Out of the Margins: Lessons from Africa in the Participation of Women in Community Radio S. Revi Sterling, John K.

Alliance for Technology, Learning and Society University of Colorado Campus Box 422, Boulder, CO 80309-0430, USA Email: {revi.sterling, jkb}@colorado.edu

Abstract Radio is the most pervasive mass medium in Africa in terms of audience reach. Although community radio is flourishing as an alternative to state and private broadcasting, African community radio stations have struggled with issues related to women’s participation and leadership. This paper explores the foundations of this challenge in Africa, and seeks to identify lessons for India from efforts in Africa to address the challenge of women’s participation. We argue that community radio provides an effective development communications vehicle for marginalized women, and describe an overview of the strategies that African community radio stations have employed to increase female representation. We also describe a prototype device being deployed in rural Kenya that will allow women to “talk back” to their community radio station, thus giving them voice and increased status. We conclude with a discussion of the social and technical challenges that need be addressed to provide and sustain this bidirectional capability. The goal of the presentation is to encourage discussion about how experience with gender-based initiatives in African community radio can help inform the development of community radio in India. Community Radio and Gender Equity While girls grace the cover of the 2007 The Millennium Development Goals Report (UN 2007), gender bias in India continues to deprive millions of girls and women the opportunities promised in the 2007 annual report, and every World Conference on Women: equality, literacy skills, medical care and basic human rights. India’s low female literacy rates (especially among members of scheduled tribes) and high maternal mortality rates continue to mar India’s overall development picture (Shariff and Sudarshan 1996; Bajpat and Goyal 2004). This problem is not endemic to India – Sub-Saharan Africa is falling behind on both the gender-related Millennium Development Goals, and all eight of the goals introduced in 2000 (UN 2007b). Inequitable treatment of women continues, despite the quantitative and qualitative evidence that poverty alleviation and community development is sustainable only when women’s interests and participation is central (Klasen 1999; Blackden and Bhanu 1999; Jato 2004). Women’s lack of access to information and education, as evident in the World Bank’s Human Development Report, remains a huge barrier to their advancement, despite the billions of dollars that are spent on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), to promote access to information and close the “digital divide” (Avgerou and Walsham 2000). While the digital divide is a symptom of unequal wealth distribution, there are distinct social and cultural considerations that create gender-specific barriers to ICT access beyond the issue of cost. These roadblocks

include literacy, training, time, interest, safety, and gender segregation, among other factors (Hafkin and Taggert 2001, Primo 2003, Huyer and Sikoska 2003). Meanwhile, issues of gender and technology are routinely positioned as side conversations in both the development and technology arenas, which has marginalized the subject further and led to positioning the “digital divide” as the disease and not the symptom of uneven development (Jensen 2005; Morrell and Sterling 2005). We contend that placing women on the far side of the digital divide/digital inclusion spectrum ignores women’s agency. In her report to the ITU, Bisnath contends that women will indeed take the “ICT leap” to the degree that their countries can support the leap, and the “political will exists for them to gain access to education, training and employment opportunities” (Bisnath 2005). Without this political will, it is likely that women will be further excluded from the benefits of technical advances, which risks exacerbating existing gender inequities pervasive in the Global South (Hafkin 2000; Radloff, Primo and Munya 2004). Lack of education, and lack of access to the information that can help mitigate the social burdens of poverty, contributes to an on-going socioeconomic crisis for many women in these regions. While formal education systems may reach school-age girls, poor women do not typically have access to the formal and informal education available from Internet cafes, kiosks and community media centers (Ojo 2005). This challenge led the authors to explore opportunities for information exchange using ICTs to which most women have access – radio sets. In Africa and elsewhere, women’s media organizations, women-run community radio stations, and women’s-specific radio programming efforts are emerging to fill the void created by the lack of availability to more sophisticated ICTs. However, while radio offers the greatest reach and accessibility to women, it is inherently unidirectional, which limits the direct involvement of individual women. We contend that incorporating interactivity into community radio will more rapidly advance community development. To that end, we are building a communications device that lets radio listeners talk back to community radio stations in areas where power, mobile phones and access to reliable development information is scare. These devices are intended particularly for use by women, who are typically the poorest and most underserved members of their communities. Since women are also often responsible for the health, education and welfare of their families and community, the interactivity afforded by these devices seeks to give women a voice that may otherwise go unheard. The AIR (Advancement through Interactive Radio) project enables women to record questions, feedback and news. Their voices are asynchronously routed back to the radio station, where they can inform subsequent broadcasts. We are currently developing and deploying these devices in Southeast Kenya. We are also exploring collaborative opportunities with Bangalore-based VOICES to conduct a pilot project with women in Bangalore slums. The remainder of this paper discusses the current role of radio in development and explores the potential role of radio when suitably augmented to address its inherent limitations. Community Radio: “The Internet of the poor” Radio Penetration Radio is the dominant mass medium in sub-Saharan Africa, as radio networks reach an estimated 60% of the population. In 2002, one in four people in the region were found to own a radio, while one in 35 had a mobile phone and only one in 160 had access to the Internet (Jensen 2002). While radio does not have the high-tech cachet of more sophisticated ICTs, it is enjoying renewed interest in development circles for several reasons (Buckley 2005). “Low-tech” ICTs


