The radio station near Thiès is small and cramped, yet bursting with activity. A young woman before a microphone is talking to a disembodied female voice from a nearby village, trying to maintain an audible signal from her mobile. Finally, a signal gets through and the woman recounts, in rapid Wolof, the results of a community meeting that just ended.
The reporter is among 60 women reporters who were trained through a two-year USAID grant to the Rural Association for the Fight Against AIDS, a local organization that expanded from its original mission to administer the program.
Sixty young women, each from a different village, received training in the fundamentals of journalism and operating the station’s equipment. Some are recent high school graduates, while others come to work with babies strapped to their backs. Husbands of the married reporters are overwhelmingly supportive of their wives’ work. “My wife doesn’t ask me for money in the morning any more, and I’m fine with that,” quipped one spouse.
True enough, the women receive a small stipend for their work, and they earn it. On a visit to one village, USAID’s partners saw that the women were relentless with their pocket cassette recorders, taking down nearly every word uttered in an official capacity. By the time the team had traveled to the next village, the broadcast from the last village was going on air.
The women do more than just report the news though. They organize and facilitate “listening groups” in their respective villages and discuss issues that many of their fellow female villagers might not have even previously considered. What are their rights when it comes to land tenure? How can they access credit to start up a small market business? How can they access health care without bankrupting their families?
They openly discuss touchy issues like young girls who go to the city in search of domestic work only to return pregnant; they talk about domestic and even family sexual violence, which emboldens victims to seek justice with local authorities.
“Women are learning what leadership is through this program,” said Mme. Daba Dieng, chairwoman of the committee that manages the radio station, Ginikou FM. She says that by producing and providing content to the programs, “these women are becoming essential members of their communities. Their interface with the village brings change. The rights of the women are much more respected.”