20-26 January 2017 #842

Feminine FM

Women in radio stir a nationwide conversation
Emma Stolarski Morang

As Nepal’s hinterland gets steadily more feminised because of the outmigration of men, community radio stations have stepped in to offer women an alternative support network with companionship and advice.

Women working in radio have proven to be especially effective in addressing issues like domestic violence, child marriage or family problems. Women are obligated to work in the kitchen, and as one listener here said, radio often plays in the background making kitchen work more tolerable.

All pics: Emma Stolarski
The anchor reading excerpts from the morning newspapers during the morning current affairs program at the Radio Purbanchal studio.

Nepal’s community radio network now extends across all 75 districts and is broadcast in more than 70 of Nepal’s 125 spoken dialects. While only 60 per cent of the population speaks the national language, and community radio is able to transmit content in local languages. Radio has also been instrumental in the aftermath of the April 2015 earthquake to spread information on relief and rehabilitation.

It was in 2007 that South Asia’s first women-run radio station, Radio Purbanchal, was founded by Kamala Kadel. Today there are seven AM radio stations run by women across a country that is beginning to counter patriarchal values.

Kamala Kadel, founder and president of Radio Purbanchal.

“My motivation was to give a voice to the voiceless, it was important that women’s stories and ideas are heard,” said Kadel. While the station is a success, she received a lot of criticism from her male peers when she started ten years ago. Many doubted that a station could be maintained entirely by women. “They didn’t think we could do it,” she recalled.

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 her even more to create a platform for gender activism and to educate the public about discrimination against women.

It is very common for women to lack support systems within the family and society to turn to community radio for solidarity. Listeners describe women in radio to be like 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 counselors dispensing advice on a diverse range of subjects.

Radio stations also invite survivors and activists to share their own stories on air.

At Radio Didi Bahini in Tanahu, Durga said: “A woman can understand another woman best, and that is an indication why women related programs are important. We can learn from each other.”

Radio Didi Bahini in Kusma of Parbat districts receives hundreds of letters every week from women readers who want to share their stories or want solutions to problems they face.

Besides their ability to build a community for listeners women in radio are also able to collect data and stories for others to tune in to nationally and globally. Through community radio networks like ACORAB and others, stations connect villages that have developed especially effective programs or have gathered pressing stories to syndicate nationally.

A Radio Purbanchal journalist interviews women in Laxmipur of Morang for a radio program.

Women in community radio have proven to be especially successful in extending support in ways that national stations based in Kathmandu have not. While the capital is quick to pass laws to protect women, rural areas do not receive the benefits, such as awareness or accountability. Community radio becomes especially important in the absence of local elections, which haven’t been held for two decades.

Here in Morang, Radio Purbanchal still struggles to survive. Part of the reason is that the station is selective about the commercials it chooses to promote. It endorses Nepali products, but does not air advertisements for soft drinks, junk food and the like.

Read also:

Feminine FM, Annie O'Kain In

Women on air

The new radio revolution, Rubeena Mahato

Radio active after the quake, Sonia Awale

Rebuilding communities with communication, Manisha Aryal