Empowering women through radio

Women in Niger are victim to widespread gender inequality. This is enforced by a lack of knowledge regarding their legal rights and best health practices. Radio however, may provide a platform for female empowerment.

Female Empowerment Through Radio

Global problem

Women comprise 52 percent of the population in Niger. Despite this they often don’t have a voice; they’re silenced. Often their childhood dreams of becoming doctors or teachers are replaced by the responsibilities tied to being a second or third wife. This is common practice. In many cases women in Niger have little knowledge of their legal rights and fall victim to marginalisation by men. They’re often not allowed to take part in simple activities, such as listening to the radio, if other men are present.

In many developing countries across Africa electricity is scarce. In Niger, it only reaches 15 percent of the population, and few people have televisions. Therefore information is not abundantly available. However, they do have radio programmes, which act as a primary source of information for both men and women.

Community radio stations can be found across the country but these don’t have the rights to broadcast news. Instead they re-broadcast programmes from international and national sources. One such national source is ‘Studio Kalangou’ which was established by the Swiss Foundation Hirondelle. They work throughout Africa to provide domestic information that will improve quality of life, such as how to vote, health-care and family planning information. As a consequence of these programmes, community stations often invite NGOs and radio volunteers to give live further information sessions.

Entire communities will gather to listen to the radio shows or attend the live sessions. However, many of these sessions are mixed gender and it’s common for husbands not to allow their wives to attend. The result of this is that the women miss out. They miss out on healthcare information which could save their life, or the lives of their children. They miss out on discovering their legal rights and how to vote. Not to mention simply missing out on social interactions.

Sheffield solution

In collaboration with Foundation Hirondelle, Emma Heywood, a lecturer and researcher in the Department of Journalism studies at the University of Sheffield, is leading research into how radio can be used to empower women. Despite being in its infancy, her research has induced major changes. It’s already encouraging women to establish female-only listening groups, meaning they have access to vital information.

As a result Studio Kalangou began broadcasting women only programmes in May 2018. After each one, the women in the female-only listening groups host discussions about what they’ve heard. The next steps are now being taken to get NGOs to attend the women-only discussion groups in the same way as at the community radio stations.

Armed with new information about their legal rights, family planning and healthcare these women are equipped to resist marginalisation. They are being given their voice back.

Emma herself is amazed by the changes already taking place, saying ‘I didn’t expect to have such an immediate impact’. The results so far are transferable to other countries where women are disempowered such as Mali and Burkina Faso. Already, Emma has put plans in place to continue empowering women, with her next trip to Niger taking place next week.

Life changing impacts

  • Women-themed radio shows broadcast by Studio Kalangou to inform women of their rights and empower them as civil society actors.
  • The project has already inspired female listeners of one community radio (Radio Scout) to create a women-only discussion group of Studio Kalangou radio programmes in a particularly deprived part of the capital.
  • Female listeners who were not previously permitted by men to attend mixed listening groups are now circumventing these male-imposed restrictions.

Find out more about Emma’s life-changing work here.


Additional information

Publications

European Foreign Conflict Reporting. A comparative analysis of public news providers, 1st Edition. Emma Heywood (2017)

Heywood, E. (2018) The work of women’s NGOs on commercial radio in the West Bank: frustrations and shortcomings. Radio Journal: International Studies in Broadcast & Audio Media. 16(1): 59-77

Funders, awards and key grants

British Academy grant: ‘The role of local radio in NGO activities in war-affected zones.’

Emma Heywood 

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