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Broadcasting Hope

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How Girls Are Fighting For Their Rights in Rural Tanzania Using the Radio

It’s Sunday afternoon in Tanzania, and a family gathers together in their front yard to listen to the radio together. With COVID-19 lockdowns in place since March, it’s a chance to get outside their house and relax in the sun. Their daughter turns the dial to her favourite new program, and the family settles in to listen to an exciting new radio drama, one that carries an important message about gender equality and the treatment of girls. It’s just one of over 30 radio dramas episodes that girls from Right To Play’s Junior Leader Clubs wrote and produced that are being broadcast in Tanzania.

Girls in Tanzania have been deeply affected by COVID-19 lockdowns and school closures. Thousands of girls are at risk of early marriage, pregnancy, and female genital mutilation (FGM) as families retreat to traditional practices as a way of coping with the financial and psychological strain of COVID-19.

But girls are not giving up. Shortly after Tanzanians began quarantining on March 16, Right To Play adapted our work to continue to reach girls and their families remotely. Using radio, we have reached more than 2.75 million girls and 2.15 million other community members in Tanzania with stories that help to challenge harmful traditional practices.

In this emotional scene from one episode, Halima, a fictional young girl, argues with her father to let her finish school instead of trying to make her marry

Televisions are uncommon in Tanzania, but 98% of homes have radios. We brought girls and coaches from our Girls on Track program together with local government and NGOs to create an ongoing radio drama series focused on gender equality.

The episodes are written by girls in Right To Play Junior Leadership Clubs about the issues they face. The dramas break down stereotypes, share information about girls’ rights, and help girls at home to discuss the issues in the dramas with their parents. Experts on issues like child marriage and FGM help the girls, ensuring the information shared in each episode is accurate, up to date, and relevant.

Two episodes are broadcast each week – one on Saturday, and one on Sunday, when the entire family is home – and over 30 have been broadcast already, with more on the way. Families are enjoying the dramas and engagement is high. Listeners have been calling in to radio stations with suggestions, ideas for new episodes, and questions about what happened to characters in previous stories, and the writers incorporate the feedback into future episodes.

Matinde resists peer and family pressure to submit to female genital mutilation. In the story’s climax, one of her bullies, Waitara, apologizes for mistreating her

Our pre-COVID-19 work on gender equality in Tanzania involved bringing girls and boys together in Junior Leadership Clubs where they would discuss issues like FGM, child marriage, early pregnancy, and pressures to drop out of school. Junior Leaders would support one another as they urged family members and community leaders to respect girls’ rights.

Each year, Junior Leaders would work to create and rehearse plays and songs about the issues they had discussed and confronted. The songs and plays would be performed in front of their neighbours and peers at an annual Play Day where the whole community gathered.

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These performances helped sensitize family members and influential community members to change social norms about traditional practices like FGM or pulling girls out of school before their education was complete. But school closures meant the clubs couldn’t meet anymore, leaving girls isolated and vulnerable. Shifting to radio gave the Junior Leaders another opportunity, one that COVID-19 couldn’t stop, to use their creativity and spirit to change the hearts of adults in their communities.

“At the end of the dramas we had parents calling the radio station asking, ‘What happened to that character?’ And we used those questions to shape the next episodes.” – Patrick Nyeko, Country Director, Right To Play

The radio dramas are already having an impact. Two sisters in Tanzania’s Moro Region were spared from FGM after their parents started listening to the dramas with them and realized the potential deadly consequences of sending their daughters to be cut.

Many more girls are finding the courage to have difficult conversations with their parents and caregivers by using the stories as a prompt. Attitudes are changing, and families are finding the resilience to resist adopting harmful traditional practices. Thanks to the radio dramas, their parents and caregivers have a clearer idea of what could happen if they are sent for FGM, married off, or become pregnant too early in life.

The Girls on Track program in Tanzania is possible thanks to the generous support of the Government of the Isle of Man.