New collaboration with IMS in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso

December 2018 saw the participation of Dr Emma Heywood from the femmepowermentNiger research project at IMS’s regional event in Niamey. She presented the project’s ongoing impact assessment of Studio Kalangou’s radio output on women’s rights and empowerment in Niger.

Dr. Emma Heywood presents the work of FemmepowermentNiger at IMS' training workshop

IMS is a new strategic partner for this research project and we are delighted to be working with them on an in-depth content analysis of radio programmes produced and broadcast by their radio partners and associated women's listening groups. Through this collaboration, we are extending our research beyond Niger to include Mali and Burkina Faso, regions which IMS are focusing on as part of their new project.

The IMS project is innovative and its impact will be far-reaching for many communities particularly within the border area between Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. This is a conflict-affected zone and suffers from severe poverty which is exacerbated by high unemployment, low literacy rates and a large and growing population. Extensive gender inequality affects all three countries and high child marriage and high birth rates prevail. There is widespread polygamy, male dominance, domestic violence, FGM, and resistance to women’s work outside the home. What’s more, in this patriarchal and religious society, women do not have the same legal status as men in the traditional and customary courts. In these countries, despite being important stakeholders in many aspects of daily life, women, in many cases, are disempowered, require more information about their rights, and a greater voice in society.

IMS’s project aims to promote women’s voice in society by encouraging them to produce specific radio programmes within a given production cycle. They are providing training initially to 10 community radio stations in this region (this number is soon to grow) and to 20 of these radios’ listening groups. It is also starting investigative journalism projects training journalists in these areas on conflict sensitive subjects.

The 20 listening groups are led by women from the community who meet regularly to discuss particular problems which affect their populations. They determine the most pressing of these, invite experts to discussions to try and work out solutions and propose these issues to their local radio stations for broadcast to the community. The radios are producing a range of programmes, many of which are women-related, covering areas such as health, education, climate, conflict-resolution, women’s role in peace-building, in politics and in local development.

The women are not journalists and yet they are now actively involved in the life of their community radios. Access to information in these zones is limited and radio is the main source of information. Women are being given the opportunity to use this source of information to select subjects they feel most important, channel their opinions, and reach out to their communities by broadcasting the discussions of the club. Supported by other women, they are getting the chance to have a voice, something which is limited within this patriarchal and traditional society.

They are receiving training from IMS on a regular basis. Every few months, IMS brings together leaders from the women’s listening groups and radio directors in Niamey, the capital of Niger and they discuss content and are instructed on how to best select topics, how to approach various experts and how to optimise the advice they receive from them. The fact that these groups are led by women for women is key.

Listening clubs are not new to the area but the IMS approach is. The training courses they give when they bring the groups together are innovative as they include a peer-review system whereby the participants assess each other’s radio output. Initially, evaluations were harsh but where soon tempered when it became apparent that their work would soon be subject to equally harsh criticism in return from peers. Yet by listening to the good and bad points of others’ output, who are all also at a similar stage of learning, progress is accelerated, the programmes are improved and the impact on the community is strengthened.

Being involved in such a strong project is not only fascinating but is reinforcing and broadening the work of femmepowermentNiger. In collaboration with IMS, we are conducting a content analysis of the output produced by these listening groups and their community radios. Work has already begun on transcribing, translating and coding output from several local languages. We will then be interviewing radio directors about their programmes and the representations of women in their broadcasts. Findings will be fedback to IMS and the groups later in the year. We look forward to delving deeper into the important role of these listening groups and their community radios and reporting on their progress. Community radios have proved essential for improving governance, democratisation, peace-building and rural development to say nothing of raising and strengthening the voice given to disempowered and marginalised communities.

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