The proposition to set aside a day to celebrate radio started in 2008, the proposal for celebrating World Radio Day was however only approved by UNESCO in 2011. The commemoration of the day coincides with the birth of the UN Radio on 13th February, 1946. The day celebrates the significance of radio as a medium of communication and raises awareness about the importance of radio. It facilitates access to information, through radio; and enhances networking among broadcasters. The commemoration is only two years old.
This year, I shared my world as a radio broadcast journalist on the breakfast show of Metro 97.7 FM in Lagos in commemoration of the day. The theme was Gender Equity &Women Empowerment, a surprising subject matter for a medium that many people think parades more women. One is therefore wont to think that the choice of women empowerment is ill-advised this time. Being a guest on that show meant taking more than a passing interest in the theme, so I took a close look at how the UN proposes to go about gender equity and women empowerment on radio.
The world body proposed that:
There is a need to develop gender related policies and strategies for radio.
Radio should eliminate stereotypes and promote multi-dimensional portrayal on radio.
Radio should focus on young women as producers, hosts, and reporters by building radio skills for youth radio production
Radio should promote safety of women radio journalists
I personally think these sub-themes speak directly to issues surrounding representation, identity and inclusion for women in the media generally and radio in particular. Gender systems abound in different socio-cultural contexts. They determine what is expected, permitted and valued in a woman/man; boy/girl. Inequalities then arise through socialisation processes and institutionalisation of gender systems through culture, education, legislations e.t.c
In my opinion, as a user of media and a content provider, gender inequalities truly affect participation in and access to media. It particularly limits the potential of media to become inclusive, democratic spaces for women. Section J of the Beijing Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth UN World Conference on Women in 1995 therefore underscores the importance of media to the advancement of women.
Most women are passive listeners to radio. Only a small percentage of women listeners actively engage with content on radio. In two of the 26 radio stations in Lagos, the world’s sixth most populous city, the male-female ratio of listeners is skewed in favour of men. One has a ratio of 70% to 30%, while the other has 97% to 3%. The majority of the city’s radio stations have similar ratio. There is certainly something about the programming of these stations that excludes female listeners. Women need to speak up on programmes and issues concerning their health, children, finances, politics and governance. This will make them transit from passive to active radio listeners.
What is the percentage of women interviewees on radio and what fields of endeavour do they represent? Is there a greater visibility of women in radio compared to their male counterparts? Women need to get involved in the discourses surrounding their well being on radio. If they are not, what is inhibiting them? My take is that radio content providers also need to make conscious effort to include the voices of (more) women in such programmes that border on politics, technology and governance that are traditionally reserved for men. They should cultivate the habit of gender balance in seeking expert views on matters of critical national and societal importance.
This relates closely to the second sub-theme which addresses the issue of stereotypes and multi- dimensional portrayal of women on radio. The truth is that biases, stereotyping and unbalanced reporting from a gender perspective normalize and further entrench unequal gender power relations. They are at the root of discriminatory attitudes and practices against women. The portrayal of women in programmes, drama and the news is ladened with cultural baggage in most societies across the world. The representation of women on radio has thus largely been a continuous re-enforcement of women as cultural objects and commodities. Although there are increasingly women who have broken the glass ceilings in different spheres of human endeavours, they are largely portrayed in the media as beings without much intellectual abilities or as sex symbols.
While it is true that more women work on radio as DJs, anchors, reporters, producers, editors and other allied areas such as engineering, marketing, credit control, ICT and so on, there are insufficient women in management positions in radio. It is only crowded at the bottom. In the board room where policies are created and decisions made, women are few indeed. DFID 2012 Gender in Nigeria Report 2012, states that “women occupy fewer than 30% of all posts in the public sector and only in 17% of senior positions.
Furthermore, in terms of empowerment for instance, what career advancement opportunities are available for women who work on radio? Whereas the media including radio is an investment playground for men, women are often not sufficiently financially empowered enough to own their own media enterprises and compete favourably with men. Negligibly few women have the purchasing power to influence ‘adspend’ in the media.
Regarding radio programming for instance, few radio programmes mainstream issues that promote the welfare and well being of women beyond health? In my thinking business news and reports are structured to cater for men. Women friendly programmes on how to invest and manage one’s investments are mostly unavailable. Perhaps such programmes will be deemed necessary when community radio stations start to operate in Nigeria.
Mentoring and coaching is ongoing informally in most media houses, under women line managers. There is however a need for targeted and structured mentoring interventions in the media. I therefore agree absolutely with the United Nations that there is a need to build radio skills for youth radio production. This is akin to putting in place a succession plan that will enable continuity and skills transfer on radio. This is partly the basis for my Media Mentoring Initiative (MMi). Such interventions for skills transfer are necessary for women to become effective influencers through radio.
Finally how safe are women who dare to tread in the largely dangerous terrain of investigative reporting? Recently Tobore Ovuorie, a print journalist was under fire for her investigative work on human trafficking. What I find incredulous was that by her own account, she seemed to have slept with men in the course of carrying out her report. Would it have been different if she were a man? Tobore’s case is a historical development regarding the safety of women journalists in Nigeria.
Moving forward, I recognise that women themselves perpetuate gender inequalities by allowing themselves to be cowed by the majority of men in management. Choosing to believe the foolish maxim bandied by unimaginative women (and cruel men) that women are to be seen not heard is unprogressive. We must continually work at breaking the cycle of mediocrity, ignorance and poverty which has held our women bound, even in professional circles.
The UN chose a topical theme. Radio is still Africa’s choice medium, our women have to recognise it is a tool for empowerment and use it effectively.
Funke -Treasure Durodola works in the Corporate Development, Research and Strategy Department of Radio Nigeria, Lagos