Radio "New Voice": First Community Radio in Iraq
Two years after its creation, this alternative community radio has become the most popular in its region. To keep this unique channel of communication running, the radio depends on private donations.
Dange Nwe, Kurdish for "New Voice", is the first community radio in Iraq, on air since the beginning of 2005. This radio station provides information and entertainment in new ways. The programs give special attention to the problems and interests of women and youth, usually kept away from the public sphere in the conservative society in the area. With this new channel of information and communication awareness for women’s rights can rise. Women are using this public forum to speak about their experiences. The diversified programs of the radio include talk shows, news, reportages and consultancy programs. The Entertainment programs broadcast music of different styles in Kurdish, English/International, Arab, Turkish and Persian, as well as reading novels for half an hour.
WADI’s helped setting up and running the radio in 2005. The radio is licensed by the Ministry of Culture and is broadcasting on 88.6FM. Nearly 50% of the women in this area are still unable to read and write. Newspapers are expensive and hard to find. In these conditions, the radio is the ideal medium to promote democracy from below. In contrary to Africa, where community radio stations have become common, in the Middle East it is very rare to find media independent from state or party’s influence.
Dange Nwe is run and operated by women and young people from the community. The content of its programs is shaped for the public of women and youth that the radio aims to reach.
The weekly program Homa is dealing with women’s problems, such as violence against women, health issues, sexuality and contraception, or the legal status of women. Awene New is a weekly youth program for young listeners. It covers issues such as equality between women and men, getting rid of some prejudices, which were spread during the years of Islamist control in the region, information about training opportunities, music, fashion, international trends, culture exchange and entertainment. The program Click hosts every week a young guest who speaks about his/her problems, presenting them for discussion.
Another weekly program is dedicated to civil society, democracy, gender equality and human rights issues. This supplemented by a program that gives general information about law and civil rights. Other programs are dedicated to specific subjects such as politics, education, psychology and of course sports.
Illiteracy among women in the rural area of northern Iraq is still an obstacle for their participation in the public sphere. Radio broadcasting is thus an excellent medium for a big number of women to express themselves. The radio also fits well to these remote areas, as it reaches with simple means places where other media technologies are unable to operate.
The regional basis is another big advantage of community radios. In these rural and isolated areas the population is much more open to programs by and for the locals, than to broadcasting coming from anonymous outsiders. The local and community references in the programs are present through focus on local culture and language and by addressing topics important for the area. The program Haware Eshk, for example, is a cultural program about the Hawraman region. In the program Tuesday Topic, the participants discuss a topic related to the local community. The programs dedicated to politics, sports and other specific subjects, there is always one item on local matters included in the show – for example problems with electricity and water supply. The popular program Latanesht Male Shaeranawa, dedicated to poets and poems, also gives some space the regional artists. For the radio team, the relationship with their listeners is very important, and thus they created a show in which listener comment and discuss the content of the radio’s programs.
The radio also host for live interviews officials and representatives of local authorities. By questioning them and enabling public critique the radio makes the officials accessible and hopefully more responsive to the public. The radio team wants to contribute for the long term goal of encouraging democratic culture with strong civil society and citizens aware of their rights and possibilities. 60% of the Iraqi population is under 20 years of age. To encourage a peaceful future for the country it is very important to help the youth understand better democratic institutions, participation and initiative. Radio Dange Nwe gives juveniles the chance to produce radio for young people and to learn the skills of journalism.
There are five permanent staff-members employed at the radio – three women and two men. About 20 volunteers produce and broadcast most of the programs. All are survivors of the chemical gas attack on Halabja in 1988 – gas which was produced with assistance from Germany. The young radio volunteers share personal histories of death and displacement and exile, then returning the so- called Collective Towns, controlled by the Ba’athist army.
Shortly after the liberation of parts of Northern Iraq from the grip of Saddam’s army, the newly liberated Hauraman region was taken over by Iran-based Islamist groups. These rulers terrorized the local population, especially the women. In 2003, with help of American forces and Kurdish fighters the Islamist in this region were defeated and pushed out. "I still can’t find the right words to describe my feelings", says Shian, member of the radio team, "but one thing I can express: that year my life changed completely, for the better!" Three years before the liberation of 2003, she had to leave her school in Halabja because she refused to cover her hair. The Islamists dominated the schools and harassed women who refused to dress the way they "should".
"Despite the support of my parents and the fact that we had always been good students, it was impossible for me and my sister to finish school." Nobody in the radio team did, for a number of reasons: poverty, need to flee from the Ba’athists, death of the parents, illnesses, pressure from the Islamists. These are topics that they also want to talk about in the new radio station.
They applied for the job at Dange Nwe when they realized that this new radio station is not owned nor controlled by any political party. "An independent forum for women and young people is something absolutely new around here", says Qeisar, a young men from the team. He plans a series about philosophical texts and a debate-show about sexuality and health. Qeisar also spent only six years at school, but during the long years of war and fleeing, he always managed to get books and continued his education.
Shohan is 20 years old and she likes the technical part in the work of the radio station. She has already completed a computer course in the Wadi’s Women Center in Halabja. Galawesh left school when the pressure on her from the Islamists was not bearable anymore. Today she is producing features about Kurdish culture and she talks about her experiences in the past. Hero is interested in women’s rights in the Iraqi society: "I called my first feature ‘Freedom begins in the head’ and it is dedicated to all those women who want to get rid of their chains in our society."
Along with the daily radio work, the team is also engaged in other important cultural tasks. They are translating movies into Kurdish or they are helping young poets to publish their poems. The radio also joined the WADI-campaign against female genital mutilation (FGM). Unfortunately the practice of FGM is widespread in the region, and the radio helped considerably in raising awareness in the population.
In several cases, the team took action to help people in need, who called the radio’s counselling program. Only through the youth program Awene Nwe, 16 persons – all of them women – received help from the staff itself or were referred to another organization. These women asked for advice because they felt overwhelmed by problems, either related to marriage and divorce or connected to drugs. Some talked about committing suicide, especially suicide by burning.
To be able to provide such help and support to the community, the radio is part of a local network. The radio team keeps close contacts with several other NGOs and authorities in the region. Being part of a network means benefiting from local cooperation, extending the possible range of action and improving solution strategies.
The radio was founded as an "alternative station" to the already existing programs. But although – or maybe because – the program schedule of Dange Nwe has some emancipatory ambitions, the station became the most popular in the region! A survey by the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) revealed that 500 of 750 people interviewed, said that Dange Nwe is the best station in the whole of Sharazor and Halabja regions.
The members of the radio team discuss the possible effects of their work, while planning their programs. Ba’athists and Islamists lost their power, but the years of terror have left traces in this society. "We must be careful, otherwise conservative forces will shut down the radio"– says one – "No, we must be outspoken and show no fear because today we live in a free country!" – says the other. The prejudices are omnipresent in a patriarchal, conservative society that was isolated over long periods. The staff members of Radio Dange Nwe have decided to fight this together: through the ether.
The creation of the radio was made possible thanks to ACDI-VOCA, Radio Gladys Palmera and WADI. But the running costs still need to be covered. The radio tries to apply new concepts (in Iraq) of sponsoring and advertising. However, years will go by until it will be financially independent. That’s why this radio is depends on private donations!
You can support this project with your donation. Keyword: "New Voice".
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