like radio can offer more appropriate and sustainable development solutions than advanced ICTs, which often fail to live up to their promise of societal transformation (Jensen 1999; Buckley 2000; Kenny 2002). In India, radio enjoys even greater participation, according to a recent survey (One World Radio 2006) The apparent failure of some higher-tech ICT solutions to take root calls for a critical view of the exuberant promotion of Western-style ICTs. A growing body of research has examined the challenge of implementing high-tech ICTs in the Global South, including discussions on the normative nature of Western ICT initiatives (Kenny 2002), and the significant economic, social and political challenges that hinder ICT implementation and deployment (Avgerou and Walsham 2000; Heeks 2002; Adam 2005; Kurian and Toyama 2007). These concerns have helped fuel renewed interest in radio by those who had earlier relegated radio as an “old” ICT, rather than one that is uniquely positioned as an appropriate and accessible foundation for ICT for Development goals – something the development communication community has recognized since the early days of agricultural radio in Africa (Zambia) and initiatives like the Bolivian Tin Miner’s radio (O’Connor 1990; DCFR 2004). As community radio licenses in India are just beginning to be issued to educational institutions, AMARC states that the number of community radio stations in sub-Saharan Africa has grown from 10 to more than 800 in the last 20 years (Mulama 2005). Jean-Pierre Ilboudo, a development communications expert with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, states that “Community radio is Africa's Internet. It reaches our most important audience -- the illiterate and hungry.” (FAO 2001). He also posits that the popularity of community radio is rooted in its similarities to the region’s tradition of oral communication (Ilboudo 1999). While Africa’s oral tradition is somewhat supplanted in India by the vibrant visual entertainment culture and the number of stations already on the radio dial, India’s proponents of community radio believe that radio offers the greatest potential to reach those who cannot afford many of the ICTs positioned for the “Bottom of the Pyramid” sector, and remains the most accessible medium for illiterate and isolated members of society. While community radio is typically focused on the needs of the community it serves, it often mirrors the gender gaps that exist in a given community. Given their lower status in the community, women typically have fewer opportunities to be involved with station management and content production (Wanyeki 2001). Lower rates of literacy and lack of access to communication technologies may prevent women from contacting the station to offer programming feedback. Further, social marginalization may make some women unwilling to voice their concerns and questions in a public forum. Despite these limitations, community radio remains both accessible and popular with women in Africa. Women’s radio listenership is high, as radios are both located in the home and portable, thus removing some of the most substantial barriers to access ICTs. In a 2000 study of three thousand poor, rural women in four sub-Saharan countries, 91.1% of respondents indicated that they listened to the radio. 67.8% of these women indicated that they, not their husbands, owned radio sets (Jensen 2002). This percentage is far higher than the frequently cited statistic that one in four people in developing regions own a radio. Over half of the women who answered that they owned radio sets also said that they independently chose the radio programming they wished to listen to, as apposed to 16.7% who said that their husbands set the dial (Sibanda 2001). Another study on women’s radio ownership and use conducted by USAID in Mali in 2005 found that 90% of the 1156 women surveyed listened to the radio. The remaining ten percent who reported that they did not listen to the radio belonged


