A successful approach to gender inclusion in communication for development
Dimitra and its partner in Niger, ONG VIE Kande ni Bayra created the “listener’s clubs” project in 2009 to give rural men and women better access to information and means of communication. ONG VIE Coordinator Ali Abdoulaye explains the reasons for the project’s success.
In 2008, Dimitra and its partner in Niger, ONG VIE Kande ni Bayra, started supporting the creation of rural “community listeners’ clubs” –public forums to enable women and men to participate actively in their community life by exchanging information, knowledge and opinions and to share in decision-making. To improve the clubs’ access to information, Dimitra and ONG VIE provided them with crank and solar radios, and later with solar powered phones to communicate with the radio stations and other listeners’ clubs. A success beyond all expectations, the initiative not only gave women, who make up the majority of the clubs' participants, a greater voice, it also enabled networking among communities and broke their isolation.
The initiative was formalized in 2009 into a project entitled “Creation of listener’s clubs for rural women’s empowerment and leadership” with funding from FAO, UNDP, UNIFEM, UNFPA and bilateral organizations (Canadian, Swiss and Belgian Cooperation). Two years on, the project has grown into a network of over 500 listeners’ clubs in three regions of Niger -- Tillabéri, Dosso and Zinder. The clubs share valuable information on an ongoing basis through the communication technologies provided and the collaboration of their local community radio stations. ONG VIE Kande ni Bayra’s Coordinator Ali Abdoulaye explains the reasons for the project’s success.
ONG VIE Kande ni Bayra’s Coordinator Ali Abdoulaye.
Tell us about the very beginning of the listeners’ clubs initiative and how it came about.
In 2006, Dimitra and ONG VIE held a workshop for rural women entitled “Women, literacy and communication,” in Dosso. The participating rural women were from several communities in Western and Southern Niger and told us about their inability to participate in decision making in their communities, partly due to their lack of access to information and low literacy rates. We looked for a way to address these two needs at the same time and, in 2008, decided to add a new, experimental function to the literacy training centers already run by ONG VIE: they also became a tool to set up “listeners’ clubs,” where women and men could gather to discuss various issues of their own choice and listen to radio programmes of interest via crank and solar radios we provided. We later equipped the clubs with cell phones using solar energy chargers to call the radio stations to ask questions and share knowledge.
Did this meet the information needs of the rural women who took part in the initiative?
It improved their situation significantly—through the radio, they received information on a range of subjects of importance to them: where to buy inputs, prices of food and commodities, etc, and they began sharing their knowledge. But then, the women didn’t stop there. They started using the phones to call other listeners’ clubs to share the information with them and get their views, sometimes about the topics discussed on the radio programmes, sometimes about other topics. And men were participating too.
How has the project evolved since its beginning?
An increasing number of communities asked to participate and we started providing radios and phones to more and more groups who organized themselves into listeners’ clubs. When we couldn’t provide the material, communities pulled their resources together to buy the equipment themselves.
There was a clear need, the network was growing and it needed more support. FAO, UNDP, UNIFEM, UNFPA and bilateral organizations (Canadian, Swiss and Belgian Cooperation) stepped in to provide funds and we were able to structure the initiative into a full blown project in 2009.
Today, the network is constituted of over 500 clubs with close to 10,000 members including 2,500 men, and 13 community radio stations. The Emergency Coordination Unit of FAO in Niger has also started using the listeners’ clubs to obtain quick and clear feedback on their activities.
Can you tell us more about the way the project functions at the community level and how it benefits the participants?
In each community, women and men have separate weekly meetings where they discuss their own priority issues. This allows women to talk freely among themselves and formulate their opinions clearly. Then later in the week the whole community meets once or twice to discuss these issues and decide together what actions need to be taken.
When a group believes an issue is of interest to the other communities in the network, they alert their local radio station, which in turn alerts the clubs. Each community discusses the issue at hand and makes a summary of its members’ opinions, knowledge and recommendations. With support from the project, the radio station gathers these and creates a programme, which it broadcasts back to the clubs. An expert is present at the radio station during the broadcast to take questions. Thus, through the clubs, the communities put their knowledge together to find solutions.
How has the project improved the lives and status of the rural women involved?
The women are at the heart of the listeners’ clubs. Most often it is they who decide which issues need to be discussed. The project has given them access to information and knowledge, a voice, and the confidence to express themselves. Their role and capacities are now recognized and they have become an integral part of the decision making processes within their communities. They can be leaders and shape the decisions that affect them.
How have the men reacted to the changes brought on by the project and how has it impacted their lives?
The men are proud and they are relieved to now be able to share the responsibility of decision making with women. To a certain extent, they felt that the women had not been fully assuming their responsibilities, which they couldn’t do without access to information and without the confidence to express themselves. They trust women’s capacity more. Within households, men and women talk a lot more too.
Has the Listeners’ Club Project improved food security for the communities involved?
Indeed it has. Participants share a lot of practical information about agricultural practices and this has improved their yields. They regularly talk about which seeds are best adapted to which type of environment, where to buy these seeds, who has the best stocks, which prices they should be bought at, etc. These topics are most discussed in April and May. In June, planting season, the participants exchange a lot of information about soil types and quality, the best planting techniques, which fertilizers are most appropriate and when they should be applied. FAO provides its assistance when required.
To give you an example, the village of Gasséda, located 70 km east of the capital city Niamey, has a bean variety that it traditionally grew. In the past years, there has been an important shortfall of rain in this area and this bean could no longer mature. Thanks to the club, the village received information from other communities about varieties that would thrive in the new conditions they were experiencing. They switched to growing the recommended varieties, which had a yield 30 to 40 percent higher than their traditional bean. Not only did they prevent a food deficit, they also had enough stocks to sell, which allowed them to buy rice and other cereals and diversify their diet. They were used to cultivating for subsistence only and realized that it could also generate revenues.
In your view, what has made this project so successful?
We actually had not foreseen the extent of the success! I think the main factor is that the format of the project adequately responded to the need for information and means of communication of the communities involved. They assumed full ownership of the project, shaped it and gave it its direction. We took their lead and adapted our actions and support to their needs.
What are the next steps for the Listener’s Clubs network in Niger?
We have begun working with the FAO Emergency Coordination Unit, UNFPA and UNICEF to relay their messages. On May 1, 2011, UNICEF will start working with nine Listeners’ Clubs to transmit information about the “Essential Family Practices” they have elaborated. This will be done in the usual way through radio programmes that will be discussed within and among the clubs. UNICEF has found in the past that the Listeners’ Clubs network was a very efficient way of communicating their development messages. In early 2012, UNICEF will carry out an impact evaluation to determine the extent to which the communities have adopted the practices and how these results compare with those of their previous communication for development initiatives.
With FAO Emergencies, we will be providing the clubs with information about inputs shops and fertilizers and with UNFPA about maternal and child health and gender equity.