Creating a space for gender issues on the air at Radio Arzèkè

| June 24, 2019

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It would be easy to miss Espace Féminin (Women’s Space), which airs for a short 20 minutes on Radio Arzèkè, but the radio program grabbed our attention because it is so successful at giving women the microphone. The program was one of 40 applications for the Liz Hughes Award for Her Farm Radio.

On Thursday afternoons at 2 p.m. in Parakou, Benin, Foulérath Cisse and Amélie Zonmadin are at the microphone to host the show, which aims to raise any and all questions related to women. This is a program for rural women that seeks solutions to their everyday challenges and advocates for equal rights. The radio broadcasters encourage women to exercise autonomy and control over their lives.

The program is packed with informative interviews, local music, studio discussions, and expert advice. Each episode ends with a promo for the next program. Content is often recorded in remote villages.

Topics covered include: management of and contributions to the family, nutrition, health, and hygiene. The program aims to transcend gender stereotypes by discussing various income-generating opportunities for women inside and outside the household.

Because the program is short, the broadcasters must be brief and succinct in their exploration of rich and complex topics. But if a topic needs further development, the hosts will continue to discuss the issue in future episodes.

Each week, the production team collaborates with local gender experts to decide on a relevant topic. Mrs. Zonmadin says: “We discuss questions of gender … because this touches our most vulnerable, illiterate women [as well as] educated women who do not work and don’t have any tasks to generate revenue. We work with the support of sociologists, marriage counsellors, and gender specialists.”

But putting together a program like this presents some challenges. It can be difficult to reach many rural villages due to rough roads. And when the broadcasters reach a village, some women may not be able to speak French—the language of the broadcast—so the hosts must incorporate local-language interviews into the program. In addition, some women are reluctant to speak to journalists without their husbands present.

Mrs. Zonmadin says that she and her co-host have encouraged these women to speak out for the benefit of their communities. She says: “We have been able to reassure them of our identity and the reliability of our program. After [hearing] an episode, they were more convinced [of our mission].”

Farm Radio International has recognized the production team at Radio Arzèkè as a runner-up for the inaugural Liz Hughes Award for Her Farm Radio. But the most important recognition comes from community members, who regularly call into this and other programs at the radio station to thank the hosts for their important work.

Mrs. Zonmadin says: “Many listeners appreciate this program enormously. They have called our morning show to congratulate the team of Espace Féminin for our effort to travel to places as far as north Bénin to visit villages and talk to rural women. They call to talk about the impact of this program on many women.”