Transforming Women’s Lives Through Radio and TV

Swapna Majumdar, CNS Special Correspondent
Photo Credit: Swapna Majumdar
In 2008, in De Mugogo, an impoverished village in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), voices of women were heard for the first time on a community radio-- Radio Bubusa FM was the first community radio set up by women in DRC’s South Kivu province. The radio station, exclusively for rural women, shared information on health, violence against women, HIV/AIDS, and food security with a community that had never before listened to a radio.

In a country where women, particularly rural women, have been excluded from the information and communication process, this was a big achievement and its participatory information interchange, through listeners’ clubs, contributed towards improving the status and livelihoods of women.

In India, in Kunra, a small village in Raipur district of Chhattisgarh, a group of women were so inspired by Kalyani, a bi-weekly television programme on health produced by Doordarshan, the National TV Broadcaster, that they decided to get together to tackle illness and disease in their village. But they did not know how to go about it. So they approached the programme producer, who gave them the idea of forming a Kalyani Club.

Kalyani Programme was launched in 2002 in 8 backward states of India, and is the country’s longest running public health TV programme on its public service broadcaster. This participatory and interactive programme, which has won several awards for social innovation, has now expanded to 21 states of India.

It is well know that the impact of television shows is limited and the mind switches off when the TV set is switched off. To ensure sustainability of the messages, there was need for partners in the field who would carry forward the message and appeal to young people to act as catalysts for social change. Thus was born the concept of Kalyani Clubs as a part of the communication strategy of the Kalyani programme. The Creators of the concept knew that, as a medium, TV could enter into the houses of people but needed support to sustain the health messages and this responsibility was given to the Kalyani Clubs, which now boast of over 82,000 members.

Kalyani, (a Sanskrit word meaning ‘Goddess of benedictions’), disseminates awareness about malaria, tuberculosis, tobacco, reproductive health, sanitation, hygiene and HIV/AIDS through song and dance, quiz and talk shows in 19 languages and 17 dialects. The Kalyani Clubs use this information to ensure that communities learn about taking care of themselves and their families. The clubs ensure that special care is given to pregnant and lactating mothers. There has been a decrease in infant and maternal mortality across the states, thanks to these efforts. Club members have persuaded nurses at the primary health care centres to pay special attention and get women to opt for institutional deliveries.

 Within four years of the start of the club in Kunra village, the number of diarrhoea cases declined; the incidence of malaria took a back foot and more children were being brought in for polio and other vaccinations regularly. Then again, having heard on the Kalyani programme that their district had the highest prevalence of HIV in the state (Chhattisgarh), the Kunra club members decided to stop families from following the traditional practice of tattooing. They went from door-to-door, explaining how HIV could be transmitted through unsterilized needles used for tattooing. It took several months and repeated visits before the practice was discontinued. This was not the only way adopted to share information about HIV/AIDS without creating stigma. Realising that all families had ration cards that enabled them to receive subsidised rations, the women managed to get HIV messages printed on these cards so that they would become a part of their daily lives.

Several reports have documented the prevalence of sexual violence in South Kivu, where women, as in the rest of DRC, have borne the brunt of decades of violent conflicts.  The 2010 UNFPA state of the world population report stated that local health clinics in South Kivu reported that on an average, 40 women were raped each day. HIV/AIDS had also impacted women the most. Further, a lack of access to information and decision-making had increased their vulnerabilities.

The radio has made it possible to debunk myths on HIV/AIDS and sexual abuse. Earlier, some traditional African chiefs and communities believed that rape was not an offence or a crime. But now opinions are changing, after women gathered courage to speak and express themselves on the radio.  Radio Babusa, which is giving women a voice, was born out of a meeting in 2003 between the Dimitra project team at United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and Samwaki, a Congolese non-governmental organization working with women in South Kivu. Team members of Dimitra, a participatory information and communication project which contributes to improving the visibility of rural populations, especially women, saw the possibility of creating a space for exchange and discussion between rural women in the region in collaboration with Samwaki.

This partnership laid the foundation for the creation of community listeners’ clubs in South Kivu with the objective of promoting social mobilization of women and men, and leading to dialogue, collaboration and action through the medium of the community radio. Since its 2006 launch in DRC, Dimitra spread to several other places, and by 2012 had helped to form 1000 listeners’ clubs with about 24,500 members. New Dimitra community listeners’ clubs are being created in different parts of Africa.

These clubs have played a major role in improving the status of rural women through sharing of information and breaking the silence on sensitive issues like HIV/AIDS. Earlier, women affected by HIV were ashamed to come out in the open. But now, given the opportunity to make their voices heard through the radio and listeners’ clubs, they come to seek advice and tell their stories.

In both the countries Radio/TV clubs have been empowering rural communities, particularly women, by increasing their access to information and participation. Just as Radio Babusa and listeners’ clubs were born to create a space for exchange and discussion between rural women in DRC, the objective of the Kalyani clubs was to give a platform to housebound women to participate in the process of development. Today these clubs have become an integral part of the rural women’s lives, who keep the information imparted in the programmes alive by actually implementing the advice and information.

Despite being thousands of miles apart, women in different parts of India and Africa are charting a similar path of empowerment. They are no longer willing to stay in the shadows. Whether it is through the listeners’ clubs and radio in Africa or TV inspired health awareness clubs in India, women are transforming not just their own lives, but of their communities as well.

Swapna Majumdar, Citizen News Service - CNS 
18 October 2014