In many communities all over the world, women and girls are suppressed and exposed to demeaning treatment. This is an important issue for all community radio stations all over the world to be alert to and to include in their programming: Which are the human rights violations against women and girls in the community? What is already being done to address these? Who/which institutions are responsible for the violations? What could be done to counter them? What could the role of the radio be?
Violations of women’s and girls’ human rights are, in many communities, expressed through violence in general as well as sexually through rape (including inside marriage), incest; lack of rights over one’s own body for instance not being able to request protection against the risk of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases from infidel husbands or boyfriends. Violations of human rights can also be denial of the right to an education, to proper health attention including around pregnancy and childbirth, to land, to inheritance; and in general to live a life in dignity and peace.
In Tanzania, ORS FM, the Teerat Maasai community radio is one more example of a station being used as the refuge and human rights defence during personal emergencies within its community, due to the full confidence it enjoys, where the community relies fully upon the solidarity and readiness by the radio to support and defend them. Here seen through the story of Naserian:
Naserian was married and had a very young daughter – about 10 years old. Her husband wanted to marry the girl child off to a 70-year old witch doctor. Naserian did not accept and her husband decided to punish her severely – also to show his other wives in the boma not to counter his decisions: He stripped Naserian naked and tied her to a tree where he continued beating her for a long time – until she appeared lifeless.
Somehow she managed to get away and came to the radio in a terrible condition. The radio got her to the hospital, paid the bills and upon recovery they provided her with three cows, a calf and a sheep to start a new life with her children.
After several months Naserian decided to take the case to the court, hoping to get back at her husband. Instead the court told her to give all the support she had received from the radio to her husband: the money for the hospital bills, the cattle and the sheep. And she was told that the husband should decide the fate of her girl child.
IOPA and the radio challenged the court’s decision and won. (IOPA = Institute of Orkonerei Pastoralist Advancement, running the community radio ORS FM).
During the violence following the presidential elections in Kenya, Radio Koch, operating in the community of Korogocho, was one more such station, with a community development, support and empowerment mandate way beyond the mere production of programmes. During the violence, it broadcast a constant message of peace and offered refuge to those targeted by the violence.
What can and should a community radio station do in defence of the human rights of its community?
The organisation ‘New Tactics in Human Rights’ initiated an online dialogue on ‘Using Community Radio to engage and empower communities’ with participation of community media practitioners from all over the world. The following summary of the two week discussion highlights challenges and opportunities for community radio stations in their human rights programming:
What are the challenges and opportunities for radio and human rights?
Often funding and training are major challenges in using radio for human rights work. At times, the ignorance by media practitioners on the importance of human rights education to sustainable development combined with a lack of understanding on the part of some human rights activists on properly engaging the media is another problem.
However, there are also great opportunities in combining radio and human rights work. The vast majority of households own a radio, even in rural areas, making it an effective channel for communication. Audiences can be researched to effectively design programs and air the intended message.
While there are other challenges (e.g. censorship) to using radio for this work, radio stations have found ways to circumvent them by broadcasting — producing radio programs that are put on cassette and then shared with willing public transporters. Others have resisted government suppression and won. Finally, mobile phones have greatly increased and improved the opportunities in this area. They have facilitated closer engagement and sharing of information by text messages. Text messages also complement radio programming, providing news updates that are not as easily censored, and sensitise the public to the program. Finally, texting is a solution to jammed lines during call-in programs, allowing more people the possibility of sharing their opinion.
When working in a community radio station on human rights issues there are many things that can be done. In summary, a community radio should at least consider the following issues:
- Identify, via community mapping, special areas of challenge to the different sub-communities within the community — before mapping, identify relevant rights and violations in the community. Conduct interviews in relation to human rights abuses with sensitivity, respect and humility.
- Know the rights — research the areas prioritised by the communities (land rights, domestic violence, education, care for children (marrying off), etc.).
- Get advice — partner with international or national NGOs or interest groups, who are specialists in these areas and can help the station work properly on these issues, without getting into trouble.
- Be sure to hear both sides of any issues — document what is being said.
- Do not act as a judge, but as an advocate and a facilitator.
- Insist not that one particular side wins, but that the rule of law is respected by all.
The case above from radio KKCR in Uganda, where the police stopped violating the rights of people in the market, is one example of this.