Barza Discussion explores interactive radio and gender

March 27, 2017
A translation for this article is available in French

For four weeks, broadcasters have joined together on Barza Discussion to ask questions, share stories, and explore the topic of interactive radio. In week three, broadcasters were asked how they can help women—or other underserved, rarely-heard-from-communities—to share their voices on air. This story shares some of the comments mentioned during the e-discussion.

Why is it a challenge to get women’s voices on air?

Hope Mafaranga, from the Vision Group in Uganda, notes two challenges with increasing women’s participation in radio programs: Women often lack the “money to buy airtime to make calls and give a contribution, while others have to seek their husband’s permission to take part in such a debate.”

Often it’s men who control the income or technology, like mobile phones and radios.

Many broadcasters also identified a significant cultural challenge: In their societies, women are encouraged to be quiet and shy, and to defer to their husbands about expressing an opinion. However, some participants noted that hearing a female broadcaster or airing interviews with women can encourage more women to join discussions.

But some radio stations expressed difficulty finding women broadcasters. David Munyaga works with Radio Ondese FM in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He says it’s difficult to find a woman working as a producer, broadcaster, or reporter. The station has three women who work in a combination of these roles, but —sharing their voices on air may not encourage more women to participate. He says women who speak on the radio are often seen as sex workers “[or] people to be feared in society.” This negative perception makes many women hesitant to participate in broadcasts, or become broadcasters.

Ebenezer Amankwa feels that the timing of a program is important. Mr. Amankwa is a broadcaster with OTEC FM in Ghana. He says he tries to reach women, but knows that most of the audience is male. He thinks that this may be because of the timing of the program—“the fact that during these programs, you would find more females either on their farms or busy with household chores and other things [and unable to listen].”

His solution? Broadcasters should conduct research to learn when women are less busy, and broadcast at those times. Then maybe women will be more likely to interact with the radio program.

How do broadcasters increase women’s voices on air?

At Radio Fatou, in Mali, female broadcasters host shows dedicated to women listeners, including a show called Sènè (Agriculture in Bambara). Adama Coulibaly says the show discusses women’s concerns, including cultivation, and is broadcast at a time when women can tune in: from 9-11 a.m. However, Mr. Coulibaly says, some women have difficulty participating because they lack phones or access to the Internet, and instead write letters to the station.

To address the issue of phone credit, Lamine Togola, Farm Radio International’s ICT officer in Mali, suggests that broadcasters should encourage women to “beep” the radio station—leave a missed call beep and wait for the broadcaster can call back.

He says it is even possible in Mali to leave a beep when the phone has no credit at all, and that this is quite popular with young women.

Mark Kudafa is a program officer with Farm Radio in Ghana. He suggests that broadcasters simply call out to women and ask them to join the discussion.

Mr. Amankwa suggests that broadcasters interview more women in the field, particularly in areas with no access to Internet or telephones. “This would whip up [women’s] interest to contribute,” he notes.

Mr. Kudafa agrees, and suggests that broadcasters have some control over gender balance when they collect interviews for their program. This is a good time to collect female voices—and perhaps the phone numbers of women who can be called upon to contribute later.

Mr. Amankwa also suggests using a separate phone line for women callers. Farm Radio International has helped some stations implement this strategy.

Men are the most frequent callers to many radio stations. But by announcing a separate phone number for women callers, broadcasters can ensure that they air more female voices, by alternating callers from the general and the women’s-only phone lines. If a man calls the women-only line, the broadcaster can give them the number for the general line and hang up, freeing the line for a woman caller.

These strategies not only encourage women to participate, but can also encourage people from under-served communities to participate, including the disabled, albinos, or people living in remote villages.