Narratives of Empowerment – A Framework to Assess Lived Experiences of Women Community Radio Producers

Malik, Kanchan K (2016). 'Narratives of Empowerment – A Framework to Assess Lived Experiences of Women Community Radio Producers' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

abstract In India’s public debate, gender equality is a major issue and elimination of discrimination is ‘accepted social goal of the country’. Since independence, several programmes have been promoted to improve the condition of poor rural women. Nevertheless, in practice, the status of women in India remains problematic.   The development frameworks that have emerged from the grassroots experiences and writings of Third World feminists emphasize the need to create a cultural shift in how development is understood. They stress the need to ground solutions to women’s problems in regionally and culturally specific realities and lived experiences of women and to espouse an empowerment agenda that would not focus on women alone, but on relationships between women and men.   Feminist theories of social justice informed by notions of pluralism warn against acceptance of local traditions and practices that violate a woman’s individual agency to pursue a way of life that she affirms as good. Nussbaum defends a liberal feminist position, even as she displays sensitivity to cultural differences and religious liberty, when she stresses that there should be an ethical consensus around ideas of human dignity. She identifies certain capabilities as essential to human dignity—those that ascertain the ‘threshold level of capabilities beneath which truly human functioning is not available’.   Third World scholars stress the need to focus on recovering women’s silenced voices and knowledge and to use women’s experience as a resource for any programmes or policies that fundamentally affect their lives.   For those who have customarily been unacknowledged and silenced, socially and culturally, the opportunity to have one’s voice heard can be an imposing experience of self-worth.   There is a growing consensus amongst development practitioners, communication scholars and feminist activists that media and new technologies of communication informed by a gender perspective can play a central role in the advancement and empowerment of women.   They can be harnessed as tools for reversal of women’s marginalisation by generating spaces for: expression of women’s issues; enhancing women’s equal participation in civil and public life; dissemination and exchange of authentic information and images about women; activating women’s representation in development; facilitating women’s alternatives for designing solidarity campaigns; and empowering them with skills and confidence to have a say in decision-making over their circumstances.   Community Radio (CR) is a means of communication that is operated in and by the community, which produces context specific content in local language to address communication needs that otherwise remain unaddressed by mainstream media.   Studies of CR in India show that new information enables women to acquire awareness on their rights and on the condition of other women, make informative choices, develop imaginative capacity about their future life, and plan group action. Through CR they also get new skills, such as computer literacy, ICTs and reporting techniques, and the opportunity to establish new interpersonal relations. They enhance their self-perception, become confident in public speaking, discuss their problems in public meetings and sometimes, even challenge traditional norms.   With a view to advocate and promote the involvement of women in CR as agents of social change and to create concrete opportunities for women to get information and produce communicative acts that are relevant to their lives, the Gender Policy promulgated by AMARC (World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters) states in its preamble that: “Community radio has an obligation to redress the imbalance; facilitate women’s involvement at all levels of decision-making and programming; ensure that women’s voices and concerns are part of the daily news agenda; ensure that women are portrayed positively as active members of society; and support women acquire the technical skills and confidence to control their communications.”   This research paper, as a first step towards a larger goal, seeks to develop a framework using the capability approach, among others, to explore conceptual insights for analysing the complex process of women’s empowerment and it’s linkages with community radio and voice.   The framework will be built to assess the extent to which community radio enables women to assert their right to communication, and to participate actively in the development processes and decision-making though engagement in daily media activity. It would be developed in such a way so as to help understand, through the narratives of the lived experiences of women community radio producers, what makes change happen in the lives of women when they become producers of communication. It will seek to explore the role their engagement with community radio has played in bringing about a change in their personal circumstances.   Given the social structures, contexts and realities within the communities, the framework will seek to identify the specific dilemmas that are inherent to the complex process of women empowerment and the manner in which the women community radio producers negotiate with and navigate through these with an aim to address the deep-rooted issues affecting gender equality and empowerment of women.    This framework could become a basis for carrying out gender-sensitive interaction with the women community radio producers in these CR stations, to understand if participation in media –making allows women to challenge the culturally disempowering gender norms and come out of a condition of silence?   How does a techno-social interface such as community radio contribute to women gaining a ‘voice’ that matters in the public sphere? And does this lead to forming of networks that foster collective meaning making and collaborative action? How do women negotiate with hegemonic patriarchal structures through participation in media? 

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