Women's Voices across Nepal
The sun illuminates the green patches of cauliflowers and cabbages in the field as farmers arrange sacks of crops to be dispatched to the city. Karuna Bista sports her Kurtha Suruwal, arms herself with a cassette recorder, and prepares to take the first story for the day. Broadcasting within a 60-kilometer radius, Radio Palung is perched up in the hill south of Nepal, and Karuna’s voice is heard by 2,000 households, reaching as far as Bihar, India.
Karuna is one of the 9 women reporters in Radio Palung, a community radio that is 3-hour drive from Kathmandu city. The station prides itself of installing the first audio tower in Asia, with distinct amplifiers that generate the voice news in 3 languages - Tamang, Newari and Nepali. Karuna captures narrative snippets of farmer’s activities, recording their daily experiences on vegetable diseases, and consulting experts on how to resolve it. Informally, farmers share their views on site, and this is broadcasted to listeners using satellite technology.
This kind of community radio, especially manned by women radio reporters, empowers the whole village to build their capacity for problem solving, decision making, and collective action. It also replaces the function of the telephone systems wherein messages can be broadcasted advising that a relative in another village is ill, announcement of parents-teachers meeting or placing a public notice that a goat or buffalo is up for sale. Remarkably, advertisements such as these maintain the radio’s 70 percent operational expenses, the rest of which comes from donations and grants.
Nepal’s experience with community radio is renowned for approaches of ingenuity and innovation. Unique protests like blowing conch shells in air time signified death of a political stance, playing the same kind of music in all stations served as satirical complaints, and singing broken parts of the Constitution to the people all hammered the government to perform what they are elected for. This has effectively converted movements into joint protests and created mass rallies for peace and solidarity.
In the villages of Nepal, the community radio programme Sajha Awaj (common voice) allows discussions on issues of importance to the women of the community through transmission to more than 160 community radio stations. The programme delves into issues ranging from addressing cultural malpractices faced by rural women — such as being shunned during their monthly menstrual cycle — to women’s role in local politics and building a local motorway which is essential for rural women traders.
Community radios such as these magnify women voices to discuss global solutions that equip them to make positive changes in their lives and on others. Their voices has now become deafening and their issues is now of global importance. The presence of community radios in Nepal has given voice to 85 percent of the country that is known for its mountainous geography. This has opened a media to discuss women issues in their own dialect. Community radios continuously beams across Asia as it significantly changes the lives of the people.
This post has a slight revision from the original story printed in Asian Geographic Magazine (August 2010)
"Community Radios - The Voice of the People"