African Women Speak Back- Using Radio to tackle Violence
by Jen Thorpe
If you are a woman, you are aware of the threat of violence. You are also likely to have experienced violence in some way – whether it is verbal threats of harassment, or physical or sexual violence. To be a woman in 2014 means to be aware that your security and safety are precarious.
When it comes to the 16 Days of Activism, and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, these thoughts are often on my mind as I compare the world now to the world it was this time last year. As a female activist working in the field of gender-based violence, the problem can at times seem overwhelming. It can feel like there are so many reasons for the occurrence of violence, so many factors that make violence more likely, and so few appropriate state responses to violence when it happens. In short, it can feel insurmountable, and at times inevitable.
It’s on these days that I often feel grateful because I know that women and men around the world are working on addressing violence, and at developing ways of targeting the issue. The ecological model of violence is one helpful framework for looking at how we might begin to tackle violence against women from various angles. This model looks at elements in the society, relationship, individuals and community in order to target interventions at each element that allows violence to happen or makes it more likely. The African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) funds a number of organisations working at these different entry points, for example:
- Stepping Stones International (Botswana) targets orphaned and vulnerable adolescents, combining life skills, leadership, psychosocial support and community mobilization. The AWDF grant supported them to organize community marches by youth peer educators in three districts, which were attended by over 3,000 community members.
- ALAFIA (Togo) was supported by an AWDF grant to undertake a series of empowerment and advocacy activities on harmful traditional practices among queen mothers and opinion leaders as well as to organize awareness creation programmes on widowhood rites within selected villages. As a result of the project the Head of the cantonment decreed that women will no longer be subjected to widowhood rites of long duration.
- The Gender Violence Recovery Center at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital (Kenya) was supported by an AWDF grant in 2009 to organize a strategic plan workshop, provide medical support to survivors of sexual and domestic violence, and to facilitate rape survivor support groups.
The 16 Days has a strong focus on encouraging a community of people around the world to commit to ending violence. There is the risk though, that those messages only reach people who are already interested in ending violence. The question then becomes – how do we reach people who are not listening? The AWDF supported The Women Inspiration Development Centre (WIDC) in Nigeria to cleverly used radio as a tool to reach a broader community. The radio programmes were aimed at awareness raising, and allowed for phone-in sessions for members of communities to ask follow up questions.
This choice of radio is not insignificant – many myths around violence against women suggest that only certain men perpetrate violence, and only certain women are the victims. Through using radio, the message of ending violence “is accessible to all: the rich, poor, the privileged, and the underprivileged”, says Busayo Oibisakin, Founder and CEO. Via the radio waves, messages that might not ordinarily enter a home create the opportunity for discussion of taboo subjects. The WIDC experience with using radio indicates that it also can be a tool that allows women to reflect on their own situation, and to make them aware that there are options for them to leave violent relationships or seek help. “After our radio program in 2012, funded by the AWDF, we [have] received a call for help every week from women and girls facing one form of violence or the other,” says Oibisakin. Sadly, the effect of the success of this campaign is that the WIDC has been overwhelmed with calls for assistance.
By building partnerships with other experts in their community, the WIDC increased ability to support the high volume of women seeking advice and help from them. “Among the group, there must be lawyers so that you will know the steps to take at every stage of handling cases of violence.” Other experts to consider including would be health care workers, social workers, and free counseling services, so that the survivors of violence are able to heal both physical and psychological injuries. A good funding strategy should be in place, so that after the campaign the organization ensures that it is sustainable.
In 2014, when many non-governmental organizations are facing tough funding climates locally, radio also has other benefits. Radio “is cheaper and accessible to many” and “can reach as many people as possible…wherever they are.” This means that relatively inexpensively a very broad group of people who might not ordinarily have been interested in helping. Radio, by not being an adversarial advocacy tool, allows organisations to reach into homes, and into hearts, encouraging people to see their own lives in the stories they hear. For Oibisakin, the positive effect of this is that “today unlike before, many are now aware of violence against women. We now have support of many people including men to fight violence against women in our community.” Until the 16 Days becomes 365 days, this support will remain vital in building the community of peace that we so desperately need.
It has been the year of #BringBackOurGirls in Nigeria, #MyDressMyChoice in Kenya, #HeForShe around the world, as well as many other campaigns that make it clear that enough is enough. Activists are working across sectors to end violence, so whilst starting something is always harder than finishing it, it’s good to know that work is happening across the continent. We just need to join the movement.
Jen Thorpe is a feminist writer and researcher from Cape Town, South Africa. She is a passionate advocate for women’s rights and has worked in this field for six years. She has an MA in Politics from Rhodes University, and recently completed her first novel ‘The Peculiars’ through the UCT Creative Writing Masters Programme. Look for it in stores soon. Jen is part of the African Women’s Development Fund’s (AWDF) Community of African Women Writers. Click here to learn more.