Author: Head of Research and Learning, BBC Media Action Nigeria, Anu Mohammed, originally posted November 22 2017 - As a child and throughout my teenage years in northern Nigeria, I saw men in our neighbourhood shopping for the food needed by the family. To my young mind, this was fascinating, and I thought “how helpful and thoughtful of them”.

It was only later I came to understand that, for cultural reasons, women were not expected to be seen in public. But deep down, I still couldn’t understand it.

As an adult I have dealt with stereotypical expectations around women in politics. I’ve heard statements such as women are not “naturally” oriented towards governance or politics, or that “politics is a man’s thing”. Our system in Nigeria seems to give this credence by not making adequate efforts to encourage women to be active in politics.

I remember when Sarah Jibril, the first female presidential candidate, failed to make it past the party primaries in 2011 and got only one vote. I asked myself then, half seriously - is there something about the woman that makes her unsuited to such key a role in society?

Fast forward to the present: I understand that the behaviour of the men and women I saw while growing up helped to perpetuate ideas about the way men and women “should” behave. I also know the media plays a part in this by reinforcing these ideas. Worldwide, women are still the focus of only 10% of news stories and comprise just 20% of experts or spokespeople interviewed.

As a social researcher I have designed and implemented studies to understand what audiences in Nigeria want from shows like the drama Story Story and the radio discussion show Talk Your Own, and I evaluated their impact. We saw a pattern in our findings. Fewer women than men tended to listen to our programmes and were engaging less frequently in politics than men. To understand this better, we designed a study to speak to young girls and women across five states in five geo-political zones of Nigeria.

Involve your target audience

We used a market research technique called co-creation, whereby customers or product end-users (in our case, potential audience members) are involved actively in inventing the product.

Working in groups, we encouraged unguided discussions and used practical exercises such as community mapping and problem tree analysis to explore issues of concern, perceptions of governance and ideas about what a governance-focused programme should include. Something I particularly enjoyed was the collaboration between the women themselves, researchers, programme producers and project managers. It resulted in valuable feedback to help us improve our programmes and give women and girls a chance to have their voices heard.

We found that women aged over 36 in particular, think that few women get involved in decision- making, and feel they do not have a voice. “They look down at us people and they don’t involve people that they think are illiterate,” said one participant.

Younger women claimed to feel disconnected from politics as they have no opportunity to meet with the leaders (traditional and elected) and felt decision makers did not seek their opinions. Across the board, women lacked faith in the political system – citing poor leadership and a failure to fulfil promises made by politicians during election campaigns. They saw evidence of poor governance all around them – including a lack of basic amenities in their communities. A few participants mentioned that state-owned media tended to portray even an ill-functioning government in a positive light.

The co-creation research was part of a conscious effort to attract more female audience members, which included revising the content of our programmes to appeal to women and younger people. Talk Your Own, for example, launched a new youth segment – My Life, My Story – featuring teenage girls sharing their life experiences. At the end of the project, our research showed that the programmes steadily attracted a higher proportion of female and rural listeners: by 2016 women accounted for 43% of the audience compared with 35% in 2013.

I want my daughter(s) and girls all over to have a voice – and not just a voice, but a voice that counts in the governance and decision-making processes that affect their lives. Therefore, understanding and helping women (in any small way) to find a voice is not just another deliverable in my line of work, it is something that matters a lot more to me!

Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their work in Nigeria.

Image credit: BBC Media Action

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