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Dialogue on good governance through Community Radio in

Baishakhy is a familiar face in Jhenaidah, and a more familiar voice. She joined Community Radio Jhenuk 99.2 in January 2013 as a volunteer. She later became the host of Hello Jhenaidah, and now a full-time assistant producer and reporter for Community Radio Jhenuk 99.2 .

However, she prefers introducing herself as the first and only woman journalist of Jhenaidah. Baishakhy says ‘Radio Jhenuk’s ‘Hello Jhenaidah’ is basically a women’s and children’s program. Besides hosting it, I had to go to the field level to collect information. So when I was involved with the fellowship to work with women and children’s issues, I felt like it would be easy for me. But when I started, I saw it was not that easy.

I used to go and collect lots of information and voxpops, but when I tried to make a report or feature, I would lose track – of what to keep, what to discard and how to link the information. People at the station used to help me. And then in the middle of the fellowship when I got a two-day orientation on journalism, I thought to myself what darkness I was in! Through her perseverance and hard work, Baishakhy has been able to get out of that darkness of ignorance. Radio Jhenuk did not have any news-based programs. A program called ‘Jhenuker Darpan’ (Mirror of Jhenuk) was started with Baishakhy’s reports and features, where she highlighted education for specially-abled children, suicidal tendencies among women, change of earning level of women through handicrafts, education system of children in the shelter (Asrayan) project, women labours in jute mills, struggling women of the potter community, early marriage, violence against women and such issues.

Baishakhy Khatun achieved the 1st position in Radio Category (under 18) for broadcasting an investigative report titled: “The children of ASRAYAN (the govt shelter village) program found less interested to come to the school” during the 10th Meena Media Award 2014 by UNICEF Bangladesh for her outstanding contribution in championing child rights

The majority of Bangladesh’s population is overwhelmingly rural. Yet stories in the national news revolve around the urban area that represent only one tenth of the area. Such bias against rural areas is also reflected in the limited women’s access to rural media. Very little attention has been given to the role of the news media in presenting issues related to rural areas in general and participation of women in rural media in particular.

In a poor country where gender disparity still exists on many fronts, despite laudable progresses in some MDGs, it is no surprise that women and women’s issues in the mainstream media are undermined. Women comprise 49 percent of Bangladesh’s population. Like the vast majority of people here they are concentrated in rural areas, where 111.2 million people – or 72 percent of the population – live. Their distance from policy-making urban centers casts a double cloak of invisibility over women. 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.

In spite of the social and religious barriers such scenario in gender disparity, particularly in media, has been gradually changing. Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC) under the banner of ‘voices of the rural people,’ has been in the forefront in breaking the traditional biased focus towards urban areas. The organization, since 2000, played a leading role in bringing media’s focus on rural areas. Community Radio, being the only broadcasting media in rural Bangladesh not only broke the traditions but also spearheaded in creating a platform for women journalists from grassroots to raise their voices to be heard in the community. Because of their empowerment majority of the programmes of the women friendly community radio stations are designed for the most marginalized people of the society – women.

In Bangladesh now 16 community radio stations are on air in the country aiming to ensure empowerment and right to information for the rural community. They are broadcasting a total of 125 hours program per day on information, education, local entertainment and development motivation activities. Around 5.6 million people are listening the programs. A total of 1000 broadcasters are now working with those stations throughout the country; half of them are women.

Fellowship and capacity-building initiatives adopted by BNNRC have resulted in a flood of women filling the posts of producers, anchors, newscasters, reporters and station managers in 16 community radio stations around the country.

11. Goals and timeframe:

“I was born and brought up in such a family; where there was no scope to even think of being a journalist. Now I can dream of becoming a full-time professional journalist and to prove that one can go a far; I believe that everyone has power and potential to grow and the identity like “women” is not an obstacle for that”-told 20-year old Shahrina Sultana Jui, a fellow from Community Radio Borendro of Naogaon district, who has just completed her fellowship tenure.

Community media can strengthen participatory decision-making process by creating opportunities for expression of opinion from people of different class and profession of the society. Community media can contribute in community empowerment process by being the direct media for exchange and access to information for all. In particular, participation of women in media is an agenda for today aiming women empowerment, reduction of social inequality, capacity development and to make easy their access to information. The program: “Youth women in Community Media and Journalism”, a fellowship program has been launched with these theoretical aspects into consideration. Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC), in cooperation with Free Press Unlimited (a Netherland based International organization),

has started this program in 2013 in community radio station areas, with the objectives-
i) to facilitate in creating an enabling environment for the young women to be enrolled in the media and journalism to develop as professional community media journalists and
ii) to encourage more young skilled women to be enrolled in the media to work for the development of rural communities.

Recently Fellowship Program has completed the 3rd batch and the process of selecting the 4th batch is underway. A total of 35 young women from Dalits and unprivileged community in 16 community Radio Stations were awarded for 3rd batch fellowship program starting from March 2015.24 community media women fellows have already been completed this course in two previous batches. Altogether the number of total fellows in three batches stands 59.

“Call for application” from the interested local youth women was the initial step of fellowship program. The notice was served through community radio and by using notice board of local college and press club. Responding to the “Call”, interested candidates submitted their applications from 16 community radio stations of the country. Through an interview process and in consideration of the applicants’ qualification, experience and interest, fellows have been finally selected.

Fellowship program is formally started after receiving recruitment letters by the fellows. The recruited fellows, oriented by BNNRC, start their works under the guidance of a mentor from each station. An experienced and senior level CR staff plays the role of a mentor. The fellows prepare and produce news/reports/feature/case study/human profile. They broadcast these reports and features through radio and publish in local newspapers. BNNRC organizes orientation program for the fellows and mentors at the beginning and organize a knowledge sharing (& lessons learned) workshop at the end of the fellowship-tenure of each batch.

During their internship the fellows have developed, produced and broadcast 06 news bulletin, case study, life sketch each in a month. Beside they published article, interview, features, spot report in the local newspapers.12 women fellows of the 1st batch, in their tenure of 3 months, broadcasted 144 reports through community radio and published 72 articles in local newspapers. The 12 fellows of the next batch already broadcasted 244 audio programs and published 144 reports in local newspaper in their duration of 6 months. They (35 fellows of 3rd batch) broadcasted altogether 420 audio programs and prepared 280 reports for local newspaper within 4 months duration of the fellowship. These programs and reports covered the issues like education of girl and children, their access, women empowerment, child marriage, mother & child’s health, adolescent health, disability, transgender, ethnic, and dalits news and some success story. These reflected the present situation of the disadvantaged community, especially present lives of rural women and children.

111. Added value and importance:

The community media fellows reach to the remote locations and collect information on the lives of women and children and prepare their news and programs. They are contributing in development and changes of their own community lives by their programs and reports on protection of early marriage, promotion of education and other important issues of mother and children. For the first time, the unheard voices of the rural women are coming up through the works of youth women journalists. One woman feels comfort to talk and disclose the facts with another woman of her neighborhood. Through the reports, many untold stories have been brought into light. Parents and social elites became sensitized and in some community radio station areas they have collaborated to immediately stop the cases of child marriages.

The youth women fellows have earned prestige and recognition in the rural community through this program. Some of the parents now show interest to push their young daughters to engage in community media and journalism. It is encouraging 22 fellows are continuing their service support with Community radio stations. With her radio station-radio Naf, Hla Hla Yee Rakhaine is also working as district correspondent of a popular weekly newspaper. Mentionable that, she is the only women journalist the area has ever produced. Some other fellows like Sanjita Kaochar Sopnil of Radio Bikrampur, Shahrina Jui and Hoimonti Mou of Borendro radio, Samia Akhtar of Radio Mahananda, Humaira Parvin Hena of Radio Chilmari , Abida Sultana of Lokobetar -all are working in their radio stations as full-time producers.

Momena Ferdousi, a 24 year student from north-western district of Chapainawabganj working for Radio Mahananda in remote Shibganj said, “I would have never made it to the position of senior programme producer today unless they (BNNRC) had created opportunities to give preferences to female applicants.”

“The road to my employment as a female employee was designed to encourage and promote females like myself. Many of my fellow colleagues who I work with are highly educated and are very challenging. In fact, BNNRC saw the potentials in the female journalists and since joining I believe we have substantial changes through addressing the ‘gaps’ for women’s rights to information.”

Shammi Akhtar, a community media fellow of the 2nd batch, now working with radio Borendro told: “I have learned and explored many new areas of journalism while working as community media fellow, which made me confident to take up this as full-time profession.”

A proud and confident voice of Sharmin Sultana of Radio Pollikontho, broadcast from north-eastern district of Moulvibazaar since 2012, said, “It is an amazing feeling that I conduct programmes, interact live with guests and also respond to our audience requests for dialogues on health, women, human rights, social injustice, education, agriculture and many more issues. When we began we had only one programme on women issues, now there we run five programmes a week exclusively dedicated for women.” Sultana added, “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.”

Station manager of Radio Naf, broadcast from south-eastern tip of Bangladesh’s Teknaf, said, “Of the daily five hourly programme most of them are on women like the local Rakhine tribes who are our top listeners.”

IV. Challenges:

While female journalists are facing numerous challenges even at national level, it was not easy for the youth women to work as journalists at grassroots level. “Youth women in community media” was itself a very new idea, so it was truly challenging to introduce at local/rural level.Challeneges not only came from the families of the selected fellows; it was hard to convince even the community radio stations. There were challenges in every single step of implementation. By facing all those challenges, the program is running successfully under the coordination of BNNRC. The fact is that the rural women are not at all the topics/subjects of news, but they are now producing news and writing reports in media. A fellow journalist, Zinia Farzana in charge of Radio Mukti broadcast from Bogra said, “It is a very challenging job in a rural conservative society. People in this part of the world have different views on young unmarried girls. Men dominated society expects us to stay indoors. In spite of many social restrictions, we still stand up to work outdoor and that too, with men till late in the evening.” However challenges still remain. One of the great challenges of this new program is to retain these young women in professional journalism sector.

V. Relevance of the project to the respective Action Line:

The project addresses the Action Line C 9 (Media). Community Radio as an alternative media serves as the voice of the voiceless people and upholds the right of freedom of expression, as described in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Although new as a media, but it has started to vibrate! Community Radio has created scope for the poor and marginalized community to raise their own voice for the voiceless. This neo-media outlet opened scope to establish their rights of information and communication in social, political, cultural and environmental arena. Interfacing with mobile handsets community radio quickly (without the help of other medium) transmits to millions of people, which ensures broader and expanded role of ICTs that can enhance media’s contribution to fulfilling the post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda.

By creating opportunities for rural young women in media and journalism, it, particularly encourages the equal opportunities for men and women in media. With the youth male, Young female journalists are sharing the positions of producers, anchors, newscasters, reporters and station managers of the 16 community radio stations.

VI. Conclusion:

The fellows explore mainly the struggle and vulnerability of local women and children which have drawn attention of mass audiences and policy makers at their local level. Development Journalism of this kind will contribute in reducing social discrimination, accelerate women empowerment and also increase the number of young women professionals in community media sector. Presently, nearly five hundred young women professionals are working with 16 community radio stations of the country. This fellowship program will help them to work more skillfully for the larger groups of women and children community.

In the long run, these trained young women fellows will be developed as brand ambassadors of community media, form networks and thus women leadership will be established at local media sector of Bangladesh.