"...Arab women remain bound by the societal customs with little space to challenge them directly and limited public venues for an open dialogue that positively involves all components of the society."
Launching in the second half of 2013, this radio fiction series aims to inspire a constructive debate and promote women's empowerment in Arab-speaking countries starting with the Palestinian territories and Egypt. Created by Global Production, an Egyptian production company, the entertainment-education (EE) initiative is supervised by the Womanity Foundation and its project partner, the NISAA Broadcasting Radio Company (NISAA).
This EE effort is based on the conviction that the media offer ways to overcome women's isolation, appear in family homes, and put women's and societal issues on the table by offering an entertaining and nonthreatening way to provide information, raise awareness, and engage a wide range of actors in a public debate that stimulates change and progress.
The radio drama tells the story of Noha, a young Arab radio journalist who struggles to find her place in a society in which working women are not always seen positively. Despite her competences and skills, Noha has a marginal role at work, since male professionals are always given deference to present the most important interviews and shows. Dissatisfied with her role and driven by her professional ethics, Noha decides that it is time to secretly pursue her aspiration to be an investigative reporter. Through her work, private life, relationships, and interactions with her context, Noha brings new perspectives to a range of social issues and, centrally, to issues pertaining to women's role in society, such as:
- Women's social and economic empowerment (poverty, unemployment, unequal pay, family's opposition to professional work, unequal career opportunities, and access to decision-making positions);
- Women's participation in public life (segregation in the private sphere and absence from public spaces, media, and politics);
- Women's emancipation and social rights (access to education, technology, high illiteracy rate in certain groups, divorce, right to own property, right to access proper healthcare, freedom of movement, etc.); and
- Violence against women (sexual and domestic violence, forced and early marriage, honour killings, female genital mutilations, etc.).
The radio drama is followed by a live show and debate on the situations presented on air as well as on characters' lives, choices, and behaviours. An open online space moderated by the programme manager will further gather audience and expert comments, animate the debate, and offer possibilities for connections across the community throughout the programme duration (initially 4 months but with the objective to extend it). Online and on-air contributions include: interviews with experts and women's leaders on the topics raised in the drama, small surveys on the audience's knowledge and opinion on these topics, chats with experts (online), feedback, and personal testimonials from the audience. Collective listening followed by debates will be organised in public spaces in cooperation with women's groups, schools, universities, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Listeners will be asked to share their own experiences, stories, opinions, and solutions. Organisers hope that feedback from the audience and contributions from experts will nurture the debate as well as provide a wealth of topics and stories that can be included in the storyline of subsequent drama series.
The launch of the fiction series is planned for the second half of 2013. NISAA FM and at least 3-4 radio stations in Egypt and other Arab-speaking countries (Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, Lebanon, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, and Bahrain) will acquire exclusive rights to broadcast the series' first season of 30 episodes. Organisers say that the presence of renowned stars make the fiction very attractive for radio stations to buy the product and schedule it the prime broadcast time, thus attempting to ensure sustainability of the programme and simultaneously maximise its outreach strategy. In the first phase, the intended groups are urban adults, and the specific audiences depend on the selected radio stations and the timing of the broadcast in their programme. In a second phase of the programme, organisers envision packaging the radio drama and other materials and distributing them to other broadcasters in lesser urban and rural settings (radio stations, NGOs, youth organisations, and women's groups) to expand the outreach of the project.
According to organisers, in modern Arabic societies, many women are challenging the narrow roles imposed on them, exploring ways to be more actively involved in the public and professional spheres. However, they still have a long way to go. The Arab Human Development Reports, sponsored the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) indicate that many Arab women are in low positions within the family and have little or no decision-making power. There is risk of exposure to some form of violence (domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, honour killing, early marriage, and female genital mutilation), economic dependency, and male dominance. Women represent about 50% of the population, yet their participation in the labour market is only 26.7%, as compared with a worldwide rate of 52.5%. Women's literacy rate is 59.4%, compared to a worldwide rate of 72.7%. The limited contribution by women represents a loss of resources and productivity for their societies.
Global Production, the Womanity Foundation, and NISAA.
Emails from Valentina Di Felice to The Communication Initiative on April 16 2013 and July 1 2013. Image credit: Womanity Foundation