Increased women participation in radio broadcasting in Nepal has created a new wave of female emancipation which is opening new avenues of self-expression for them.
In the early 90s, very much like in any other Asian country, women in Nepal were generally subordinate to men in almost every facet of life. Nepal, like most societies in the world, was strictly a patriarchal society. It still is in many ways. Women are still largely confined to household chores, or certain farm duties in the fields. But then there are certainly a number of brave and bold females who believe in an ancient quote; ‘You can’t sit and wait for people to give you that golden dream, you’ve got to get out there and make it happen yourself.’
Kamala Kadel is definitely one of such women who laid the foundation of a women-run radio station, Radio Purbanchal in 2007 in Biratnagar, a sub-metropolitan city and the second largest city of Nepal. That was the first drop of rain and today there are seven AM radio stations run by women across the country --- undoubtedly a very courageous move to say No to male chauvinism.
When such women are born in the west, it may not be something to boast about but when it happens in a less-privileged society and that too in a country like Nepal, it is definitely a matter to be noticed. It was the massive migration of Nepalese men to the Gulf countries in search of greener pasture that compelled Nepali women to take charge of a number of jobs hitherto considered to be exclusively in the male domain. Nepal’s big cities are now getting gradually more feminised because of the shortage of men. As a part of the process, community radio stations also stepped in to offer women a platform to demonstrate their communication skills, their potentials as broadcasters and their abilities as charismatic DJs. The all-female environment enables them to work without the fear of harassment from male colleagues.
One such radio channel is Radio Purbanchal. According to a rough survey, the channel has changed the condition of women in Nepal. It has proved to be especially effective in addressing issues like domestic violence, child marriage and a number of family problems which are discussed in question-answer sessions. Women, while working in the kitchen, also find the channel very helpful. According to one listener, the radio often plays in the background making kitchen work more tolerable.
The founder of Radio Purbanchal, Kamala Kadel says, “My motivation was to give a voice to the voiceless. It was important that women’s stories and ideas are heard. I received a lot of criticism from my male peers when I
started ten years ago. Many doubted that a station could be maintained entirely by women. They didn’t think women could do it. Some men took it badly that they were being excluded: They thought that a women-run radio station was reverse gender discrimination against men. However, such criticism motivated me even more to create a platform for gender activism and to educate the public about discrimination against women.”
According to a report, the women-run radio is a big success because listeners consider women in radio to be friends they can turn to when in need. They often call or write to the stations about problems they are facing at home. In the studios, the women are more than journalists - they are counsellors giving advice on various subjects. Radio stations also invite survivors and activists to share their own stories on air. According to Didi Bahini in Tanahu, Durga, “A woman can understand another woman best, and that is an indication why women-related programs are important. We can learn from each other.”
In Nepal women make up more than 51 percent of the country’s total population of around 28 million. Among them, only 7 percent get the opportunity to participate in state affairs and engage with the social and economic sectors. They are alienated from social, economic and legal processes and are deprived of social, medical, and educational and other basic services. Women in the rural areas, where they are confined to homes and are largely dependent on their husbands, are especially vulnerable as they are uneducated and not aware of their rights.
Apart from building a community for listeners, women in radio have been especially successful in extending support in ways that national stations based in Kathmandu failed to do. While the capital is quick to pass laws to protect women, rural areas do not receive the same benefits, such as awareness or accountability. The women-run radio channels broadcast such news in time for the benefit of those living in farflung villages and remote areas of the cities. On the other hand, the women behind this radio network deserve solid commendation for being very selective about the commercials they choose to promote. They only endorse Nepali products and do not air advertisements for soft drinks, junk food and other such items which affect the health of the public.
In eastern Nepal, Radio Purbanchal has emerged as a significant platform where women are encouraged to share their experiences and problems. It provides opportunities for women to connect with each other in lively discussions about solutions and responses to the problems they identify. Moreover, the radio station helps to generate public opinion for the oppressed and marginalized segment of society by offering members of these communities a forum to speak for their rights through their participation in rights-based programs. This facility allows women to develop confidence and enhance their capacity to stand up against perpetrators and injustice.
Radio Purbanchal is currently broadcasting programmes in five of the major languages of Nepal with a view to reach a wide audience. The result has been remarkable. Women from villages, who were once afraid to speak up, have now started to share their feelings through active participation in various pragrams. The presence of women journalists helps the illiterate rural women to present their views in any way or in any language they feel comfortable.
Women have taken advantage of this medium, especially in working towards addressing issues related to their human rights. Radio Purbanchal was the first community radio station in South Asia to be established and run by women. It is cited as an influential platform because of its initiatives towards women’s empowerment and development. The active participation of women has made them better mothers, better daughters, better wives and, above all, better human beings.
Radio Purbanchal has been playing a significant role in monitoring the new government as Nepal goes through a very critical political transition. After the settlement of a decade-long armed conflict with the Nepal Communist Party (Maoist), the state is now in a phase of transformation. Radio Purbanchal helps concerned groups, specially women, the dalits and indigenous people, to ensure that their rights are protected and guaranteed under the new constitution. The radio channel provides important information and trains women to fight for their constitutional rights and to participate in discussions and processes aimed at drafting the new constitution.
There have been hundreds of success stories Radio Purbanchal can rightly boast of. One great example is that of the dowry system. The editorial team at Radio Purbanchal decided to take views of the public on the subject. Through the initiative, the local people realized the problems associated with the dowry and committed to stop it. Proceedings from the interactions produced and a series of programmes on Radio Purbanchal helped a great deal in changing the perception about dowry. As a result, cases of dowry were reduced dramatically and fewer women are now subject to this oppressive practice.
Durga Durga Adhikari of Radio Taranga FM in Pokhara currently hosts a weekend program, Sunaulo Bhabishya, which broadcasts stories about positive change and activism initiated by ordinary people. In addition, she hosts Hamro Nepal, Ramro Nepal, a weekly evening talkshow discussing social issues like the new constitution. She says, "These days the media is considered as one of the most powerful platforms in the world, and it is the same for Nepal, which is undergoing a period of political transition, I hope to be able to continue spreading awareness and disseminating information about society to improve the status of women and children.”
Complimenting the brave women of Nepal, President Bhandari said, “Women are leading major public institutions in Nepal at present. These achievements are exemplary and historic. However, this doesn't mean that women have got everything now. There are still many things to be done to ensure women's participation in constitutional, legal and bureaucratic public offices."
The writer is a freelance journalist.