Author: BBC Media Action's Serena Hamilton, originally posted on March 6 2017 - A small radio station in Afghanistan run by women for women is providing a platform to discuss women’s rights, health and local news – and training the next generation of young female journalists.
Security is tight at Shaiq Studios. Just last year a blast ripped through the streets of central Jalalabad, in Nangarhar province, scattering the recording equipment like toys. The studio doesn't appear to have been the target but everyone here is aware of the need for vigilance. As our taxi slides into the air-locked entrance, a guard guides a mirror along the underbelly of the car, checking for explosives.
Shaiq Studios is home to Radio Nargis, one of the few all-women-run radio stations in Afghanistan. The station broadcasts each afternoon, covering a wide range of topics including news, health, legal issues, and women’s rights. It’s an extremely bold move to maintain a female-focused radio station. Nangarhar is a conservative province, where women, in the main, are expected to be seen, not heard.
Shahla Shaiq, the quietly-spoken but determined founder of Radio Nargis, greets us at the door. In addition to providing information to help women lead ‘happier, healthier’ lives, Shahla tells me one of their aims is ‘to give women a voice’.
I want to be a successful journalist
With Shahla are Nafisa and Laila, two young women who have been involved in the station since 2007 when it started broadcasting. They are alumni of the studio’s training programmes for young people in the region. To date, more than 1,600 young people have learned basic journalism skills, including audio editing, reporting and presenting.
Nafisa is a fourth year literature student with aspirations to make the most of her experience. “I want to be a successful journalist in the future”, she says with a smile. “There are many problems for women in Afghanistan – I want to reflect these problems and find solutions for them.”
To support this work BBC Media Action has delivered training Radio Nargis and four other partner radio stations. One workshop focused on using media to help improve people’s health. Laila a 20-year-old presenter, who attended the workshop, told me: “The training helped me produce three programmes on polio vaccinations, malnutrition and diarrhoea.” She hopes to make many more. The training programme also aims to help the radio stations become more sustainable – with courses focused on marketing and advertising. “We didn’t know how to get commercial advertisements before the training” Shahla tells me, “but now we’re 50% funded by commercial advertisements.”
A voice for women
In spite of this support, money is tight at Radio Nargis. A buzzing blue light illuminates the sparse studio, furnished with a desk, two patchy chairs and four microphones. The content, though, is absolutely priceless. Listeners are encouraged to call the station’s battered phone – which receives hundreds of calls throughout the week from women eager to share their views on the programmes. In a region where, up until a few years ago, women weren’t allowed to listen to radio (some still can’t), or even to have their own mobile phone (some still don’t), the success of the station is remarkable. This year, the station celebrates its 10th anniversary. I hope it celebrates many more.
Image credit: BBC Media Action
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