Creating gender-inclusive Community Radio Stations

For those of us who were part of the Community Radio movement in the early 2000s, reaching the 20-year milestone is a moment of great pride. It signifies our transition from infancy to early adulthood. Two decades is ample time not only to build a sector but also to lay the foundations of our core […]

For those of us who were part of the Community Radio movement in the early 2000s, reaching the 20-year milestone is a moment of great pride. It signifies our transition from infancy to early adulthood. Two decades is ample time not only to build a sector but also to lay the foundations of our core values and establish clear policies to facilitate further growth and impact. A few of our goals have been met, but this is an opportune time for reflection on what still needs to be accomplished. Why do we have only 480 Community Radio Stations when the mandate is to establish one in every district of India? Why are the processes still so difficult for small NGOs? Why do we still talk about financial sustainability? Afterall, Community Radios are a platform that serve the last-mile connectivity of information and communication in a democracy. As Community Radios, we must honestly assess whether we have provided sufficient support to others entering this field and acted as model stations for emulation.

While the journey towards better policies for making Community Radios more self-sustainable and discoverable continues, our recent engagements with the I&B Ministry during our three-day workshops under the banner of The Radio Festival reflect a renewed vigor. There’s a collective determination in all stakeholders to ensure that the sector grows, matures, and flourishes to its fullest potential.

Fortunately, after years of engagement with non-governmental organizations like SMART, there has been a notable increase in acceptance of the need for prioritizing gender awareness and sensitivity among community radios. Shri Sanjay Jaju, Secretary of Information and Broadcasting, outlined the new operational guidelines for Community Radio during the festival on World Radio Day. The notable changes in the revised guidelines are in the clause that mandates that at least 50% of content must be generated with the participation of the local community, specifically mentioning that at least half focusing on women’s empowerment. Importantly, the themes should extend beyond traditional topics like nutrition, breastfeeding, pregnancy, recipes, and beauty. This is a huge step in the direction of gender inclusion in content that hopefully will go beyond restrictive reproductive, and gender-specific roles.

While this top-down approach is a crucial step in promoting gender sensitivity in local dialect content aired over Community Radio, it’s essential to also prioritize a bottom-up approach. Identifying gender champions within the community to lead from the front is vital.

Seeking Modern Applications For Real Transformation (SMART) has been engaged in the training of Community Radio personnel in effective storytelling keeping in mind local nuances and sensitivities- encompassing three domains – Gender, Health, and Climate Change, aligning with corresponding UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Based on extensive fieldwork conducted across every region of India in recent years and discussions held during the three-day festival, it’s evident that community radio can serve as a catalyst for promoting gender sensitization, provided there is adequate training. Our flagship program “Hinsa Ko No,” initially piloted on Radio Mewat, has been replicated by 29 other stations across several states. With the assistance of our SDG fellows, these stations have adapted the programs to meet local needs. This initiative has resulted in significant transformation in the perception of violence among women in some of India’s most underserved districts.

When we initially embarked on our journey in Mewat, women had limited understanding of what constituted “violence.” Today, they recognize that violence encompasses not only physical abuse but also mental and societal mistreatment stemming from their marginalized status. This change didn’t occur overnight. Mothers, who once tolerated violence from their husbands, now refuse to subject their daughters to similar mistreatment. “I endured it, but I won’t let my daughter suffer,” they often tell us.

This transformation is the result of Radio Mewat’s meticulous ground mobilization efforts, targeted narrowcasting, and well-crafted radio programs tailored to the needs of the local community. Radio Mewat has also been actively addressing female health issues, particularly combating malnutrition among women of reproductive age by providing education on nutrition and diet.

However, as our understanding of gender continues to evolve, we have identified new areas where information and awareness gaps persist. There are numerous subtle forms of discrimination institutionalized within our systems that impede women’s social advancement, relegating them to secondary citizenship.

As long as we fail to transition from mere equality to equity, ensure proper representation for women in various fields, and the ease of upward mobility in positions of powers, incidents of unreported violence will persist.

When women are extracted from the world they have come to inhabit, even in oppressive circumstances, it becomes essential to concurrently establish an alternative safe space that ensures dignity and empowers them to take charge of their life choices. In that pursuit Community Radios is an invaluable asset.

However, the most significant challenge lies in addressing deeply ingrained patriarchal mindsets that frequently resist changes to the status quo within the community. This resistance also extends to those who operate these radio stations. Through our interactions with community radios, we have come to understand that there is a tendency to mistake overall headcount as an adequate measure for fulfilling gender representation. That’s where their commitment to gender representation stops. As we speak, a formal survey by SMART is underway to assess the extent to which station managers facilitate the growth of women employees management positions, and whether they have provided POSH training to their staff. But I have been in the field long enough to know that the numbers aren’t celebratory. The representation at the workshops during the festival also reflected this reality.

During the workshop on “Co-creating a gender guideline for community radio stations”, many station managers pointed out that despite actively seeking out women candidates, they often fail to retain them after a few months of training. In response, the facilitator, Olya Booyar, Head of Radio at the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, questioned whether investigations were being conducted into the reasons why women were leaving. She stressed the importance of ensuring adequate safety measures and sanitation facilities to encourage their retention.

Booyar emphasized that while failures might occur, it was crucial not to use isolated incidents as excuses to cease hiring women. She underscored the necessity of persisting in efforts to foster diversity, noting that such standards were not applied when hiring men. Booyar highlighted the role of station heads in modeling inclusive behavior.

Regarding the effectiveness of guidelines in promoting gender equality, Booyar stressed that they served as tools for identifying our gender blindspots and that it offers a checklist for fostering gender equality across all levels of radio station operations, while also serving as a guide for a sensitive editorial policy.

In the session”Gender at the Grassroots: Pathways for Inclusion,” facilitated by Suneeta Kar Dhar, Co-Founder and Chair of the South Asia Women’s Foundation, several cutting-edge gender concepts such as equity, intersectional lens, vulnerable groups, and sexual minorities were introduced to the CRs in a simple, matter-of-fact way. She also talked about the need for community radios to comply with PSEA and POSH guidelines.

Dhar conveyed to the CRs that gender mainstreaming involves dismantling all gender stereotypes, some of which are misleadingly promoted as empowerment.”Why do we need pink autorickshaws exclusively for female drivers and female commuters? Just ensure a safe environment for all women drivers. The color of the cab or the auto is irrelevant,” she remarked.

CRs highlighted the difficulties in discussing personal experiences with women and encouraging them to share their problems. Dhar suggested that this might be because women, who on average spend 7.2 hours on domestic work compared to men’s 2.8 hours, often undervalue their contributions and lack the awareness and articulation to claim her identity as a cook, a farmer, a tailor, or any other skill they bring to the table. While some individuals exhibited resistance, many were eager to gain a deeper understanding of gender equality and its various facets.

During a session predominantly attended by men, a radio representative from Tilonia, adorned in Rajasthani traditional attire, challenged the claims of some station heads regarding their efforts to hire more women. She asked, “Then why don’t we see them here?” Her confidence and rootedness offer hope that many such community leaders in local communication can emerge if provided with the right training and support, removing the barriers that hinder these women from speaking for themselves.

Three days of engagement are hardly sufficient to undo years of deep conditioning, and addressing practical roadblocks in the creation of a Radio Station that’s truly inclusive. Sustained gender-based engagement and dialogue, conducted in a non-judgmental, culturally nuanced manner, will be necessary in the coming years to foster mindset shifts and enable Community Radios to effectively contribute to the achievement of SDG Goal 5.

Photos: Kh. Manglembi Devi/HoA

(The author is the Founder of Radio Mewat and SMART NGO. She also organizes The Radio Festival annually on 13th February, coinciding with World Radio Day)