Improving food security and gender equality for women, this International Women’s Day and beyond

A woman holds a radio set in Bougouni Mali

When Adja Malado Diakité was first approached by Farm Radio International and her local radio station, Radio Wassoulou, she was a farmer.

Five years later, she hosts a program every Monday called Mousso djôyôrô, or “the place of women in society.”

Adja’s story — a woman who wasn’t working in radio, saw a need and rose to the occasion — is one of many formidable stories to have come out of our Scaling Her Voice on Air project.

This International Women’s Day, we are celebrating the culmination of that project, a five-year endeavour reaching more than two million women and men. It sought to, and succeeded in, improving food security and gender equality across West Africa.

In Adja’s case, she was first asked to facilitate community listening groups in her community, Yanfolila, in southern Mali. She participated in design workshops that planned content for radio programs, and became a guest on those programs, representing the voices of women and food-producers on the talk shows.

By the third series, she was a resource person for the shows, talking about kitchen gardens and how to conserve produce from them.

Seeing her participation in trainings throughout, whether on topics like gender equality or on interactive radio, Radio Wassoulou recruited her and gave her her own show – an achievement she attributes to the Scaling Her Voice on Air project.

“I have gained confidence in myself and I am very proud to be the second woman at Radio Wassoulou,” she said.

Scaling Her Voice on Air: raising women’s voices for food security and gender equality

In a way, Adja’s story is representative of the project itself.

Launched in 2018, the Scaling Her Voice on Air project was a five-year, $5-million project funded by the Government of Canada. At the time, it was Farm Radio International’s largest-ever project, set to scale out across Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal and Ghana.

We weren’t just designing the project for women. We were designing the project with the women that we were hoping to serve.

It sought to provide essential information to men, women and youth  about good agricultural and nutritional practices, but also create the environment for women to thrive and for gender equality to take root. Like Adja, who started with a community listening group, then moved to sharing information on shows, to amplifying her own voice and the voices of others in the community.

We’ve seen the number of people living in food insecurity drop from 50 per cent at the beginning of the project to 37 per cent – that’s 500,000 fewer people living in hunger.

We’ve also seen the gap in what we call a “women’s empowerment index” – or a measure of the ways women are able to act in society equal to men – drop in that same time period. The gap, or difference, between men and women stood at 25 per cent at the start of the project. By the end, it was only 19 per cent.

To determine this, we asked questions like who makes decisions in your household, what do you think about underage marriage, how acceptable you think violence towards women is, have you been able to access a loan. We then compared the responses of men to women to see if and where there were gaps.

We can’t take all the credit – after all, there are others working locally or in the field of international development doing good work in these areas at the same time. And sometimes something as uncontrollable as the weather can cause changes in how food is grown. But we can certainly say that we changed attitudes and behaviours towards all these issues – thanks to how we worked with local partners and what was broadcast on the radio.

They were changes Adja experienced first hand.

“Each program I hosted, I received many calls for clarification, or to provide further information on good kitchen gardening,” said Adja. “The calls were also to let me know how useful this information was and to discuss solutions to the challenges faced by women in particular.”

Adja on air at Radio Wassoulou

Designing programs for women, by women

A key part of our strategy in the Scaling Her Voice on Air project – in any project really – was that we weren’t just designing the project for women. We were designing the project with the women that we were hoping to serve.

How? We started by asking. Before we started any design, our country teams spent time in communities asking women (and their families) what topics were important to them. What issues were they dealing with? What type of information (in relation to food security) would make the biggest difference in their lives?

Then came design. Locally, in each country, with each station, we brought the radio production team, community leaders, local women and locally based women’s organizations together with our team of radio craft experts. Over the course of the design workshop, they worked together to craft a radio program that would provide timely information to women in their communities on a weekly basis.

Our partnerships with local organizations and experts working in food security and gender equality were also key to the success of our programs. We trained them in how to use interactive radio to amplify the success of their work, and in turn they advised us on our programs to ensure we were responding to local needs and concerns.

Topics ranged from maintaining kitchen gardens to gender-based violence – and everything in between.

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Embracing equity to reach equality: International Women’s Day 2023

#EmbraceEquity is the 2023 International Women’s Day theme. But what does that mean in practice? And what does it mean for us?

It’s one thing to say, “We have programs that are designed for both women and men.” Those programs might have information that is beneficial to both groups, that address issues that both face and they might have the intention of amplifying the voices of both parties.

But often, that is not enough of an effort to ensure that women can actually access and benefit from those programs. Do women have access to a radio set? If they do, are they allowed to choose what program is played? Do they have access to a phone to call in? If they call and the recording is a man’s voice, will they be allowed to continue the conversation? Is there a woman host on the radio program? Are they comfortable with speaking up? Does the information provided touch on specific obstacles faced by women?

Faye Mballo stands with other members of her community listening group in their kitchen garden in Senegal

For Faye Mballo, a member of a community listening group in Senegal, the challenge was simply calling in.

“In the beginning, we didn’t understand how to use our cellphones to call the system,” she said.

When Bamtaare Dowri FM, the station the women tuned into, learned they were struggling to access the call-in system, they sent staff into the community to teach them how to call into the program and leave questions themselves.

“When they showed us how to use the phones, we understood immediately. We learned as a group,” said Faye.

There are many ways to embrace equity in order to support women in overcoming these barriers: community-supported listening groups for women – with radio sets provided; mobile phone access and training; gender sensitivity training for broadcasters; ensuring women (like Adja) are able to co-host programs; segments of programs that touch on the challenges faced by women specifically; the use of radio dramas to approach sensitive topics in a way that is non-challenging and entertaining.

Scaling Her Voice on Air programs did all that. For some stations, at the beginning of the project, only 10 per cent of callers were women. By the end of the project, 55 per cent of calls came from women eager to share their voices and have their opinions heard.

Learn more about how we embraced equity in our radio programs for the Scaling Her Voice on Air project in this online conversation about gender equality.

Making a lasting difference in the lives of women

These programs were popular. 95 per cent of potential listeners in Mali, and 94 per cent of potential listeners in Burkina Faso, tuned into the programs – that means in those two countries, more than 94 per cent of people who could listen, did listen.

But it also changed lives.

In Burkina Faso, 48 per cent of listeners tried new practices that lead to gender equality. Things like women accessing land on which to plant food, or credit to buy seeds with. Things like how to divide chores and household tasks. Things like men making decisions with their wives instead of for them.

Scaling Her Voice on Air was not only about sharing information about agriculture and nutrition in a way that met women’s needs, but also about producing programs that challenged social norms and talked meaningfully about gender equality.

When was the last time you altered the way you act thanks to a radio program? 48 per cent of everyone who listened to our programs in Burkina Faso (that’s more than 600,000 people) changed something they did or believed about gender equality because of the radio programs.

That’s no small potatoes.

And Adja? She assures us that her community listening group is still active and running.

“I hope that these programs will continue for the benefit of women especially, and my entire community.”

Want to learn more about how we use interactive radio to reach rural women? Sign up for our newsletter.

About the project
The Scaling Her Voice on Air project aims to bring improved interactive radio services to Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali and Senegal, reaching more than 2 million small-scale farmers to improve food security and gender equality. The Government of Canada, through Global Affairs Canada, is supporting the project with a grant of $5 million over the five years of the project.

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