Giving a voice to women: New radio station is force for change in empowering women

© UNESCO/Terhi Ylikoski
Jumla, western Nepal

Twenty one days. That’s how long it took for a radio antenna to be transported the 360 km distance that separates the capital Kathmandu from the remote and mountainous district of Jumla in western Nepal.

The two locations are divided by rolling valleys and hills, and bridges and roads that are often destroyed by monsoon rains and landslides.

A group of women in Jumla waited patiently and celebrated heartily the day when the antenna finally arrived and Radio Nari Aawaaj, which means Voice of Women, could start its transmissions as the first women’s community radio station in Jumla.

© UNESCO/Terhi Ylikoski
Ramila Budha dancing

”It was a happy day. We danced and laughed, and called all of our friends and family members, and asked them to listen,” said Gauri Khatayat, who chairs Hamro Aawaaj, Hamro Sarokar, the NGO behind the radio station.

In Nepal’s hilly and mountainous regions, radio is often the only means for people to obtain information, and in 15 years Nepal’s community radio sector has grown to be one of the most active and vibrant in the world, with almost 200 radio stations on air. However most of these are run by men. Women have so far had very few opportunities to enjoy the benefits of community radio stations, not to speak of managing them.

Radio Nari Aawaaj, established with support from UNESCO’s International Programme for Development of Communication (IPDC), is one of the first community radio stations in Nepal run entirely by women, for women. “For the first time, we have the possibility to voice our opinions and concerns, and to be heard. We can speak for ourselves and not just through somebody else,” said Ramlila Budha, a regular listener of Radio Nari Aawaaj.

© UNESCO/Terhi Ylikoski
Gauri Khatayat

The station has been up and running for three months and it has quickly gained trust and popularity among Jumla’s women. To make it more accessible to them, the radio station has been purposely located in the middle of the village. “It is important for us that women feel that they can come to the radio station in order to share their thoughts and concerns,” said Gauri Khatayat of Radio Nari Aawaaj.

One of the most popular shows is “Let’s rest for a while”, a programme in which the talk show host invites people to come over and share their thoughts live on the air.

Singing is often the most comfortable way for women to voice their concerns. “Just yesterday a group of 24 women, on their way home from collecting firewood from the woods, stopped by the radio station in order to sing a song to the listeners about the challenges in their lives – for example how boys are sent to school, while girls have to stay at home and help with the household work,” said Gauri Khatayat.

© UNESCO/Terhi Ylikoski
Radio Nari Aawaaj (Voice of Women)

Ramlila Budha expressed satisfaction with the radio station’s content that covers many critical issues affecting women, but she said future programmes need to expand on certain areas of concern. “There should be more training programmes. Women can’t do anything without practical skills. Through the radio station women could learn about cultivating good quality vegetables, how to cook nutritious food and how one needs to eat during pregnancy,” she said.

The radio station has brought empowerment to all the women in Jumla district. They have seen that women can achieve the same things as men, and for the first time, they have the chance to voice their opinions.

Radio Nari Aawaaj has also created solidarity among the women and given them a platform to share their joys and sorrows, regardless of caste or social background. The entertaining and educational programmes also make long working days more bearable.

© UNESCO/Terhi Ylikoski
Kabita Mahat

Another regular listener, Kabita Mahat said she is happy to see her fellow women prove that they can do something valuable for their community, even in the most remote areas. Mahat, like many in her community, uses her mobile phone to listen to Radio Nari Aawaaj. “But sometimes my husband restricts my radio listening – he doesn’t want me to know more than he does,” she said.

The road to establishing the radio station was difficult, not only in physically bringing the radio antenna to Jumla, but also in mentally overcoming stereotypical views that prevail in the community. The women had to overcome the scepticism of local men who doubted they could successfully run a radio station. Now, with the transmissions on the air, Radio Nari Aawaaj is not only affecting the lives of the women of Jumla, it is also irrevocably changing the behaviour of men.

© UNESCO/Terhi Ylikoski
Ramila Budha

Regular listener Ramlila Budha said: “Domestic violence is a big problem in Jumla. Many women are afraid of their husbands beating them up, or throwing them out of their homes. “Now Radio Nari Aawaaj speaks about this and men are becoming more aware of women’s rights and the possibility of facing legal consequences for domestic violence.”

Gauri Khatayat shares Ramlila Budha’s views on the perceivable change in attitude among Jumla’s men. “In the beginning some men belittled us, saying that women cannot successfully run a radio station. Now their attitudes are already changing – we have proved them wrong and many of them have already congratulated us for our success,” she said.

In only a few months, Radio Nari Aawaaj is evidence that a small project can have a huge positive impact on the lives of people. With UNESCO’s support, the radio station has proven on a daily basis that empowered women can be a powerful force for good in bringing about a more gender-sensitive community that is to the benefit of both males and females.

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