Thursday, August 7, 2008
Women's Radio in Jordan
AL-SHUNA, Jordan, August 6, 2008 (MENASSAT) – Asma' Raja and Munira al-Shatti knew they would face many obstacles when they banded together to form the Zahrat Al-Aghwar (Valley’s Flower) radio station in 2006.
There were no precedents anywhere in the Arab world for a women-run radio station. Zahrat Al-Aghwar was born at the 8th conference of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, held in Amman in 2006. It was there that the conference's hosts, Radio Balad / Ammannet, announced that they would help establish a women-run community radio in the Al-Shuna district in the Jordan Valley. The Jordan Valley is an agricultural area on the border with Israel. It is the lowest-lying area in the world and temperatures are extremely high in summer. It is also a region marked by high poverty and unemployment.
In this context, women's rights are often neglected in favor of clan traditions, including early marriage among girls. Part of the mission that Zahrat Al-Aghwar set for itself was to testify to gender-based rights abuse, and to empower the local women, many of whom are agricultural workers.
But the Jordanian government has delayed the launching of the station for nearly two years now by refusing to grant Zahrat Al-Aghwar a license. According to the Jordanian Audiovisual Commission, which is responsible for issuing licenses, "The delay is due to studies being made on the radio waves. We are coordinating with the Jordanian Commission for Regulating Communications to regulate this department because the station would be on the border with Israel, which demands extreme caution against interference with Israeli radio frequencies."
Asma' Raja and Munira al-Shatti have put the lost time to good use.
In November 2006, they joined other women in a training session organized by Radio Balad in order to learn the basics of radio broadcasting. Ever since, they have been going into the field to produce radio reports, some of which have been broadcast on Radio Balad. "The complications have just motivated us even more to make the voice of our society heard," Asma' Raja told MENASSAT.
So while they are waiting for official approval to launch Sawt Al-Aghwar, they launched a radio program on Radio Balad under the same name. "The title is very symbolic for us because we live in an agricultural community far from the center of Jordan and it is an area that is neglected when it comes to social services. This program is our voice, and specifically the voice of the women."
The women also convinced a West Bank radio station, Bethlehem 2000, whose signal also covers the Jordan Valley, to broadcast their program. "When Bethlehem 2000 started broadcasting our program, we felt that our dream had come true, even if only partly," Raja said.
"What is important is to be heard in every household in the Valley. I'm happy that the heads of all the municipalities in the Valley listen to our program and even respond to our remarks. This has had a real impact on the women because they felt the media has finally reached the Valley, and what has been even more significant is the fact that it is the women who are speaking out."
The broadcast has created an influx of volunteers.
Zenat al-Hariri, a lawyer for the project and herself from the Valley, said, "When I first heard of the radio station, I anticipated many problems. But after I heard the first episode on Bethlehem 2000 radio, I decided to participate because I realized it was the only opportunity for me to become active in my community, and to help the girls transcend their traditional roles in society."
Mahmoud al-Shatti is a law graduate from the Jordan Valley. He attended a series of training sessions at Ammannet offices. "My participation is about supporting women and men in realizing the roles that all community members play in their society," he said.
Awra, a girl from Al-Shura, told MENASSAT, "We are in terrible need for a voice to express our feelings as girls living in a community ruled by old customs and traditions that sometimes hinder a girl's ambitions."
Another woman participating in the project, Khulood, said the rural Jordan Valley region suffers from political and social negligence. "Government officials don't help with the weaknesses of the infrastructure, which requires serious development. I think the station will help propel the people's concerns, especially the women's, to the higher levels of government."
Zahrat Al-Aghwar has had a great deal of international help, but it has had little impact on the licensing issue. Tamara Aqrabawi, a media activist and Zahrat Al-Aghwar's project manager, said, "At the initial stage of the project, I was running against time to have a scoop in the Arab world. A women-run radio station in a community like the Valley had not been done before, and I knew the station would also prove that women were capable of leadership."
"Rural society needs to be encouraged to do more for itself. At first, I was afraid the project would be rejected. But since then I have delegated a great deal of the work to the girls because I saw how excited they were about the radio station."
Asma' Raja said her new-found journalistic skills have added a lot to her confidence. "The project has increased my personal interaction with the community. I now feel that I have a role to play in addressing women's problems and the people in my community."
Munira Al-Shatti agreed. "Now I am unafraid to speak to government officials, to follow social causes, to search for the truth and to solve problems. The journalism training has helped me with all of these things." The Jordanian government has not given Radio Al-Balad any indication of when Zahrat Al-Aghwar will be allowed to begin broadcasting.