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World Radio Day: Empowering Women Through Radio

Today is World Radio Day, which celebrates radio as a way to communicate and promote access to information, freedom of expression, gender equality and women's empowerment around the world.

Today is World Radio Day, which celebrates radio as a way to communicate and promote access to information, freedom of expression, gender equality and women's empowerment around the world.

Many women in developing countries live in fear, their lives limited by patriarchal societies that give them little freedom. With no access to education they work long hours and are often unaware of their rights.

But in some poor communities radio is being used to change the lives of some of the most vulnerable women. It is allowing them to access new information, express themselves, and at the same time educate other women about issues such as gender equality and ways to improve their family incomes.

Two innovative projects, run by Christian Aid partners in Luanda, Angola and Andhra Pradesh, India, are using radio to empower women to challenge the status quo.

In Angola, despite a 2011 law that was introduced to prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence, 2,000 cases of such abuse are reported every year, a figure which is more than likely not the full picture given the nature of the crime.

While Angola has complied with international conventions that guarantee equal opportunities for men and women, and has passed laws to this effect, in reality discrimination persists against women, particularly in rural areas where cultural traditions are still prominent.

Journalist Suzana Mendes is part of a women's group called Forum of Women Journalists for Gender Equality (FMJIG), formed in 2008 to highlight the issue of domestic violence in Angola.

'Our radio show, Challenge the Silence airs every Thursday in Luanda, and gets people talking about an issue that is very much hidden in Angola, as it is in many other countries. We want to encourage victims to report abuses, to break the silence, and to give women a platform to demand that authorities take domestic violence cases seriously.

'In the studio both victims and experts are interviewed. Listeners can hear other women's stories and find some solace and strength. Experts including lawyers or doctors explain women's rights and give practical advice about how to report an abuse, or where to seek refuge. In many cases the programme has changed people's lives. Women who have been suffering years of abuse have learnt how to escape their situation.

'Last year we heard Ana's story. She had suffered violence for over eight years but was too afraid to report it to the police because her husband threatened to kill her and her children. The attacks on her were violent and seemed endless. Her husband even threw boiling water over her body. Ana heard the programme and was inspired, gaining the courage to go to the police. Her husband was arrested and is now in prison. With the support of a local civil society organisation she learned how to make clothes and now works for a company that manufactures uniforms. Financially she is able to take care of herself and her children. 'Ana is one of the many success stories that have been shared and it spurs on the fight for equality in our country.'

Meanwhile, in India dalit women, those who fall outside the country's hierarchical caste system, face many hardships. Not only do they experience caste discrimination, but also gender discrimination, leaving them in a vicious cycle of marginalisation and exploitation. Many face abuse in the streets, sexual violence and are forced to do demeaning jobs, such as cleaning dry latrines with their bare hands.

Sangham Radio, funded by Christian Aid partner the Deccan Development Society (DDS) was set up for dalit women and is run exclusively by them. It is the first of its kind in Asia and has won numerous awards including the Mathan South Asia Award.

The station has 14 reporters, one of which is 28 year old Narsamma Algole. She says working for the station has given her the confidence to speak out. Every day at least ten women from different villages contribute to the shows. They discuss useful agricultural techniques to help women grow more food for their families, provide nutritional advice, tell stories and organise discussion programmes. This has really helped to educate and empower women in the 150 villages within the 50 km radio station catchment area.

The project has allowed Narsamma and her listeners to discover their words have value, and their opinions matter. They have gained respect in their communities.

In Indian media circles, poor women like Narsamma don't have a presence. Sangham Radio aims to provide a space for dalit women to discuss the issues that are most important to them. The project has proved that women with the poorest economic status, can successfully run their own radio station and have brought local issues, local voices, local culture, music and other folk traditions into the programmes.

Radio has the ability to cross the boundaries of class, gender and background. Many women in rural areas are illiterate and without the radio most would have no access to news or even basic information about their rights. Hearing from women like themselves is very motivational and helps give them gain the confidence to come out of the shadows.