Bangladesh’s Radio (Lady) Ga Ga

DHAKA : Women, aren’t really considered as subjects for media news coverage in patriarchal Bangladesh.  A recent media monitoring survey by the NGO Bangladesh Nari Progati Sangha (BNPS) revealed that out of 3,361 news items studied over a two-month period, “Only 16 percent of newspaper stories, 14 percent of television news [items], and 20 percent of radio news [items] considered women as subjects or interviewed them.”

Fewer than eight percent of all the stories had women as the central focus.

Of the few women who actually made an appearance on the TV screen, 97 percent were reading out the news, while just three percent fell into the category of ‘reporters’.

Only 0.03 percent of all bye-lined stories studied during that period carried a woman’s name.

Women comprise 49 percent of Bangladesh’s population. Most of them are in rural areas, where 111.2 million people – or 72 percent of the population –  live.

In this country of 157 million people, women are still “seen and not heard.”The report found that more women appeared in photographs than men, but they were few quotes from them!

But here’s the good news:  women across Bangladesh are not sitting by waiting for the situation to change. They are actively getting on the airwaves and using the radio as a tool to propagate their collective voices and bring rural issues into the limelight.

The rural women are far away from policy-making urban centres. This casts a double cloak of invisibility over them. Data gleaned from the BNPS study shows that a mere 12 percent of newspaper articles, seven percent of TV news items and just five percent of radio stories focused on rural or remote areas. So urban news hogs the coverage, even though urban areas cover just eight percent of this Bangladesh’s landmass, and host just 28 percent of the population.

The absence of women and women’s issues in the media is a dangerous trend in a country that ranked 142nd out of 187 states in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s most recent Gender Inequality Index (GII), making Bangladesh one of the worst performers in the Asia-Pacific region.

The  BNPS study showed that less than one percent of over 3,000 news items surveyed made any mention of gender inequality, while only 11 news stories challenged prevailing gender stereotypes.

This is where community radio steps in.

Given that Bangladesh has a literacy rate of 59 percent compared to the global average of 84.3 percent, according to UNESCO, the importance of radio cannot be underestimated.

24 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and for them radio is an accessible, relatively affordable means of plugging into the world, and is extremely popular among the millions of rural families.

Momena Ferdousi, a 24-year-old student from Bangladesh’s northwestern Chapai Nawabganj District, is the senior programme producer for Radio Mahananda, a community radio station launched in 2011 that caters primarily to the thousands of farming families in this agricultural region that comprises part of the 7,780-square-km Barind Tract.

She owes her success to  the support and training that scores of aspiring female radio workers, received from the Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC).

Fellowships and capacity-building initiatives sponsored by BNNRC have resulted in a flood of women filling the posts of producers, anchors, newscasters, reporters and station managers in 14 regional community radio stations around the country.

“The road to my employment was challenging,” Ferdousi explains, “but BNNRC saw the potential in me and [other] female journalists and I believe we have made substantial changes by addressing gaps in women’s right to information.”

Likewise, Sharmin Sultana on Radio Pollikontho, broadcast in the northeastern district of Moulvibazar, reaches roughly 400,000 people over a 17-km radius. The community rafio station beams out programmes five hours a day. The  focus is  largely on issues relevant to rural women.

“It is an amazing feeling to conduct a programme, interact live with guests and respond to our audience’s requests to discuss health, women’s rights, social injustice, education and agriculture,” Sultana told a news agency. “When we began we had only one programme on women’s issues, now we run five programmes weekly, exclusively dedicated to women.”

“Most of our audience are poor and they either don’t have access to television or cannot read newspapers. So FM radio, available even on the cheapest mobile phone, has been very popular and the demand for interactive live programmes is increasing by the day.”

The difficulties facing women here in Bangladesh are many.  Only 16.8 million women are employed in the formal sector, with the vast majority of them performing unpaid domestic labour on top of their duties in the farm or field.

A lack of financial independence makes them extremely vulnerable to domestic violence: a recent study by the deputy director of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) found that 87 percent of currently married women have experienced physical violence at the hands of their husbands, while 98 percent say they have been sexually ‘violated’ by their spouses at some point during marriage.

The survey also revealed that one-third of all married women faced ‘economic abuse’ – the forcible withholding of a partner’s financial assets, so that they are financially dependent upon their abusive husband.

In 2011, 330 women were killed in dowry-related violence.

Other issues, like child marriage, also make pressing news bulletins for community radio stations directed at women: according to United Nations data, some 66 percent of Bangladeshi girls are married before their 18th birthday.

The situation is bleak, but experts say that as women become educated and aware of their rights, the situation is bound to improve.

BNNRC Chief Executive Officer A H M Bazlur Rahman, who pioneered rural radio broadcasting efforts around the country, is quoted as saying , “Issues like budget allocation, lack of appropriate sanitation, violence against women, fighting corruption, [and] education for girls are [often] neglected by policy makers. But if we can give women a voice, these problems [will] gradually disappear.”

Will more women’s voices on the air result in women’s  empowerment? We can’t say. But to quote an IPS article,  “Every time a woman’s voice crackles to life on a radio show, it means one more woman out there is hearing her story, learning her rights and moving closer to equality.”


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Posted by on April 9, 2015. Filed under Bangladesh,Breaking News,Livelihood,MEDIA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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