to the most economically-challenged class, and did not have the resources or ability, given their daily tasks, to listen (Bilodeau 2005). Community radio programming is also cited as an effective strategy to counter detrimental attitudes and behaviors towards women. The online magazine “Business in Africa” credits community radio with increasing cultural and religious diversity in Kenya, and for kickstarting economic empowerment programs for women in Tanzania and Uganda (Accram 2004). One woman in Mali offers testimony to the effect of community radio on literacy: “The station has helped us understand the importance of literacy for our commercial activities. It has encouraged the women to devote more time to this.” (Sultan 1998). Another example comes from a community radio effort in Zambia, where a male listener reports: "The other programme I like listening to is on orphans, vulnerable children and widows. Before we had this radio station, we had a lot of property grabbing taking place…Through this programme, people have been educated to respect widows and where there is a will, to honour it." (Musanshi 2004). Community Radio station KKCR in Kibaale, Uganda, site of some of our feasibility studies, conducts specific domestic violence prevention and conflict resolution programs, inviting men and women on the air to discuss their stories. Men who do not abuse women are lauded on the air, and enjoy recognition in the community that is enviable and thus emulated. Community Radio: a Woman’s Space? Although there is clearly a large female listener base, it is difficult to accurately assess the number of community radio stations that offer women’s-related programming. Inquiries of program officers at AMARC, Associate for Progressive Communication, UNESCO, and online community-radio discussion groups seeking such information leads us to conclude that no organization has accepted responsibility for tracking women’s community-radio efforts overall. There are at least a dozen women-run community-radio stations on the African continent: Radio Muthiyana (Mozambique), MAMA FM (Uganda), Dzimwe Community Radio (Malawi), Radio Manore (Senegal), Radio Mangalete (Kenya), Moutse Community Radio (South Africa), and six women’s stations in Mali (Wanyeki 2001). Some of these stations, such as MAMA FM, have outgrown the usual characteristics of community radio stations – MAMA FM has a broadcast range of 400 km, a website presence, and a stated goal to extend transmission across the country (Nattimba 2004). Examples of women’s programming in community radio, as opposed to women’s community-radio stations, are also hard to quantify, although several non-governmental organizations produce women’s programming through the larger public radio stations in partnership with government health initiatives. The Well Women Media Project, sponsored by British NGO Health Unlimited, focuses on women's reproductive and sexual health through radio dramas. This programming is broadcast in multiple African countries including Somalia, Somaliland, Djibouti, Kenya and Rwanda, and has a potential reach of 35 million (Communication Initiative 2004). “Zimachitika” (Such is Life) is another women’s health program sponsored by UNICEF and the US NGO Population Communications International, broadcast by the Malawian Broadcasting Corporation. It has over 6 million listeners, making it one of the most popular shows among both women and men, as well an agent of positive social change in the communities it reaches (Myers 2002). It is not a stretch to imagine the many community self-help groups actors in India leveraging community radio as another way to address women’s unique development issues, much like SEWA, Karnataka’s Namma Dhwani, and Mana Radio in Andhra Pradesh already have.


