World Agenda

Last updated: 6 august, 2010 - 15:56 GMT

In trusted hands

Interviews being conducted for Afghan Women's Hour

Interviews being conducted for Afghan Women's Hour

Kirsty Cockburn, of BBC World Service Trust, describes some of the ways the BBC’s international charity is currently using media and communications to reduce poverty and promote human rights across the globe.

This September, world leaders gather in New York to review the progress of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the eight international targets that all United Nations member states have agreed to achieve by 2015.

Radio offers lifeline to Pakistan as crisis worsens

In response to the devastating floods in northern Pakistan, lifeline radio programmes are being broadcast in the most severely affected areas through the BBC Urdu service.

Developed by BBC World Service Trust and international non-governmental organisation Internews, the new infoasaid service will transmit life-saving information to the hundreds of thousands of people currently cut off from emergency aid efforts and most at risk. BBC Urdu will transmit six daily bulletins in Urdu and Pashto, explaining how to stay safe, avoid disease and access aid.

infoasaid will be broadcast at local times in Urdu at 12.30, 15.30 and 18.30 and in Pashto at 12.45, 15.45 and 18.45

While great progress has been made since the goals’ inception in 2000 – especially around primary school education, malaria prevention and access to safe drinking water – other targets are drifting. To help scale up activities and to shore up the lagging goals, increased attention is being given to the role of women as agents of social change.

Top priority

Improvements for women in education, health, labour markets, political life and social opportunities are pivotal to achieving all the MDGs. Yet gender inequalities remain deeply entrenched in every society. Girls are often excluded from school, with those from the poorest households three and a half times more likely to be out of school than those from the richest households. In health, high levels of maternal mortality result in more than 500,000 prospective mothers dying annually in childbirth or from complications from pregnancy.

To help address the challenges, in July this year UN Women was launched to “boost efforts to promote gender equality, expand opportunity and tackle discrimination around the globe”. The division becomes operational in January 2011, with Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, stating: “I have made gender equality and the empowerment of women one of my top priorities – from working to end the scourge of violence against women, to appointing more women to senior positions, to efforts to reduce maternal mortality rates.”

United Nations Millennium Development Goals logo

United Nations Millennium Development Goals logo

For more than ten years, BBC World Service Trust, the BBC’s international charity, has been using media to enable people to have access to life-changing information, helping them survive, shape their lives and thrive. Much of the work has focused on providing information to women and girls, either to support and protect their health and rights, or to be shared with their families and communities.

Empowerment projects

Here are just a few of the projects supporting the empowerment of women.

Ethiopia: Aubigda is an interactive radio discussion, produced in partnership with Radio Ethiopia, which provides young Ethiopians with the opportunity to voice their opinions, pose questions, discuss solutions and establish a dialogue on a range of sexual health issues. Listeners clubs have been set up across the country, bringing together groups of young people to listen to the programmes and discuss the issues with a facilitator.

“I live in a community in which female genital mutilation is widely practiced. My mother believed strongly that my two little sisters should be circumcised in order to live a socially acceptable life. We argued about this, but I was unable to convince her until I made her listen to an Abugida story that I had recorded off the radio. My family were deeply touched by the story, which made them cry. I was overjoyed when my mother declared that she had decided not to have my sisters circumcised.” (17-year-old listener)

Nepal: This initiative aims to provide women and families with basic, practical maternal and child health information. The project combines 120 episodes of a weekly radio programme, Ghar Aagan, and public service announcements with community outreach. It is primarily aimed at meeting the needs of mothers and pregnant women, but also aims to engage others who may have an influence on raising awareness and the use of health services. It also uses debate and discussion to encourage increased investment and accountability by the government in health services.

“Today I am speaking about this for the first time. I have just realised I need not feel shy, nor be scared. I should talk about this freely and go for necessary treatment. I now feel it is only once you start the talk that your roads will make your way towards the solution.”(Female listener)

Indian radio drama Life Gulmohar Style

Indian radio drama Life Gulmohar Style

India: Although women have greater educational and economic opportunities than ever before, a preference for women giving birth to sons prevails. The charity conducted an in-depth study to examine how the media can be used to address the rising rates of sex-selective abortion (when foetuses are aborted if found to be female). Research concluded that a fictional radio drama was an appropriate tool to tackle the complex issues. Life Gulmohar Style traces the lives and loves of five young friends. It depicts girls and women in a variety of roles that challenge stereotypes and promotes positive role models. Radio listening in India has experienced a resurgence and has become a mainstay for entertaining urban India. On air three times a week, the programme reintroduced the radio drama format to a new generation of FM listeners.

“It is first time in my life that I am listening to any radio play. Life Gulmohar Style has a very close resemblance to people whom we know around. I feel very close emotionally to many of your characters.”(Life Gulmohar Style listener)

Sierra Leone:Fo Rod is an interactive radio show broadcast in partnership with community radio stations as part of ‘A National Conversation’, a governance project in Sierra Leone, Angola and Tanzania. The aim is to empower media to act as an interface between citizen and state, and raise issues of national importance. In March this year, the programme focused on sexual and gender-based violence. Producers of the show quizzed the police, broadcast opinions from local residents and interviewed the mother of a victim, to identify why these crimes go unreported and what contributes to a culture of silence.

“Earlier these cases were settled by local sub chiefs within families. This meant that access to justice was denied to women. But since this episode, people are questioning the roles of traditional chiefs and we have seen an increase in reported cases in the court room and an end to impunity.”(A Justice of the Peace in Sierra Leone)

Afghanistan:Afghan Women’s Hour is a weekly radio programme, broadcast in Dari and Pashto, reaching six million women a week. Cutting across socio-economic and tribal boundaries, it has enabled women to explore new ideas and find practical solutions to their problems. Each week, 20 female journalists gather stories, conduct interviews and record local music from around the country.

“Our society is full of walls. Women and even men stop themselves expressing their views. Your programme is breaking the rules in a positive way. You give confidence to Afghan women.”(Afghan Women’s Hour listener)

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