Em­pow­er­ing Women

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.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Zehra Khawaja

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.

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