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Radio Communautaire Salama—FRI COVID-19 support funds recipient and voice for women during the pandemic

Radio Communautaire Salama is known locally as “the voice of women,” says Jeremi Kyaswekera. Located in Butembo, Democratic Republic of Congo, this community radio station has been on air since it was founded by the Collectif de Femmes Journalistes, or Collective of Female Journalists, in 2014.

Mr. Kyaswekera says that Radio Salama caters to women through programs that focus on women’s role in decision-making and development activities, as well as on gender-based violence. He says, “The main goal of the radio is to promote the rights of women.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Butembo in March 2020, programs like these were at risk of ending. Mr. Kyaswekera recalls partners closing their offices and pulling programs off the air.

So when Radio Salama received Farm Radio International support funds in November 2020, Mr. Kyaswekera quickly put the money to use to serve listeners.

He recalls, “With the support funds, we were able to go to the community well-protected.”

Equipped with face masks and sanitizer, Radio Salama staff conducted interviews and created vox pops to understand and air their community’s concerns about the pandemic. Purchasing phone credit also allowed staff to speak to at-risk community members from a distance.

The reports that describe these activities are featured in a program called Sauti Ya Mkaaji, or “The voice of the Inhabitant.” Broadcast every Tuesday from 2-2:30 p.m., the program is dedicated to COVID-19. Each episode features community members, a local expert, and a phone-in session.

Mr. Kyaswekera says, “In this program, we have given voice to the population … as a way for us to hear their concerns during this period of COVID-19.”

The program talks about COVID-19 in general, as well as its specific impacts on women. One episode featured a gynecologist from a local hospital. The expert explained that the fear of COVID-19 had prevented many women from attending appointments, and she encouraged women to safely visit the hospital when necessary.

Another episode featured female farmers who shared their struggle to access and sell harvested crops during lockdown. An agricultural expert also offered advice.

Mr. Kyaswekera says: “The housewives who we consulted noted that … this confinement also affects their lives and homes; they have extra burdens because the children did not go to school [and] many husbands stayed at home without work.”

He notes that stresses like these have led to increased gender-based and sexual violence and that COVID-19 restrictions make access to women’s support organizations more difficult.

Radio Salama collaborates with some women’s organizations, inviting them to speak on-air, promote their services, and educate listeners about sexual violence.

Mr. Kyaswekera says, “Sometimes, women see acts of violence being committed but do not know. This part of our programs helps them discover that these acts are violent.”

One local organization called Femmes Juristes pour la Défense des Droits des Femmes, or Female Lawyers for the Defence of Women’s Rights, provides legal support to women experiencing violence in Butembo. Since airing these episodes, Mr. Kyaswekera says the organization has seen an increase in the use of their services.

But Mr. Kyaswekera admits it isn’t easy to get women to speak on Radio Salama.

He says, “Generally women are not used to expressing themselves on air. They sometimes refuse to express themselves … on certain sensitive subjects.”

But the staff of Radio Salama know the value of featuring community voices on air, especially women.

Mr. Kyaswekera says: “It is a way for us to understand their concerns, to understand a problem that comes from the community, and to be able to design programs that address the community’s concerns.”

The director says that, to help women feel comfortable expressing themselves on air, Radio Salama often invites female community leaders as guests. He adds that it’s important for radio stations to hire female journalists, as they help create a media culture where women speak and the community listens.

Despite these challenges, Mr. Kyaswekera says that Sauti Ya Mkaaji is very popular with listeners. The program receives lots of calls and messages during each broadcast, many requesting more information and discussion on sensitive topics.

He adds that the FRI support funds helped the program spark real change in Butembo, and encourages other broadcasters to make their radio a platform for women’s voices.

Radio Communautaire Salama was one of more than 100 stations to receive Farm Radio COVID-19 Support Funds. Read more Spotlight stories to learn about other recipients of these funds.