"While the presence of the stars (Mona Zaki and Nancy Ajram), the fiction format and the captivating plot played a key role in attracting and entertaining the audience, conversations on social media, radio talk shows, public events and the listening clubs ensured information sharing, and provided socio-economic and legal contexts to the topics presented and an opportunity for opinion-sharing."
Be 100 Ragl (in English "Worth 100 Men") is a 30-episode Arabic language radio fiction series on women's empowerment produced by the Womanity Foundation and broadcast on 10 radio stations in 9 countries across the Arab world between March and September 2014. As this final project report illustrates, in partnership with several radio stations, Oxfam Novib, and local partners, and thanks to efforts on social media, Be 100 Ragl reached millions of listeners across the region and engaged them in open conversations around the role and rights of women in Arab societies including fighting domestic violence, divorce, women's economic empowerment, education, gender equality in the family and in society, and more. This report presents reflections, comments, findings, and feedback on whether and how well the fiction series encouraged a dialogue and also a change of attitudes towards gender equality.
In brief (please see Related Summaries, below), through what was intended to be a compelling and entertaining storyline, Be 100 Ragl is a radio fiction that enacts some typical situations and problems that affect women in Arab societies. It provides new perspectives on a wide range of social issues and, centrally, on women's social and economic empowerment, participation in public life, confrontation with domestic violence and sexual harassment, family relationships and romance. The protagonist, Noha, challenges prejudice and oppression, and becomes a role model for the whole society. It aims at engaging Arab societies in an open and constructive debate on women's rights and their role in society by providing information, increasing awareness and knowledge and offering a variety of perspectives, thus creating favourable attitudes and behaviours towards women's advancement. The broadcasting of the drama was accompanied by radio talk shows (on Radio Nisaa in the Palestinian Territories, Radio Yemen Times in Yemen, and Radio Aswat in Morocco); listeners were encouraged to contribute their own experiences and opinions. Conversations around these issues took also place on Facebook, on Twitter (@b100ragl and #b100ragl), and on the "B 100 Ragl" blog. In addition, Womanity commissioned its partner SMPL to animate 10 public debates in Jordan and Egypt. Womanity also established a strategic partnership with Oxfam Novib, its country offices in Egypt, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel (OPTI) and in Yemen and their local partners to design and coordinate listening sessions of Be 100 Ragl and evaluate the impact of the fiction series.
As is reported here, during its implementation, the programme encountered challenges related to the particularly volatile geopolitical situation in the Arab region. Notably, the ousting of Egyptian President M. Morsi and the consequent re-establishment of a military government in Egypt; the worsening of the security situation in Iraq and Syria; and a new armed conflict in Gaza. In addition, coordination with actual broadcast timings of the episodes with field-work activities proved challenging in the Palestinian territories. Despite these challenges, Womanity believes that the programme was successful and surpassed initial outreach expectations. Although they had initially only reached Egypt and the Palestinian Territories, they gradually expanded to Morocco, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. Overall, Womanity coordinated directly the activities of about 15 organisations that are willing to continue the cooperation. Considering the collective share of media partners involved in the project, Womanity believes that Be 100 Ragl was heard by a few million listeners, while radio debates might have engaged some hundreds of thousands, and social media attracted a crowd of 140,000. More than 600 participants attended public listening and debate sessions and radio listener clubs (RLCs).
A more in-depth evaluation of Be 100 Ragl and of discussion settings was conducted on a sample of 60 members of RLCs by Women's Center for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC), partner of Oxfam Novib in the OPTI. A recurrent comment from partners was the ability of Be 100 Ragl and its outreach activities to innovate the way to deal with sensitive topics such as the role of women in society. Partners declared that the project created a truly open and informal space for their constituencies to express their views and to increase their knowledge and perspectives on the topics discussed. Overall, they felt that even the ones with more conservative views were willing to enter into the conversation. Many related to the stories and situations presented by the series and saw in Noha a positive example for the whole society.
The in-depth evaluation conducted by WCLAC (West Bank) included pre-questionnaires and post-questionnaires as well as in-depth interviews investigating the listeners' opinions on some of the topics presented by Be 100 Ragl and discussed during the meetings organised by RCLs. After having listened to the series and discussed its central topics, RLC members changed their views on several issues - e.g., the ratio of people who agreed on the sentence "women who do not want to get married and bear children are not considered good women" decreased to 8% in the post-questionnaire (in the pre-questionnaire, it was 36%). There was also an increase of 29% (from 63% to 92%) of people who stated "divorce should be an equal right for men and women alike". Finally, Be 100 Ragl and RLCs' discussions were able to convince participants that violence against women is not justified, even when it is done to preserve family unity. In fact, the questionnaires asked to agree on the sentence "violence against women is justified when it is done to preserve family unity". Initially, 46% agreed with the statement but at the end, this ratio dropped to 16%.
While the document reports the overall positive feedback received from partners and beneficiaries, it also outlines a series of recommendations for Womanity's future activities in the use of edutainment strategies to promote gender equality, based both on internal and external feedback collected during the programme implementation.
- The script itself could have given more depth and contexts to some of the topics presented. Suggestion: engage civil society representatives sensitive to gender issues in the creative writing process, without compromising the entertainment value.
- Feedback from partners highlights a tension between a regional and country-based approach. In other words, each one requested to contextualise the fiction to his/her own country. Suggestion: Episodes taking place in other countries/locations could be considered for the next production series.
- More standalone episodes intertwined in a simpler storyline would allow for more flexibility especially in the organisation of public events (i.e., one doesn't have to follow the full series to understand a single episode and topic). This would also make it easier to locate episodes in other countries.
- Overall, Womanity was advised to consider visual media (production of a TV drama or of an animation) and to use multimedia at a larger scale to massively increase the outreach of the fiction series.
- Womanity should negotiate more active engagement of stars like Mona Zaki and Nancy Ajram, who played a crucial role in attracting the audience, to promote the fiction series and the debate around it: release interviews, attend programme events, comment on social media and promote activities on their own social media.
- Womanity and its operational partners should consider embedding in the programme's action-oriented activities such as online campaigns or flash mobs in order to gather further anecdotal evidence on the impact of the programme.
- In its internal strategy, Womanity should consider embedding media productions in the Nisaa's regionalisation plan (Nisaa Network) to cross-fertilise activities, expand the network of partners, and maximise audience outreach.
- While designing future projects using edutainment strategies, Be 100 Ragl can be further distributed or published in an open source platform (including Nisaa Network).
(Editors note: since the publishing of this paper, Oxfam Novib has expanded the programme to also include listening sessions and debate in Tunisia.)
Email from Antonella Notari Vischer to The Communication Initiative on May 19 2015. Image credit: ©SMPL