Amplifying women’s voices through radio in Malawi

Radio is generations old, but when combined with some ingenuity and a few modern technologies, it can accomplish great things. As farmers, foresters and providers, women have a unique understanding of the ecosystems they live alongside. A pioneering radio programme in Malawi is tapping into this immense body of knowledge through a platform for women to engage in landscape restoration.

Women sitting on blanket with new radio

To accomplish its forest landscape restoration (FLR) goals, the government of Malawi confirmed through the ROAM process that engaging with farmers, specifically women, is critical to the adoption and implementation of FLR practices. This led to the challenge of determining how to reach deep into the countryside with extension services and to create a platform which would give women and men a voice in farming and restoration issues.

Enter a local Malawian NGO called Farm Radio Trust (FRT). They rolled out an innovative communications model called Her Farm Radio that taps into the power of radio, mobile technologies and other information communication technologies (ICTs) to raise awareness, promote informed decision-making and give a voice to smallholder farmers on FLR.

Together with the USAID-funded Protecting Ecosystems and Restoring Forests in Malawi project and the Department of Forestry, FRT worked with farmers and local stakeholders to introduce 15 minute segments on FLR on two radio stations that were popular among communities in Machinga and Mangochi districts. Groups were formed to listen to the programmes together – after which they discussed and shared feedback with broadcasters through WhatsApp group chats. They also used mobile phone messaging and a cost free method of voting on certain topics called flash calling (dialling a number and then hanging up before an answer). These platforms allowed for interactive and customised discussions around FLR and farming among a large and dispersed group of stakeholders.  

In addition to the 40 dedicated listening groups, Her Farm Radio targeted 200,000 farmers within the two districts with a goal of featuring the voices of female farmers, their perspectives and concerns on FLR, and providing them with information on landscape restoration interventions that offer multiple benefits – including improving and stabilising local livelihoods.


Reflections from the project

Women must have a voice in dealing with FLR issues that affect their lives
The Her Farm Radio project validated that if women are given a chance to voice their issues concerning development challenges, they are willing and able to do so. One key success factor for Her Farm Radio was the creation of women groups where they felt comfortable discussing socio-economic and environmental challenges.

Women’s issues in the context of FLR are beyond the realm of ‘specialised women only’ forums
There is a need for open discussion of women’s issues among different stakeholders. These stakeholders include but are not limited to men, traditional leaders, church elders, civil society and even policy makers. For instance, it was evident that a lack of family planning was one of the major drivers of overpopulation, thus resulting in forest clearing for settlement, agriculture and income. However, the hindrances associated with family planning had different dimensions that require multifaceted solutions that cannot be addressed by one agency or one sector. In this regard, a women’s group that is discussing FLR issues needs to engage other stakeholders beyond the FLR ‘walls’ since FLR issues are multi-faceted. Thus, there is need for concerted strategies by a wide range of stakeholders.

Both men and women are perpetrators and victims of deforestation
It was noted during the audience research that both men and women shared the same aspiration: to escape the poverty trap. In doing so, both put pressure on the forest. The audience research results also revealed that FLR strategies could be responsive to suit both men and women. In the context of this project, it was learned from the start that agricultural-based options would be the most practicable FLR options for the region.

Capacity development in skills critical for women’s use of ICTs
In order to make a positive link between rural women’s livelihoods and ICTs, capacity development must be rooted in project design and linked to outcomes for all project stakeholders, especially women who are often disadvantaged. Projects can change women’s ability to use ICTs through practical and participatory training in skills that help them on how to use the ICT gadgets so that their voices are amplified.

Forest brief cover page Photo: IUCN

IUCN Forest Brief on the Her Farm Radio project in Malawi

The project was immensely successful in engaging communities, especially women, in FLR. A survey conducted after the project indicated that 64% of the respondents have planted trees, while over 50% said they started to use energy saving technologies as a result of the radio programmes.

Thanks to Her Farm Radio, thousands of women and men increased their knowledge of locally appropriate FLR techniques, and discussions around gender were at the forefront.

Supported by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as part of the KNOWFOR programme, funded by UK aid from the UK government and the USAID funded PERFORM (Protecting Ecosystems and Restoring Forests in Malawi) project.

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