15-21 March 2013 #647

Feminine FM

Women-run community radios promote grassroots democracy and help fight domestic violence in Nepal
Annie O'Kain In Udaypur,

PICS: ANNIE O'KAIN
RADIO ACTIVE: Women gather in Tanki village of Morang for a Radio Purwanchal focus group.
Radio in Nepal is a medium that transcends literacy, load shedding, poverty, even geography. It provides information, news, and entertainment to the public, but above all else, radio is a success because it is truly a democratic medium.

Women-run community radios embody democracy because they provide access, opportunity, and education. With Nepali society in a state of flux, women-run FM radios play a pivotal role as both models for their communities and mediators of change. Many of these stations provide access and opportunities for women to be knowledge producers and disseminators, giving them freedoms that they have never experienced before.

There are five women-run community radio stations. Three in the Tarai (Biratnagar, Udaypur, and Butwal) and two others in Parbat and Jumla. Radio Purwanchal in Biratnagar and Radio Mukti in Butwal were two of the first women-run stations. While Radio Purwanchal allows men to sit on its management committee, every level of Radio Mukti is completely women-run.

Radio Udaypur announcer Uma Baniya prepares to interact with listeners live from her studio.

Women-run radio is a vital forum for discussion and information. Since its inception, women-run community radio programming has tackled hot topics such as violence against women. “I have learned a lot from the radio,” says Mina, a listener of Radio Udaypur in Udaypur district. “Before my husband would come home, having wasted his wages on alcohol, he would beat me. From the radio, I learned that his treatment of me was violence. From the radio, I learned of my condition and that I had the right not to be treated this way.”

Coverage at these stations is not limited to domestic violence. In Biratnagar, Radio Purwanchal works closely with community groups to draw attention to cases of sex trafficking. “Women understand women’s issues. So women-run radio is in a position to understand the plight of women in this country,” says Bishnu Sharma, of the group, ABC Nepal. “It gives us a place to be heard, an opportunity for employment, a place where the stories of women and sexual violence are important, headline news.” ABC receives three to four cases of sex trafficking or sexual violence a day and reports these daily on Radio Purwanchal.

The radio receives at least one bag of audience feedback letters a week.

Throughout Nepal many women experience violence every day, be it through the physical violence of leering stares and sexual assault, or the structural violence of poverty and a lack of education. Like most women in Nepal, the staff at women-run radio stations understand violence and discrimination firsthand.

“Men have had the opportunity to do radio work for a while,” says Rupa, a staff member at Radio Didi Bahini in Parbat. “In order to do this work, women must struggle and fight to prove that we are worthy… most people in our community see this and respect us for it.” Radio allows women to give voice to their experiences. It serves as a safe space for these issues to be heard, while simultaneously spreading knowledge and awareness.

With elections around the corner, the importance of community radio becomes all the more vital in Nepal. Multiple elections have brought little, if any, substantial change since the monarchy was sidelined in 2006. In a system where politicians have failed, radio has continued to be a functional outlet of democracy. Over the past 16 years, radio has been a vehicle for access, opportunity, and education in Nepal and women-run community radios have been playing an essential part in building an inclusive and working democratic system.

To listen to the podcast of Radio Purwanchal in Biratnagar click here

To listen to the podcast of Udaypur click here

See also:

Women on air

Radio active women

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