Sylvie Françoise recently graduated with an Honours degree in International Relations from Asia Pacific University, a recipient of the Volunteer of the Year award in Malaysia for the work she did with the disenfranchised people and is currently doing a Post Graduate Certificate in Education at the University of Seychelles to be a qualified teacher. Sylvie decided to start a group on social media to regroup Seychellois women and give them a platform to discuss topics that affect women-from family issues, dating, relationship to social issues. Sylvie is supported by a group of Administrators, who monitor posts and discussion in the group.
First of all, who is Sylvie Francoise?
I am originally from Anse La Mouche, I am blessed with two wonderful children. I had an amazing childhood, just being me and the only thing I probably missed out on was having the constant guidance and love from a father. I had goals of becoming very successful in life, still does. After I graduated secondary in 2009, things turned downhill quite suddenly. I do not have any excuse for that and have no intention of blaming anyone. I did two years studying for my A’ Levels and failed miserably. I started working in 2012 and got pregnant with my son. I went back to do my A’ Levels again in 2015, I was pregnant with my second child then. I delivered my baby and went back to school the following week—let’s just say that it was not easy. I have overcome a lot and I am proud of all the hurdles I’ve had to jump over. To say the very least, having my children was my wake-up call to a better life. Many people believed in me—I graduated; I was best in my class for English Literature and received a government scholarship. I saw education and going back to school as my saving grace. And I would want to encourage all single mothers to always believe in themselves and envision a better life for themselves and their children. We should always strive for the best. I have never imagined myself as being teacher but I see a bright future in that sector.
Tell us a bit about the group
Basically, the group is about empowering our ladies in Seychelles. I am aware that there are already established NGOs that are for the advancement of women in society. However, they are not reaching every single one of them. So, therefore, the group is there to bridge that gap and bring up different topics for discussion; some are still seen as taboo for our society (for example abortion) no matter how much we would like to convince ourselves to be open-minded.
Why did you decide to start such a group? Well, this is a great question. When I came back to Seychelles for holidays early last year (I was still studying overseas at that time), and I was going around town and soaking up the atmosphere, the most striking thing that I noticed was how bummed out and sad some women were, and when I got back to Malaysia, I kept thinking about what I can do for them. This is where the idea for the group came about, with the help of my then housemate, Stanio Sally. Actually, he was the one who came up with the name and we did quite a lot of brainstorming before I actually created the group. After that, I had the pleasure to team up with four amazing women: Gina Servina, Hanifa Eugenie, Rachel Lionnet and Zannah Volcy. They’ve helped with creating and researching numerous topics for discussion which we’ve posted in the group.
What is your membership count to date and do you know the demographic of the members? We’ve been in existence for a little bit over a year and we have over four thousand members. Most of them live in Seychelles, but we also have quite a few members living in popular European countries like the United Kingdom, France, and Italy.
How do you make sure that members adhere to the group’s rules and remain respectful to others’ opinions? We have membership questions, and new members have to favourably answer before they are accepted into the group. Moreover, the admins and moderators are constantly checking the posts and comments, and if we detect any sort of tension, we would either delete the comments or message the member privately, informing her on how problematic her comments are and to retract.
What has been the challenges to date to make sure the group focus on what it was set up for? We’ve had a few challenges, but not one that we couldn’t handle. We’ve had members screenshotting the posts and comments and sharing them outside the group. The group was created to become a haven for our women so that they’ll able to open up and share their experiences. So having some women take screenshots and not valuing the privacy of our women, was really saddening. We reminded our members of that infraction and we even named, shamed and removed those who kept offending. Since taking that drastic measure, we haven’t had any issue with that.
How are you using your position and the group to help promote gender equality and female empowerment? The goal of the group is to empower women and to teach them how to become more confident, how to know when to walk away from what no longer serves them, how to be strong and independent and more importantly how to disregard drama and toxic behaviour. It’s clearly a challenge because social media is indeed a dark place where bullies hide behind a screen and being human beings with emotions we tend to react to what they say. Through our posts, weekly topics and live sessions we highlight these topics a lot. We hope that at least one woman can get the courage to face her demons and walk away from any negative behaviours.
Let’s talk a little bit more about the dark side of social media. As a founder of an online Social Media group, what do you think should be done to ensure that it is a more positive, healthy and supportive environment? These are things that we as admins strive for, and sometimes we feel that we are not doing enough to foster more positivity and support in the group. But we often inform our members on how to communicate appropriately. We’ve even made posts on that. We monitor comments and ensure that anything inappropriate is removed and the person in question is also informed. This is how we educate the ladies. Of course, we have the ones who will argue and try to reason with us. But we stand by our rules and hopefully, this will teach them how to value and respect other ladies’ opinions and feelings.
How much responsibility do you think members should have to ensure that they are being honest and transparent with their fellow members? Definitely a considerable amount. This should be a reminder that should be at the forefront of every member’s thought whenever a comment is made on a post. But we do trust them and have faith in each one of them. Members are also allowed to seek help and advice anonymously if they want to protect their identity.
What is the plan for the future of the group? Simply to grow the community and get it recognised nationwide so that more women can get the help they require. We’ve raised a lot of valuable discussions about pertinent topics which without the group, probably wouldn’t have been discussed in a public forum.
The Admin od L.O.T.I.S (Ladies of the island-Seychelles)
Rachel Lionnet, a 33 years old single mom of two beautiful girls( 4 and 11 years old). Rachel is a teacher by profession, she teaches geography at the Independent school, Seychelles. “As an Aquaphile, I love swimming, but going to the gym and dancing are my other hobbies. From the L.O.T.I.S group, I’ve had the chance to meet wonderful souls and empower so many women. I am definitely looking forward to how the group will develop from what it is now, and it will!”
Gina Servina, 31 years old, and currently residing at Ans Boileau, Seychelles. Gina has a Bachelor of Laws (University of Leicester, UK) She currently works at the National Assembly of Seychelles as the Head of the Research Unit.
“I am a founding member and administrator of the Ladies of The Islands Community. I am passionate about Women Empowerment, feminism, gender equality, human rights and leadership. I have been an active participant in various Community Projects and I have gained invaluable experiences and knowledge in voluntarism and NGO Leadership. “