Mebrihit Tsegaye, a farmer from the Tigray Region of Ethiopia, where she lives with her husband and three children. She is a member of the Herdi Weyane community listening group.
Radio is a great way to share information, ideas, and opinions. But it can be difficult to get some voices on air.
With the widespread adoption of cell phones across Africa, farmers can increasingly contribute to discussions over the airwaves, through call-in programs or mobile voting. Women’s voices, however, often go unheard.
There are many reasons for this. In many places, women have less access to radios and phones. Some women are also reluctant to call the radio station because their neighbours will think they are being too forward, too opinionated.
Or women may be less familiar with the technology.
But it is very important to include women’s voices in any discussion, particularly on the topic of farming, health or nutrition, as many African women farm either for family consumption or to earn money to pay for children’s school fees and the cost of medicines.
Women also have a different perspective on farming, as they may grow different crops or use different farming techniques.
Putting women’s voices on air
Our Her Voice on Air project is getting women’s voices on air using a new technique: beep2vox.
Beep2vox allows these women to share their views by calling their radio station and leaving a missed call ‘beep’ — free of charge. An interactive voice response (IVR) system calls them back and gives them the opportunity to record a message.
Women in community listening groups received training on story-telling, using a cell phone, beep2vox – and then were equipped with a phone.
In Tanzania, callers have contributed to a discussion around gender in cooking and eating.
“My name is Aisha Omar from Mnung’una Village Umoja Group. When I prepare sorghum porridge, my husband helps me to buy sugar and groundnuts (peanuts). But when it comes to preparation of sorghum for making flour, I always do that by myself then take it to the milling plant. After that it is cooking time.”
“My name is Grace Stefano from Mshikamano Group Msisi Ward. After cooking the meal this is how I divide the meal in my family. First group is for boys, second group is girls in the family and the last group is me, my husband and small children. This is how I divide meal in my family. Thank you for listening.”
In Ethiopia, callers chimed in the discussion of particular farming practices featured that week.
“I am Wesene Abebe from Hodanabe zone and Akaki Woreda. We are using BBM (ploughing technique) for water-smart agriculture. We benefited a lot from your programs about BBM, thank you for that. And we want you to find solutions for out other problems as well, thank you.”
“I am Bizen Abraha from Lalay Dabo Woreda. We plan our farming activities here. We are using seed varieties, row planting, weeding at least two times and water conservation works. We are benefiting well.”
The beep2vox system is so popular that in Ethiopia, the listening groups are given a scheduled time to call so that the broadcasters are not overwhelmed with contributions each week.
And for those women unsure of how to use the cell phone? Younger women have been very supportive in teaching elders in their group how to place a call and understand the IVR technology (which guides the caller through steps using voice and the keypad).
This is just one of several strategies to ensure women’s voices are share over the airwaves. The simple technique of adding a women-only phone line has also helped radio stations feature more women’s voices. Where before, the next caller on the phone-in line was more often a man than a woman (as men often have more time to repeatedly call the station), adding a second phone line and advertising the number as for women-only to call, means that up to 50% of the voices featured in a call-in segment may be from women.
Her farm, her farm radio
Farm Radio International has also adopted several strategies for increasing the proportion of women that make up the listening audience. Community listening groups composed entirely of women ensure a female audience — and a space for women to share their views with neighbours.
Airing topics important to women also encourages women to tune in. Our My Children radio drama uses a strong female, Florence, at the core of the story. Our Her Farm Radio initiative includes several projects that endeavor to place the needs and interests of women farmers at the core of their design.
The Her Voice on Air project is funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development and implemented in coordination with our project, “Developing demand-led interactive farm radio services.” These two projects are implemented in partnership with 12 radio stations across Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia.