Nirmala’s husband used to beat her every day. People in her neighbourhood were often abusive. “I was neglected even in my maternal home,” she says. “I come from a low caste and thought this was how my life would be.” But today Nirmala is a confident young woman with hope for the future. As a reporter for the Samajhdari radio series in Nepal, she is a valued member of her community and educates people about their rights. For women like Nirmala, the Samajhdari radio programme has been more than just another medium talking about issues of HIV, health and domestic violence. Started in July 2008, Samajdhari is a 30-minute weekly radio show and an integral part of the VOICES Project, created by Equal Access Nepal that broadcasts’ to millions of listeners across Nepal. Broadcast through the government owned Radio Nepal Network and other 20 FM stations at community level nationwide, this already has garnered an audience of more than one million in Nepal.
Linking HIV and violence
Research by Equal Access in Nepal has revealed that HIV positive women are likely targets of violence and discrimination, while women who were continuously subjected to violence were at an increased risk of contracting the disease. In addition, two thirds of the HIV positive women in Nepal are housewives, making this issue a family and community concern. To address this challenge and the intersection between violence against women and HIV, Samajhdari is targeted at women in particular and adult listeners in general. The radio program focuses on highlighting this link between HIV and violence and works to inform listeners, particularly women, on ways to stay safe. “While working on the idea we wanted to make sure that we got answers to the real questions of the people,” says Jaya Luintel, the Samajhdari program coordinator.
Supported by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, Equal Access trains women like Nirmala to get stories from the ground. “Because we encourage and broadcast the voices and real concerns of people, it is important that the community reporter is an ‘insider’,” explains Ronni Goldfarb, President and CEO of Equal Access.
Being an audio medium the reporters needn’t be literate. Trained in interview methods and the techniques of handling recording equipment, these women are often victims of violence or HIV positive themselves.
Reporting here is more than just about having interview skills. “When I first went to talk to people, they refused to speak to me. But later when they heard my voice in a radio program, some of them said, ‘We heard you speaking on the radio, can you also take our voice across?’ This encourages me to work better,” Nirmala said.
The Samajhdari Team has created sixty listening groups that gather weekly to catch the latest on Samajhdari. The questions, readers ask, are answered as simply as possible. As Jaya says, it isn’t just about solutions but creating awareness and an atmosphere to discuss issues hitherto swept under the carpet. “Ours is the first to broadcast to millions in Nepal on issues of HIV and violence,” says Jaya. A real life issue (the dilemma approach) starts off the program. Thus one young woman’s question, “How do I get my husband to test for HIV”, or another one who asks, “How do I get him to use a condom” often start discussions where the listeners themselves find their own solutions. Issues are made uncomplicated. A question on whether a sex worker can refuse a client using condoms is explained from a human rights angle. Besides weekly listening groups, another part of the outreach component of the VOICES project is legal literacy training for more than 1,800 women and 200 men.
The National Centre for AIDS and STD Control in Nepal (December 2010) has estimated that out of the total number of HIV infections reported about 35 per cent are women. For women like Kamala, the VOICES project has helped increase understanding of safe sex practices and the importance of regular testing for HIV. As one listener says, “After I started listening to Samajhdari, I encouraged my husband to listen to the programme too. Once, we both listened to a programme dealing with the issue of marital rape. Since then, he has started to understand my feelings. He also realizes that what he did in the past was violence against me.”
Addressing both genders
Impact studies by Equal Access show that even men are avid listeners. Hari, a regular in the listening groups, wrote in to say that his attitude towards his family had certainly changed after programs that spoke of the evils of drink and alcohol induced violence. Since the programs are interactive in nature, incorporating listener questions and expert opinions, it has taught the Samajhdari team that many issues associated with the HIV/AIDS pandemic are universal. As one man asks, “I am dying of AIDS. How do I break it to my family?” Listener groups discuss ways his family can be prepared.
Winner of the “Special Award” of the One World Media Awards, 2010, VOICES, and its Samajhdariradio series, is based on a holistic approach to the issue of violence against women.
“This is a model that has brought about significant change in Nepal,” says Equal Access founder Ronni. “We have continued many of the elements of this model in other radio and outreach programs currently being implemented to address gender-based violence, empower women, and foster community-based change in Nepal as well as across Cambodia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Chad and Niger. Equal Access is currently seeking partners and donor institutions interested in working with us to bring the VOICES model to new countries. We hope to broaden the reach and impact of VOICES in Nepal and are seeking new partnerships to accomplish that goal.”
Their recent addition to the Samajhdari program was the Most Understanding Husband Campaign, designed to provide positive male role models, encourage men to take responsibility for their actions and essentially make more men participate in the move to eradicate violence against women. Nepali men were invited to nominate themselves and list 10 reasons why they should be considered. Responses to the initiative were strong with many men coming forth to understand what constitutes violent behaviour and to change their attitudes and behaviours Finally 10 men were chosen as finalists to promote gender sensitivity. But Jaya’s proudest moment involves realizing that today “Samajhdari has given women of Nepal a chance to believe that they can be their own persons and that their roles needn’t be restricted to being someone’s daughter, wife or mother. Samajhdari has truly made them understand that they are equal and meaningful contributors to society.”
To hear Samajhdari radio episodes visit:
More on the Most Understanding Husband Campaign can be viewed at: