practices.

How can online campaigns translate into tangible actions and policy changes on the ground?

Engaging with local organizations, NGOs, activists, and community leaders is a highly effective strategy, as it creates a seamless connection between the online and offline worlds. Collaborating with these entities enables the documentation of people’s testimonials from the communities, aligning with existing data. Transforming online campaigns into events and webinars provides direct communication with those affected or their representatives, as well as policymakers. The messaging is customized to resonate with the local audience. Additionally, online initiatives include signing petitions that, when presented in large numbers, become a persuasive tool for advocating policy changes. And as a former or forever journalist, online campaigns need to be sold to the media as, in some instances, they have a wider reach, especially in countries like Nigeria where only 3 in 10 women and 5 in 10 men have access to the internet in urban areas with lower numbers in rural areas.

How can your information get to policymakers who you would think would be interested in reducing poverty, population, and environmental degradation? 

One effective avenue is to engage in comprehensive and well-researched advocacy campaigns. We utilize multiple channels, such as reports, policy briefs, and videos, to convey the urgency and importance of these matters. Collaborating with reputable research institutions and experts to produce evidence-based analyses also helps bolster the credibility of the information presented. Population Matters has done all this.

Do you coalition with other population groups? The Population Media Center (PMC) is doing exceptional work getting this message to young people in Niger and other countries.

It’s not enough, but that’s top on the agenda. PMC’s work is admirable to us and to me personally, as they have a presence in Uganda, and their shows are changing lives.

Can you elaborate on your approach to media advocacy/visual storytelling when planning content to cover these essential topics? Which digital platforms would you say are worth spending the most time on?

At PM, we are clear about our communication objectives, covering diverse topics such as biodiversity, population growth, and women’s rights. Our content is carefully crafted in line with our strategic approach, recognizing that human population growth amplifies environmental crises and is interconnected with various other issues, encompassing social and economic inequalities. With this in mind, we proactively plan our communication efforts and establish goals for nearly every piece of content, whether it’s a tweet, Facebook, or Instagram post. We present easily digestible content in various formats, including infographics, images, videos, and plain text. Our information is sourced from a variety of outlets, including our own research, campaigns and external sources, such as organizations and individuals that align with our objectives.

While our social media channels are performing reasonably, it’s crucial to acknowledge that contemporary platform algorithms prioritize paid content over organic posts. Despite this, our engagement on Instagram exceeds industry standards, and we’ve recently joined TikTok to connect with a younger audience. Recognizing the vast user base on social media, we find it necessary to maintain a presence in these spaces. Additionally, our email marketing and website efforts have been successful. To broaden our reach, we plan to allocate more funds to promote select content. Reaching more people enables us to get through to the policymakers and each platform has its unique audience.