Author: Suchi Gaur, August 18 2014 - As I walked down the narrow road in a village in Butwal region of Nepal, I looked around and all I could see were mud houses and women trying to finish one or the other tasks. It was not a new sight for me. It is a sight of every nook & corner of India. And there I was, standing in the middle of the kuchcha road trying to ask women their experiences with Radio Mukti, a Community Radio station for women by women. I recalled the day I was in a village in Orchha in Bundelkhand region, same situation, same huts, different women, similar circumstances. This is a story made up of two stories. Two levels where I found women participating in community radio in different capacities, struggling to find a space with limited prospects and unlimited challenges to face.

Picture this: a young girl aged 22 years struggles to move out of her comfort zone in order to create a space for herself in this big world. She describes her movement from being the rebel of the community to the idol many want to follow as one uphill task she did. It took her years but she loves what the movement brought to her. As a community broadcaster, she knew what the issues of the people around her were. She was well aware of the struggles that were being faced at the local level. The community radio, she describes, "came up as a ray of hope, for I wanted to do something and this was just the right platform." When she came to work at the station, the community people taunted her of moving out of her house and going to work with men. The fact that she had no mother and she had the responsibility of brothers and sisters on her made her life tougher. She describes her daily routine as this, "I get up, cook for everyone, clean the house and then get out to work at the station. Earlier, no one valued what I was doing but when they heard my voice on the radio and saw me solving community problems, they started valuing my work. At home, I am the one bringing bread and outside I am now recognized and respected. I struggled initially with technology and fieldwork but my passion made me persistent. The struggle in the past four years has been hard, but worth it. I feel confident and there is nothing that I am scared of now." As a community broadcaster, the Community Radio not only shaped her personality but her connection to the community people brought those issues of the grassroots on the table.

She is not just a story. She represents the story of many women I have met working in similar capacities at various radio stations, in India & in Nepal. The fact that a women from different communities and villages are being represented in media, their issues bring brought out speaks for itself. Names have varied, but stories of women working in community radio have been similar.

The second story is a story of the women at the listener level. My field visits tell me similar stories. I meet women in villages and slowly gather them for a discussion. In one of the visits in Gujarat, I can see how difficult it is for women to multi-task at home, in the farms, trying to accomplish any task thrown at their disposal. For me the challenge with women participation in media has always been ownership & access, in homes of the technologies and access to mediums and outside to take a stand and be the leader.

Women have always been the deprived gender. Even in the field of Media, access & participation of women have been extremely limited. In the area of Community Radio, the issues of reach and ownership have been challenged with respect to women as it operates in the vicinity and movement is not a big question. While policies promote involvement of women in Community Radio, reality is that its not as simple as it looks. Breaking the patriarchal shackles and stepping out of the mental walls is a task, which needs lot of support and encouragement from a social perspective.

Acting as a major information channel for women, a Community Radio station exists in their vicinity, is an immediate source of information, knowledge and at many instances fastens behavior change. It is interesting how every station that I have visited in India and Nepal include at least one such woman broadcaster who has broken the shackles of the house, kept aside her challenges of literacy, has fought against all the barriers and has come out as a role model for women in the community. She is the one who has moved beyond the unmarked yet known boundaries of the community territories, where she was once not even allowed to step out of the house. It’s an amazing sight how a technology has done what a lot of policies failed to do, include women.

With both men and women being keenly involved, I have always seen that the involvement of women has been beyond music and farming. They are the ones concerned about not just their children and health of the house but are equally bothered about the rates of the vegetables they have grown, how to take care of animals, old age health as well as issues of knowing their rights. As a woman listener from one of the stations I visited remarked, "for us, the station is like the local activist who is not only giving us information and making us aware, but is also acting as a problem solver. Any issue we have, we call them and they give us information.. Sometimes, if we can’t go to the station, they come down and record our opinions and broadcast them...its empowering just listening to ourselves on the radio."

For many who can't read or write, or even understand any other language, the fact that the programmes a CR airs are made in their native language, by women like them on issues that belong to them makes the station the sole source of information. One of the women from a station in rural Nepal once told me, "we don’t know what our rights are. Before the station came we did whatever was told to us, now we are trying to fight against wrong, we want to stand for ourselves and our children." A community radio need not be all women, yet it reaches more women as they are the ones with access issues, to any form of technology, to any form of information.

(The work is doctoral research work of the scholar at University of Delhi)

Click to here read the original blog, cross-posted from Women's Web.