Interactive Radio: A powerful tool to amplify women’s voices in public spaces

Elinora Shayo from Kikwe village, Tanzania, calls her local radio station to share her experience with bean farming. Her community listening group was given a cellphone as part of the project with Farm Radio International.

Elinora Shayo from Kikwe village, Tanzania, calls her local radio station to share her experience with bean farming. Her community listening group was given a cellphone as part of the project with Farm Radio International.

When the Canadian government launched its Feminist International Assistance Policy on June 9, 2017, we saw a great opportunity to reflect on our own gender policy following its creation in 2015.

For Farm Radio International (FRI), a feminist approach to international development is crucial because it means recognizing the key role women play in agriculture, food and nutrition security as well as other sectors, and that their contributions, needs and voices are unfortunately still too often overlooked.

Of course, women are not an homogeneous group. They face discrimination differently depending on factors such as ethnicity, age, socio-economic status and more, making it essential to look at the underlying causes of gender inequality when trying to promote successful, equal and sustainable development. We specifically need to strengthen the voices of the most vulnerable — women’s voices — to shape interventions. They are the experts of their own lives, and we need to create safe spaces for them to be heard and be part of the conversation.

A great way to do this is to put women’s voices on the airwaves, so that they can contribute to — and initiate — conversations within their community about the challenges they face, the solutions they are working on, and the opportunities they see.

Putting her voice on air

We did just this with our Her Voice on Air project, funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). In partnership with 13 radio stations in Ethiopia, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda, this project worked to provide hundreds of women with the skills, tools and confidence to tell their own stories on the radio, their way.

Broadcasters were trained to incorporate a gender-sensitive approach in their programming to address the information needs of women and facilitate discussions around topics such as gender-based violence and family planning. Women, forming community listening groups, were also given training on how to contribute to and use the available radio programs to their benefit. They learned and practiced how to call in to live radio shows and how to use their cellphones to record and contribute content for inclusion in future episodes.

Through this project, we met Sylvia Alumu, a 42-year-old woman from Barwala village, Uganda. She was able to participate in on-air conversations and share her knowledge and experience related to family planning, conservation, waste management and land fragmentation. Through the power of radio, her comments were shared throughout the area served by the radio station.

But she did much more than share her voice. She also participated in planning the radio program so that it would speak to the needs of farming women like her. She took part in polls and recorded voice messages for the radio programs. As a result, she was invited to come in to the studio and participate in a panel discussion with her husband. Sylvia said, laughing, “I was excited and I felt great because it was my first time in my whole life to be in the radio station studio and my capacity was built because I was talking to so many people in different districts and they were listening to me.”

We know that radio, like other media, tends to give more time and space to men. That is why approaches like this are so important — they carve out more opportunities and tools for women to have equal access to the airwaves.

Her Voice on Air successfully helped radio stations address the information needs of women, soliciting and sharing women’s perspectives and experiences as content in radio programs, and fostering a sense of empowerment and self-confidence in the women involved. With the confidence to discuss and explain their farming practices, and by being the main channels of information regarding the new practices they learned from the radio shows, women noticed an increased respect for their ability to educate others on farming practices. In some communities, women and men noticed that Her Voice on Air influenced gender roles in agricultural practices.

Information and communication technologies, including radio, are powerful tools, but women need access to these tools as well as training so that they can take advantage and control how to use them. Using them, women can increase their participation in public dialogues around their needs and interests in agriculture and other key development sectors such as health, nutrition, and climate adaptation.

We’re now working to scale the Her Voice on Air approach in West Africa so that more women can benefit from hearing their perspectives and experiences amplified within their communities.

About the author  
Caroline Montpetit is the Senior Program Officer for West Africa and our gender specialist.

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