The power of women’s voices

Genet, a woman farmer, is interviewed for a radio show

Access to, and sharing information can only improve the lives of women

It may be 2021, but in many places around the world, women still don’t have a say. 

Rural women are the backbone of their societies. They are vital community members, key players in food security, and are often solely responsible for the welfare of their children. They support the welfare of their communities with their incomes. They have rich internal and external lives.  Yet women face structural and societal restraints that leave them more susceptible to poverty, to the effects of climate change, to food insecurity, and even to COVID-19. 

However, women often don’t have access to the same resources and tools available to men in their communities. And they’re even less likely to have a say in what those tools are, and what resources are provided to them. 

Women don’t need to be “given a voice.” They already have one. This International Women’s Day, we should be listening to them. 

Rural women know what they need

“Rural women know best what they need, but we need to reach out and listen to them,” says Caroline Montpetit, Farm Radio’s Regional Program Manager for West Africa & Gender Equality Advisor

There are few opportunities for women to be heard and respected in the public sphere. Radio done right, can provide an opportunity not only for women to speak up, but to inspire others to do the same. 

“It’s a great leadership tool, because everybody can hear you,” says Caroline. 

Radio not only amplifies the voices, opinions and concerns of women, it shares information that allows them to change their own lives. 

Accessible information can make a difference in the lives of rural women

Genet Menasuwo is a farmer near Michew, Ethiopia. A crop production expert — another woman — encouraged her, and other farmers nearby, to listen to radio programs on maize and wheat farming. 

As the head of her household after the death of her husband, Genet is solely responsible for feeding her 5 children from her 0.75 hectare farm. Radio and the support of her crop expert, has made that possible.

“Speaking as a woman, nowadays we have information very easily accessible through the extension workers, the radio and even the mobile phone at our hand,” she says. 

For rural women in Africa, access to information is a key issue. This information might take a variety of forms, on a variety of forms on a variety of topics: health, sexuality, climate resilience, nutrition, agriculture or much more.

In many ways, much more basic needs — to live without violence, to have enough to eat, to access healthcare — all relate to this same right to information. 

How to grow more food, what to feed your family, where to access healthcare, what seeds to plant. These are all types of information that can mean the difference between being able to eat and go hungry, or the difference between being unable to buy produce and able to afford to send your children to school. 

Radio can play a key role in ensuring that women can access this information, in a language that women speak, where they are, and when they are able to listen. 

But it’s not always that simple.

Reaching women where they are

“We need to reach women where they are, in the context they are in and understand the obstacles that they are facing,” says Montpetit.

In order to design radio programs that amplify women’s voices, that address their needs, and that they can access, we must also think about the barriers that prevent them from having this information in the first place. 

Women spend an extraordinary amount of labour on household chores, in addition to running their own businesses or tending their own fields. We need to ask women when a program is convenient for them to listen to it. 

Changing opinions and challenging stereotypes using technology

There is still a gender gap when it comes to accessing and controlling technology like the radios or mobile phones women need to access the programs — or call in to ask or answer questions themselves. We need to train women on the use of these technologies, and when access isn’t there, provide access to phones or radios through community listening groups. 

Radio stations are not exempt from cultural expectations about women. Often management is made up of exclusively men, and women the world over face discrimination when it comes to their careers. These same thoughts and misunderstandings of gender can then be perpetuated through on-air broadcasts. Radio stations themselves need support to do and be better — training, guidelines, self-learning modules, resources and access to other professionals who can work together to improve their programs can encourage and support stations as they work to improve their communities. 

Conversations had by women and men, on air, can change the minds of listeners at home. Sometimes it takes hearing an issue framed differently, or in a story, to spark a conversation between partners about gender equality. Radio dramas can work to change minds about gender-based violence. Radio shows addressed to women can ensure women know where to seek support. 

This is why in our commitment to gender equality, Farm Radio International works to not only design programs that improve gender equality in rural communities, but provides trainings and resources to radio stations looking to improve gender equality internally — so these changes can be community led and community driven.

Women’s representation on the radio

And finally, women benefit from the representation of women like them. Radio can be a useful tool for women to share their opinions, to voice their concerns and to be heard by people outside of their own communities. Women deserve to have their say on what happens in their community, and we, by extension, are better for it. 

Genet says the information she learns from the radio is invaluable.

In the past, she says, when she heard other women on the radio she wished that she could also speak. 

Now she is happy as now is her time to be on air. 

Women already know what they need, and we can all benefit by allowing them to express their own needs at a larger scale. Radio and mobile phones can also provide a way to survey those ideas, encourage women to have a say, and to garner opinion from thousands of women in remote locations. 

This International Women’s Day, we #choosetochallenge the notion that women don’t have a voice. They simply aren’t offered the platforms to share that voice on. Join us to today to amplify rural women’s voices across the world. 

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