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Pakistan Water Action: Community Radio Series Wades into Water and Gender Question

Pakistan Water Action: Community Radio Series Wades into Water and Gender Question

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Published by: adbwaterforall on Oct 11, 2012
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Country Water Actions

Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.

Pakistan: Community Radio Series Wades into Water and Gender Question
June 2006

Pani ki kahani, aurat ki zubani (or Water Stories from Women) is a new program in Pakistan that will attempt to use radio to bring gender and water issues into public debate. An initiative by a nongovernment organization, the program will soon be broadcasted on community radio stations across Pakistan. WOMEN, WATER AND THEIR STORIES Pani ki kahani, aurat ki zubani is a new 10-part radio program on women's plight with water in Pakistan. It will feature interviews and discussions that revolve around water, and project the aspirations of women on water and gender issues. Uks, a media NGO based in Islamabad, is producing the program with the help of Panos South Asia, an organization that works on media development. A typical 15-minute episode begins with sounds of water trickling from a tap, jingling bangles clinking against metal pitchers, and goats bleating in the backdrop to indicate a rural setting where life is seemingly slow and easy. But the messages that follow tell an altogether different story. "He beats me if there isn't enough water for him to take a bath," says a female voice. Another adds, "In sickness or good health, or even during the last few days of pregnancy we have to fetch water, there's no getting out of it." "The doctor told me I lost my child because I was lifting weights. I've been asked to rest even though now I cannot afford it," another female voice continues. These women come from different rural areas in Pakistan who still have to work hard everyday under harsh conditions just to get water. CHALLENGING NORMATIVE GENDER ROLES According to an Asian Development Bank (ADB) report, Pakistan's water supply coverage is among the best in South Asia–95% in urban areas and about 87% in the villages. Rural coverage is expected to grow to over 90% by 2015. However, gender roles relating to water use remain unchanged, particularly in rural areas. "We try to prod and challenge stereotypical perceptions and urge people to look at issues through a developmental lens," says Uks Director Tasneem Ahmar.

"Water is very important to women but they do not have the voice needed to influence water policies," Ahmar continues. "We went around the country to cover issues relating to women and water, from migration to mobility, to health, hygiene and employment." Women make up about 48% of Pakistan's 150 million people and, as in most developing countries, they are required to collect firewood and fodder, work in the farms, raise children, and care for their in-laws and extended families. "Much of their sufferings can be attributed to water and its availability," says Ahmar. "Lack of adequate water, limited or hazardous access, and poor water quality affect their mental, emotional, physical, and reproductive health." COMMUNITY RADIO FOR WATER AND GENDER AWARENESS Pakistan began licensing community radio in 1988 and even though the stations are largely entertainment-oriented, they are able to draw large audiences. The community radio stations were used extensively to cover rescue and rehabilitation during the earthquake in October 2005, and now Uks wants to try using them for reporting issues that tend to get "missed" by the mainstream press. "The series will provide an opportunity for telling stories and showing people what their society is all about in order to help them understand what needs to be changed and how," Ahmar explains. Radio provides the perfect medium to pierce the "curtain" of illiteracy and other social taboos to spread awareness on issues like health, domestic violence-and even difficult subjects like HIV/AIDS, prostitution and drug abuse. Uks has been doing just that. And because community radio is local, it has also provided people without access to national media with an opportunity to discuss matters related to their lives in a public space.

CHANGING POLICIES, CHANGING THE PUBLIC The issues about water quality and universal access to water are close to women. "We need to find answers to how much water we have, where it comes from, how it is being used," Simi Kamal of the Global Water Partnership says in one of the program's episodes. "The tragedy is that those who make policies never had to walk, sometimes as far as 12 kilometers, one way, under scorching heat with a couple of water-filled pitchers on their heads," she adds. "They have absolutely no idea about how much time is wasted or how the health of these women is affected." Ahmar says that bringing the women's voices into public debate is an achievement in itself. "A previously produced 15-minute program series on poverty, peace, and justice was so well-received that the community radio station broadcasting it had to increase the time slot to take in more live phone calls," she recounted. Uks is hoping the water series would generate a similar, if not better, response.

______________________________ Based on the article of Zofeen T. Ebrahim, Asia Wire journalist The views expressed in this article are the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), or its Board of Governors, or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this paper and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. Terminology used may not necessarily be consistent with ADB official terms.

*This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in June 2006: http://www.adb.org/water/actions/PAK/Community-Radio-Series.asp. The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADB’s member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.

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