For women in the MENA region, pushing back against unrealistic or harmful gender stereotypes in media has long been a battle. According to research, approximately 78.68% of images of Arab women in Arab media are negative (Arab World Development Report). Meanwhile just 4% of regional news stories challenge gender stereotypes.
One sided reporting
As a result, news stories do not not reflect the issues women care about. There are few public platforms that provide women with relevant information or include their views. Why does this matter? Women are less able to voice their concerns, contribute to debate and are less likely to become involved in shaping society. In a culture where women have fewer rights than men, this imbalance of voice further perpetuates the inequality that exists in society.
Radio Nisaa: Giving voice to Palestinian women
In Palestine, one radio station is challenging this. Radio Nisaa, run by women for women, gives Palestinian women (and men) a platform to air their views about all things affecting their lives. Set up in August 2009 in partnership with Palestinian entrepreneur Maysoun Odeh, Radio Nisaa is the first all-women radio station in the Arab world. Even the station’s name, “Nisaa” means “women” in Arabic.
Through its female-led reporting, the radio station creates dialogue and debate around the most pressing issues for women and applies a gender lens to everyday news. Its dynamic radio programming works to empower, inform, and inspire both women and men in the region, as well as challenge traditional attitudes relating to gender and the role of women in the Middle East.
The station airs three daily primetime programmes, runs interactive talk shows, plays music, broadcasts news, and produces investigative reports into current events. Whether the content of these shows focuses on women entrepreneurs, talking about family planning or the role of men in the household, in all it does Radio Nisaa aims to smash boundaries and provide an alternative view to issues that so often go unheard in Palestinian society.
Getting women into broadcasting
The pioneering station also addresses the lack of women that work in media. In the Middle East, it’s estimated that women make up only 27% of top management jobs in media. Radio Nisaa trains women in media and encourages women to contribute to the station’s content and become producers themselves.
Consequently, the station’s base of female reporters, producers, and writers offer real insights into what it means to be a woman in Palestine and further boosts dialogue about female-centered issues that may not receive coverage in other news sources.
Media: a catalyst for change
Media can be a catalyst to overcome the many obstacles to gender equality in the Middle East. It has the power to change the prevailing narrative and through storytelling has the power to shift deep-rooted beliefs and attitudes.
It will take time to counteract the stereotypes and limitations that plague women in media; especially in societies where stereotypes run deep. By bringing more female voices to forefront through efforts like Radio Nissaa, we are setting the foundation for a better gender- balanced media landscape. This is a much needed step in the right direction.
Read about Radio Nisaa’s founder Maysoun Odeh in this Q&A blog
Find out more about Radio Nisaa.