January 20, 2020

Collectively creating change: Hamsada Radio

In our new monthly series, ‘Collectively creating change’, we highlight the work and impact of our grantee-partners. This month, we look at how Hamsada Radio in Afghanistan are not just broadcasting a message of change, but by involving the community at every step, are transforming cultural norms and values.

The issue

According to the Institute for Economis and Peace’s  annual report last year, Afghanistan is the least peaceful country in the world. Needless to say, this turbulence – partly related to a history of foreign intervention in the country – has serious effects on the well-being and rights of women and girls. Widespread insecurity contributes to a general lack of safety for women and girls, which in turn leads to limitations of their freedom of movement.

Overall, women in Afghanistan experience high levels of discrimination in public and private life. They have limited access to education and employment, and there are high rates of domestic violence, femicides, and forced or early marriages. Access to reproductive health is also uncommon - a woman dies of pregnancy-related complications every two hours, giving Afghanistan the highest maternal death rate in Central Asia.

Public discussion of issues that women and girls face is often considered taboo – making it difficult for them to work towards shifting the culture and changing their circumstances. But our grantee-partners Hamsada Radio are taking on this challenge.

What they’re doing about it

Established in 2007 and based in the Takhar province in northern Afghanistan, Hamsada Radio is a women's radio station aiming to increase women's awareness of their rights and change the perception of women and gender-based violence in society more widely. In their own words, their mission is “to unite independent women under a single umbrella to fight together against violence.”

Using radio, as one of the most accessible and widely-used forms of media in the region, is a strategic choice to achieve these ends: the group estimates that their broadcasts reach over 100.000 women across the province. These shows give information about women’s rights protected by national laws and cover issues such as domestic violence, forced and underage marriage, reproductive health and education. Moreover, the shows are interactive, allowing listeners to call in to talk about their experience and ask for advice.

If a caller asks for advise regarding domestic violence or some other kind of violation, Hamsada Radio facilitates the access of survivors to justice by referring cases reported by their listeners to local authorities and other NGOs, including our then-grantee Justice for All Organisation (JFAO), to connect them to support mechanisms like safe houses or lawyers who can support their cases.

But women are not their only audience: Hamsada Radio also directs their programming towards men, particularly religious and traditional leaders, in the hope of changing the minds of those with power and cultural capital.  One way they do this is by taking advantage of the higher probability that men will listen to other men, including men (whether lawyers, journalists, our local leaders) in their roundtable discussions on women’s rights.

The impact they’re having

Hamsada was the first radio station in Takhar province to be launched and led by a woman, to include women as journalists and speakers, and to dedicate itself to women’s experiences and rights. And the medium is as important as the message: by involving women, mostly in their early 20s, in public roles varying from announcer to technician to radio manager, Hamsada showcases their potential, providing role models for other young women and contributing to changing the traditional gender roles dictated by the Afghan society in the province. This was no small feat: Hamsada had to work to gain the trust of local leaders and families, and help them overcome deep-rooted anxiety around young female family members engaging in activities outside the house.

They succeeded, and currently Hamsada's staff mainly consists of (young) women, most of whom were trained by Hamsada on note-taking, interviewing, reporting, ethics, and the legal framework of journalism. Given the important role played of radio  in the country, equipping young women with the technical knowledge on how to operate and produce radio content provides them with increased access to an important resource to change power structures in Afghanistan.

For listeners, hearing other women’s similar stories helps listeners de-normalise their own experience of violence and abuse – and this identification with others in similar situations is a key step towards  building a collective feminist consciousness that can serve as the foundation of a movement. Out-reach in schools and other public spaces ensures that these connections can take place off-air as well.

A story shared with us by Hamsada Radio can help bring their impact to life: there was an 18-year old girl in the region whose father wanted to marry her against her consent to an older man while she was in love with a boy of her age. Hamsada’s director brought her case to the attention of the Legal Unit of Department of Women Affairs in Takhar, who delivered a ruling that the father could not oblige the daughter to marry someone she did not want to, and prepared the documents for her marriage to the younger boy, as requested by the girl, instead. - a very rare achievement in  Afghan society, Hamsada reports.

This success shows how Hamsada’s work helps girls and women gain knowledge of their rights, gives them the confidence to speak out, and supports them with a network of resources to actualise those rights. Hamsada’s radio station is more than a broadcast – it has created a community of change.

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