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Radio Show on HIV and Discrimination Brings Hope for Nepali WomenPosted by: admin on Thu, 2011-05-19 12:23
Equal Access, an information and education non-profit based in San Francisco, California, has found a new way to use media to address issues of HIV/AIDS and abuse against women in Nepal. The weekly 30-minute “Samajhdari” (Mutual Understanding) radio programme aims to reduce violence and discrimination against HIV-positive women, as well as general violence against women that puts them at higher risk of contracting HIV.
by Paromita Pain
UNAIDS estimates that approximately 60,000 adults (and 4,000 youth under 15) are infected with HIV/AIDS in Nepal. This works out to about 0.4 percent of the total population, compared to 1.3 percent in Thailand, 0.5% in both Malaysia and Cambodia, and 0.1 percent in Pakistan.
Of the total number infected in Nepal, UNAIDS estimates that, approximately 20,000 are women. According to the National Centre for AIDS and STD Control in Nepal, 17.051 HIV infections were reported in 2010, of which 35 percent were females. An alarming 75 percent of these women were housewives.
The Samajhdari radio program, a central component of Equal Access’ VOICES project, targets families -- husbands and wives in particular -- as well as adult listeners in general. The main goal of Samajhdari is to go beyond providing practical information and help women think critically about their rights, and empower them to be strong decision makers by enabling a dialogue about issues usually kept under wraps. The VOICES project is funded by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women.
The programme relies on female community reporters who are selected and trained to focus on problems and issues that are relevant to local listeners and reflect their own voices and perspectives. Winner of One World Media's "Special Award" in June 2010, the VOICES project has also recently trained 1,800 women at the community level on legal issues (notably on legal literacy), thus enabling them to act against violence against women and take collective action locally.
Directly from audiences
“The success of this initiative is dependent on each community seeing this reporter as an 'insider' – one of their own, to whom they can go in order to get their voices and stories on air,” says Ronni Goldfarb, President and CEO of Equal Access. The women chosen usually are themselves survivors of violence or are HIV-positive. They are trained in the use of digital audio recording equipment and ethical methods of interviewing, and they are supported through partnerships with grassroots organizations and NGOs.
The show aims to articulate the issues as clearly as possible. For example, on the subject of HIV testing, the show focuses on one young woman’s oft-heard dilemma: “I want my husband to test for HIV. How do I get him to do this?"
The pros and cons of asking your husband to take an HIV test are discussed and guidance is given on how to handle this difficult situation. The women are generally advised to present all the relevant information in a positive way to make sure the husbands respond and take the test. A real story of a husband is played at the end of the program where the husband talks about his experience with taking the HIV test.
The Samajdhari team has also helped form listener groups- they listen to the show, then discuss issues raised and plan how they can work on finding solutions in the community. Feedback is an important aspect. Letters, recorded voices and feedback are always incorporated into the programs.
The show, broadcast on the government-owned Radio Nepal Network and 20 other community FM stations, has an estimated regular weekly listening audience of more than one million across Nepal.
Jaya Lunitel, the “Samajhdari” Program Coordinator, says, “The idea is not to always find answers but open up the issue for discussion so that the audiences are at least made aware of their rights. Our target audiences are simultaneously listeners as well as change makers.”
One listener named Kamala said that for her, Samajhdari has made the difference between contracting HIV and staying disease free. She said, “I now know that housewives are at high risk of HIV infection. My husband used to be a driver and would stay out of the house often. I thought I might have contracted HIV and so I went to get my blood tested. Nowadays, I encourage women to test their blood to ensure that they are free of HIV.”
Community reporters like Nirmala, who has faced abuse and violence all her life, believes this has been the catalyst for welcome change. “When I first went to my community to do interviews, people wouldn’t speak to me. Later when they heard my voice on radio, some of them came to me and said, ‘Can you also please take our voice to the radio?’," she said.
Making a difference
An impact assessment for the VOICES project conducted in 2010 indicated that 79 percent of men strongly agreed to the need for intervention to stop violence against women, a significant increase from 13 percent of men in baseline study conducted in 2007.
Additionally, 35 percent of male respondents in the latest survey said they would take action against physical assaults if they occurred in a public place, up from 16 percent at the start of the program.
“This is a model that has brought about significant change in Nepal. We would love to help other countries replicate this in their contexts,” says Goldfarb.
While the UNTF-funded pilot and final impact assessment ended in 2010, Equal Access has continued many of the elements of this model in other radio and outreach programs currently being implemented to address gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS prevention in Nepal.
Most of their radio and outreach programs in Nepal and across Cambodia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Chad and Niger continue to incorporate the use of community reporters as a vital key to empowering women and addressing HIV/AIDS prevention.
In addition, many of the same women trained for VOICES continue to work on other radio series for Equal Access Nepal and several men who won “the most understanding husband campaign” have become on-air spokesmen and community role models advocating for an end to violence against women across the country.
Equal Access intends to bring the VOICES model to new countries and broaden the reach and impact of VOICES in Nepal.
Finally, what Jaya and the Samajhdari team treasure most is a letter a male listener wrote in soon after they started:
“I used to spend all my daily income on alcohol and fought with my wife. I even used to beat my wife and children when I got drunk. When I started listening to Samajhdari, I learned that I had been a perpetrator of violence towards my wife. I promised them that I wouldn’t repeat that behaviour in my life again. I felt my responsibility towards her and I understood why a husband and wife are two wheels of the same cart.”