In developing regions worldwide, making the private public through radio may represent one of the best opportunities that women have to “voice” identity and concerns, even if it is culturally inappropriate for women to participate outside traditional communication channels (Sangaré 1969). In their article on the transformative effects of women’s community radio, McKinley and Jensen point to community radio as a powerful location of women’s activism, where women are willing bring the domestic forward (water, housing, and healthcare) in order to politicize these concerns and mobilize action. Likewise, across Africa, women’s radio listening clubs, an outreach activity through PANOS’s “Development Through Radio” (DTR) project, have shown success in highlighting women’s concerns to the larger community. DTR now has hundreds of clubs throughout the region, giving women the opportunity to provide programming feedback via tape recorders, and encouraging women to become community educators by helping them become “experts” on topics covered on air (Warnock 2001). DTR may be indicative of a sea change that combines both willingness and the opportunity for women to participate in development communication. Through media like community radio, “there are now new openings to women to express themselves. Women today are breaking the bonds of silence… refusing to retreat before the many obstacles (lack of legal status, contacts, and experience, no access to credit of extension services, illiteracy, etc.)” (Adjibade 1996). Existing Participatory Models In his book “Community Radio and Its Influence in the Society,” Joseph Okechukwu Offor argues that in order to truly promote and sustain social and cultural change, health education and religious tolerance, community radio needs to be not only “a means of transmitting to people”, but also a means of “receiving from them.” He goes on to explain that “It has to be a radio that allows rural listeners not only to hear but also to be heard.” (Offor 2002). This is but one example of a call for increased community-driven participation. AMARC’s “African Community Radio Manager’s Handbook” discusses the fundamental importance of inviting community participation in order to sustain both programming content and the station itself. This handbook suggests that stations record audience opinions and ideas for broadcast, involve women, and establish listener clubs (AMARC Africa 2000). Likewise, the UNESCO Community Radio Handbook reiterates the importance of facilitating ongoing focus groups with the community in order to keep programming relevant and applicable to all members of the community (Fraser and Estrada 2001). Participation can take many forms, but one of the most familiar forms of participation to western listeners – calling or writing the station – is not an option for many in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet it is not enough to wait for cell phones to come to the rural poor, or for literacy campaigns to scale to communities off the grid. Late Federation of African Media Women (FAMW) Director Jennifer Sibanda held great hopes for increasing women’s participation in community radio through models such as listening clubs, stating “We want women's voices to be heard, we are telling our stories directly and we are giving a voice to the voiceless… These networks give us the opportunity of sharing our experiences, developing ourselves from isolation.” (Sibanda 2000). DTR is the most frequently-cited example of participatory radio. DTR enables women to provide programming feedback via tape recorders, but also encourages women to become community educators, and encourages listener clubs to engage in revenuegeneration activities. This three-pronged approach has advanced some community goals, while providing interesting lessons on community dynamics (Warnock 2001). While DTR is primarily focused on the development of women, other community radio stations sponsor listener clubs that are tied to community or region-specific needs. In Rwanda, for example, the Rwandan


Reconciliation Communications Project assembled thirteen listener clubs to discuss programming on reconciliation-based radio programs as part of a healing effort (Fisher 2004); these clubs employ specific participatory and self-reflexive communications methods (Mody 1991; Huesca 2003). Radio stations also solicit feedback by sending volunteers into the community to conduct interviews and focus groups. This is especially useful for educational “soap operas,” where keeping audience interest is a critical factor in the success of this form of educational entertainment (Myers 2002). Going into the community not only results in new programming ideas and feedback on existing programs, it also elevates the status of the radio volunteer – particularly relevant when the radio station employee is female (Madamombe 2005). One potential concern with this approach is sustainability – can the radio station and community both afford these activities, given the paucity of community resources and the likelihood that people are pulled away from subsistence farming and other livelihood-related tasks that may depend upon constant attention? On the other hand, these opportunities for participation and information exchange may be novel, welcome and empowering to members of the community. This question represents another fruitful area of research in community radio. A third type of participation is technical. Producers have the ability to splice radio voices and listener voices to create a semblance of interactivity. Radio stations can record interviews with community members, and mix in these interviews to provide listeners with a richer narrative (McVay 2002). Taking this approach one step further, Qwa-Qwa Community Radio in South Africa allows community members to come by unannounced in order to provide spontaneous discussions on impending or urgent community matters (Communication Initiative 2002). In a different vein, some community radio stations deliver Interactive Radio Instruction (IRI), using broadcasts to deliver scripted educational content so that listeners (most often targeted at school children) feel like they are interacting with the radio teachers. This is viewed as an effective and cost-efficient education model (Bosch 1997; USAID 2002). As radio technologies advance and radio station staff members increase their technical aptitude, previously unimagined opportunities will emerge to connect stations and listeners. This is especially true when information technology and media converge (Buckley 2005). Given the gender divides faced by sub-Saharan women, we believe it crucial that new participatory models, such as AIR, specifically benefit women. The Mali radio study indicated that less than 5% of women contact the radio, although 20% of women attribute a decision they’ve made to radio programming (Bilodeau 2005). While these levels are low, they are non-negligible. This study goes on to contend that “There is good reason to believe that programs which would truly seek to lead women to take actions to improve their own living conditions and of those of their families and communities would have a much more significant impact.” What is important to consider, in attempts to increase women’s participation, are the conditions under which women will engage when provided the opportunity, which supports the use of feminist participatory action research methods in interactive radio program design (Sterling and Bennett 2007). The Case for Direct Participation While community radio has a charter to speak for the community, and thus is often credited with providing “voice to the voiceless” (World Bank 2003), it invariably represents power gradients and broadcaster biases that affect the context of the radio message. Radio listening clubs, which provide listener feedback to the station, are imbued with the biases of the facilitator and the people who (can) attend and (do) speak. Even in women’s programming, one woman cannot speak for all women in the community. This is not meant as a pejorative


