[This is the first part of two-part blog based on research by Arpita Sharma, ending with "Role of Community Radio for Women’s Empowerment."]

Today is the era of Information Communication Technology (ICT). Various ICT tools are used to educate and inform the rural people. For generations, rural people have been living in complete isolation without much access to modern media of communication.  The development of a society largely depends on the access to information. Even though we live in the modern era, today, in the rural areas, women are suffering from various problems such as less accessibility to modern information sources.

Community radio has served largely as a vehicle for top-down persuasion or as channel to convey information in the participatory mode. Community radio emphasises that it is not commercial and does not share what it would call the perspective and paternalistic attitude of public-service broadcasting.  The key difference is that community radio aspires to treat its listeners as subjects and participants. Community radio works in the cultural context of the community it serves; it deals with the local issues in the local language(s); it is relevant to local problems and concerns; and its aim is to help the community to develop socially, economically and culturally. The essence of community radio is participation of the community in managing the station, deciding on programming and producing content. Community radio is built around the core idea that communication works when it is grounded in the meaningful experience of the local community, and it harvests the creativity of the groups to serve. The main feature of community media is the active participation of the community in the process of content production in all categories - news, entertainment, information, cultural arts and communication, with an emphasis on local issues and concerns. The community also actively participates in the management of the media and takes part in decisions on the scheduling and content of the programmes. It is essentially a non-profit enterprise owned by the community. Message designing is an important part of the effectiveness of any medium. Message designing is based on the needs of the rural women. For effective message designing through community radio, needs assessment is necessary. Keeping this view in mind, the present research study was conducted in District Udham Nagar of Uttarakhand. The study indicates that women in rural areas are suffering from various types of problems like illiteracy, health problems and agricultural-related problems.

Status of Women in India: Women play a pivotal role in the development of any country. Women’s status is the best indicator of progress of any nation. Status and development of women influence the development of country, as they not only constitute half of its population, but also influence growth of the remaining half of its population. The women in rural areas are deprived of minimum facilities of enlightenment and education. The overwhelming majority of the labor that sustains life - growing food, cooking, raising children, caring for the elderly, maintaining a house, hauling water - is done by women, and, universally, this work is accorded low status and no pay.

Need for Women's Empowerment: Studies aptly indicate that women are suffering from various types of problems due to lack of education and information. Thus, women’s empowerment is necessary. Women’s empowerment is one of the key factors in determining success of development.  Right information given at the right time can empower the rural women and protect them from various problems. Various ICTs, such as radio, television, mobile phone and internet are used for empowering the rural women via awareness, education and information. This is an ICT era, but, until today, half of the women are suffering from various types of problems due to the gap between ICT and its use without needs assessments and participation of rural people. Community radio, a participatory medium of communication, can be used for empowerment of rural women.

Though this research study is designed to assess the problems among rural women, it is evident that needs in most villages can be categorised as: [1] Educational and Employability; [2] Agricultural; [3] Cultural & Social Aspects; [4] Healthcare; [5] Natural Resource Conservation; and [6] Rural Development Concerns.

ICT as applied to these categories could include:
[1] Education and Employability - Experts feel that education is not just the process of imparting literacy and numeracy. It is actually a process of socialization that helps children cope with the natural and the social environment. They have, therefore, emphasized the need to develop a school system that builds on the solidarities in societies and tries to learn from the natural environment. This need emerged from the basic concern that irrespective of caste, creed, location or sex, all children must be given access to education of comparable standards. In some of the villages visited, due to lack of education, parents send their children for earning at a very young age. In other villages, large numbers of youngsters are educated but, due to lack of proper information sources and counseling, are still unemployed. So for both situations, as a means for removing child labour and for providing proper information regarding employment opportunities, community radio can be an efficient medium.

[2] Agriculture - During visits to the villages of Darao, Azadnagar, Malpura, Shantipuri, it was found that most of the farmers have small land holdings. They are only twenty kilometers from the agricultural university, but they are not getting timely information related to crops, plant protection, weather, animal health, etc. Nowadays, agricultural input prices increase day by day, so farmers want timely information about crop pests, cropping pattern, market price and other crop production-related information to enhance crop production efficiency. Farmers said that they want such type of knowledge and skill to minimize cost of cultivation and to maximize the production and productivity.

[3] Cultural & Social Aspects - The area visited was a blend of people of different religion, culture and traditions, including Punjabi and Bengali, and Muslims and Sikhs. Because of such a diversity of cultures found in the region, various languages are spoken, and wide range of traditions and customs could be observed. During the survey, it was found that elders of the communities are quite anxious about the younger generation moving away from their culture and traditions and adopting the western culture under the influence of media, especially television; they felt that community radio can be a good and effective means to promote our culture and traditions. Community radio will also help in reviving the traditions and languages which are on the verge of extinction. Some of the respondents also felt that many of the customs grew out of superstition and,  by promoting logical reasoning with the help of community radio, they can be removed.

[4] Healthcare - Lack of knowledge of nutrition leads to high maternal mortality and infant mortality rates. It was found that rural people have a low level of nutritional education. Low nutrition education explains the poor intake of vitamin-rich food, especially green vegetables among women, even though they are available in plenty in the village. This is further compounded by irregular visits of health and Aanganwadi workers for nutrition education. Their contribution is hindered by lack of communication and other infrastructural facilities. Women, men and youth in these areas want detail information about the various health problems and prevention, also. Another reason for health problems among the women was gender disparities. Girls are breast-fed less frequently and for shorter durations during infancy and childhood; and, during adulthood, males are fed first and better. Women are interested in knowing the importance of breast feeding during lactation period. In addition, lack of medical amenities for childbirth was the other factor affecting the health of women. There was not any lady doctor in the village for the women. Women have no knowledge about the government hospitals.

[5] Natural Resource Conservation – Communication of the importance of natural resources and their conservation can be done by way of interpersonal communication, but a media with penetration to the grass roots level is required, and this wide reach can be achieved by community radio. Major concerns regarding resource management during visits were: [1] excessive use of chemicals and [2] cultivation of summer rice by farmers which leads to day by day decrease in the water table as well as release of poisonous methane gas.

[6] Rural Development Concerns - The Government has initiated various programmes related to health, employment, education, agriculture and other aspects. The goals of rural development are considered simply as agricultural and economical growth in the narrow sense, whereas they should include balanced social and economic development, with emphasis on equitable distribution as well as creation of benefits. In the rural area of Uttarakhand, it was found that there are various Government programmes to provide medicine and dietary packages among the women and children. But these packages are not reaching the rural people.  The supplies were often irregular, inadequate and do not take into consideration the actual requirement of the population. There is no proper orientation of the functionaries; and, consequently, they are not aware of all the components of the programme. The functionaries do not have proper audiovisual aids to communicate uniform dissemination of messages to the communities. It was found that some parents wanted more children due to lack of awareness. They wanted to earn more money. They thought that more children will earn more money. Children under the age group of 15 were working in various fields to earn the money. They have a lack of awareness about the child labor act. The Government has initiated various programmes for women related to anti-dowry and maternity benefit, but women of these areas have a lack of awareness about the laws and rules. The Government has initiated various policies and laws in agriculture. In the rural area, it was found that Government has initiated various programmes on agribusiness and agriclinics, but these are not reaching the poor farmers. Small farmers have no knowledge about these centers.

[See part 2 of this blog: "Role of Community Radio for Women’s Empowerment".]

By Arpita Sharma, Ph.D,   Dept. of Agricultural Communication of G. B. Pant University at Pantnagar, India