Authors: BBC Media Action Gender advisors Kanwal Ahluwalia and Elanor Jackson, originally posted November 30 2017 - We are often asked what a gender transformative project looks like.

A gender transformative approach explicitly tackles social norms around gender discrimination, power and violence, as well as broader ideas about male superiority and what it is to be a "real man" or "real woman" in the eyes of society. It means addressing systemic change by looking beyond individuals and focusing on unequal power relations between women and men, girls and boys.

It means asking women and girls themselves what is important and to identify issues, opportunities and barriers. And because social norms around gender equality, power and violence are adhered to by men and women and boys and girls, it is critical to include both sexes in gender transformative projects.

So why is it useful? Take violence against women and girls. Evidence suggests that interventions that address discriminatory gender norms, and challenge dominant notions of masculinity linked to controlling and aggressive behaviour, are more effective at reducing violence against women and girls, than interventions that don’t address underlying power structures.

Can media be gender transformative? Yes – with the right planning and programme content. In our review of Leh Wi Know (Let us know), a BBC Media Action project in Sierra Leone, we found it raised awareness in the whole community about violence against women and girls, including what drives violence and its consequences. It reached 15% of adults (40% of whom were women) through national and local radio programmes delivered in Krio and local languages. There was an increase in people reporting violence, as well as improvements within the judicial system, including the reinstating of Saturday courts where gender-based violence cases are heard, and critically, greater support by men and women for a reduction in violence. Leh Wi Know provides useful pointers for those looking to make gender transformative programming:

Include stories and voices from across the country. Leh Wi Know broadcast vox pops, interviews and packages commissioned from local correspondents. The use of vox pops was a successful strategy for enabling women’s voices to be heard.

Build relationships with those in power. The production team built relationships with traditional rulers, many of whom appeared as panellists on the radio programmes. Their support helped to create a more enabling environment in which women could exercise their rights and seek justice. Staff felt the project was able to challenge existing norms and attitudes by asking men tough questions about issues such as domestic violence, rape and FGM and by highlighting the legislation that protects women.

Invite female and male experts into studio discussions – these subject matter specialists could talk with authority about the issues.

Engage directly with communities. An international partner, Restless Development, and 16 local civil society partners gave out radio sets and facilitated listening groups and discussion about issues raised in the programme. Specially designed playing cards helped peer educators work with young women and men to identify different ways in which survivors of violence could seek help. Ordinary women were able to take part in these discussions, giving them an opportunity to talk about issues that would rarely be raised.

Create strong, female characters. Female characters in the radio drama found the courage to report violence, even in a highly patriarchal context where women are conditioned to be submissive. These actions were considered by project stakeholders to have the potential to inspire female listeners to report violence.

Share the voices of men who challenge negative norms and gender stereotypes. Men came to the studio on the national show to say that they had changed their behaviour as a result of what they learned from the radio programmes. These stories of change were shared on-air to encourage others to do the same.

Seeking advice from gender equality, legal and media experts working across different thematic areas was crucial. It helped ensure gender sensitive content was included in the radio drama and training for partner radio stations. Storylines also benefited from up-to-date legal information and practical information about the justice system and its handling of gender-based violence.

Violence against women in Sierra Leone remains endemic and it will take sustained action to shift related norms and attitudes. But this gender transformative project is a good reminder of the power of the media to help a large number of people engage with a range of views and challenge prevailing norms.

For guidance and resources on making your work transformative visit the BBC Media Action gender and media microsite.

Click here to access this BBC Media Action Insight blog and related links on their work on media and gender.
Image credit: BBC Media Action

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