observation – the voice of only one woman on a station in which all other voices are male can serve as a role model to other women and a loudspeaker that represents women’s interests to the entire community. By virtue of its participatory charter, community radio has the potential to bridge many of the opposing binaries that keep women’s voices sidelined. It can challenge dominant/marginal, male/female, literate/illiterate and top-down/grassroots development models by airing otherwise private voices and topics. From these few examples, it appears that many women are prepared to take on these binary forces. This willingness (and in many cases, courage) bodes well for the AIR project and other efforts to directly engage women in station programming and operations. By offering women the technical ability to talk directly to the community radio station, we seek to amplify the voices of individuals, while complimenting existing community programs that aim to increase the status of women. We hypothesize that involving women directly in community radio initiatives, through AIR or other strategies, will result in two outcomes that are complimentary to each other. First, the direct participation of women in community radio will influence programming, bringing attention to topics of concern to women. Second, that the women who participate will undergo a self-reflexive process in the acts of listening and producing feedback, which will lead to new thinking and new topics to explore. Looking Forward: The Case for “Talk Back” Radio The AIR project aims to help facilitate these outcomes by providing women with a way to speak to the radio station. AIR devices are small, rugged, very-low-power, mobile computing devices that record user voice input, and then asynchronously forward users’ voice feedback to the radio station via an 802.11 ad-hoc delay-tolerant network. Comments, questions and knowledge can be recorded even when out of range from other devices. Once in range, transmission of this information occurs without the need for user action. The voice-based design reduces barriers to use by non- or semi-literate populations. The proposed mechanism for asynchronous feedback is also intended to ameliorate cultural barriers to speaking out, such as community pressure to say the “correct” thing in listener groups or misrepresentation by broadcasters or technical intermediaries. The current design requirements for the AIR project feedback device, which are derived in part from the record of successes and failures of other ICT solutions, and from Heeks’ theories of effective “gap closure” (Heeks 2002), include:  Portability to facilitate private or group recordings  Durability in challenging climate conditions  Simple user interface that is intuitive and not text-based  Very low power consumption and rechargeable batteries  Compelling design and form factor  Low bandwidth requirements  Opportunities for women to positively encounter technology Fifty AIR devices are being deployed in Southeast Kenya in collaboration with Nairobibased NGO EcoNews Africa and community radio station Radio Mang’elete, where two new programs are being developed to support the AIR project – a weekly Women and Development show, and “News from the Field,” where women will serve as citizen journalists in their communities. Devices will be given to women’s self-help groups as a shared tool. As mentioned, we are exploring a similar pilot with VOICES. Our aim is to make the AIR platform extensible so that community radio practitioners can modify and use the design in a variety of development


communications strategies based upon the evolving policy landscape of community radio in India – narrowcasting, internet radio, replication to multiple sites, and the new wave of visual radio that commercial stations are exploring (and could have applicability in the development space). Conclusion Community Radio and its advocates are often relegated to the sidelines in ICT for Development discussions, although the reach of radio continues to eclipse other media. With ingenuity and commitment, community radio in India has the potential to avoid some of the challenges to participation that African stations have faced. Without interactive technologies like AIR, the African radio community has managed to implement and sustain some participatory models, but not at the level of the individual woman or women’s self-help group. To match the development will of women in India, and all over the Global South, technologists and policy makers need to keep stride by supporting creative community radio initiatives that are truly appropriate, affordable, and gender equitable. Acknowledgements This work is supported in part by a grant from the Digital Inclusion Initiative of Microsoft Corporation, and was conducted in part while one author (Sterling) was an intern at Microsoft Research India. The authors are grateful to Dr. Kentaro Toyama (Microsoft Research India), Grace Githaiga (EcoNews Africa), Ashish Sen (VOICES) and Ram Baht (VOICES) for their contributions.


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