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Tackling underrepresentation of women in media


Trying something new can be a daunting experience, especially when nobody has done it before.

The residents of Mardan district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province in Pakistan have never been the target of a study into media consumption habits, particularly not its female residents who make up 50 per cent or roughly 1.15 million.

A new Thomson Media project, Valley Voices', sets out to change that with its local partner, the Tribal News Network (TNN), a community production centre based in Peshawar.

Women remain an underserved audience in Pakistan, partly due to existing patriarchic structures which hinder or prevent women from taking up professions such as journalism.

Currently there are no female reporters working in Mardan district, which is likely to exclude women's voices from the radio.

Given that men might also be hindered by social convention to interview women, three women were trained to collect data in the field. Their experiences ranged from scorching temperatures to suspicious interviewees.

There should be programmes for women, by the women and about the women.

Audience research participant Reasons to focus on Mardan The district of Mardan is one of the more populous and educated districts in KP province, which is divided into 35 districts. From September 2020 onwards, it will also be home to TNN's new radio station.

TNN has been at the forefront of involving women in the production of news to increase consumption of female audiences. The audience research was intended to find out about women's consumption patterns; their answers were to have a decisive influence on the content of the new broadcasting schedule for Mardan Radio.

The district of Mardan is administratively subdivided into five tehsils. Research was conducted in three of them (Mardan, Takhtbai and Katlang), with 386 women being interviewed from 23 July to 6 August, 2020.

A clear majority of the women, that's 61.1 per cent, were housewives. This was followed by unemployed women who formed 27.7 per cent of the total sample size.

Literacy levels and media consumption Approximately half of children in Mardan are not enrolled in any schooling system, according to school construction and rehabilitation programme, Hamqadam, and female literacy is at a measly 18.38 per cent only, it claims.

This was mirrored by this study where nearly 42 per cent of respondents couldn't read or write, followed by respondents, literate up to middle class (8th grade) which formed 24.8 per cent of the majority. The third-largest group was the primary level educated respondents which were 18.1 per cent of the total.

Not surprisingly, radio (45 per cent) remains the number one source for women to get information, being confined to their homes most of the time, especially for those who are illiterate (67 per cent), followed by television (25 per cent), and social media (16 per cent).

An interesting observation could be made for social media. On average 15.67 per cent of the younger generations, between the ages of 18 and 44, use social media as a source of information, whereas figures for 55-64 aged women and above stand at 20 per cent and 29 per cent, respectively.

When asked how often they listen to the radio, 59 per cent of the respondents stated that they listened to the radio every day. While 18 per cent said that they listened to the radio every other day. Ten per cent said that they listened to the radio once a week.

Among housewives, the unemployed and those in the 25-34 age group, the most popular time slot to listen to the radio was from 9pm to late.

When asked why they listened to the radio, a clear majority in tehsil Katlang (63 per cent) said that they listened for information. This was echoed in the remaining two tehsils of Mardan and Takhtbai, where the majority of the respondents (46 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively) stated that they listened to be kept informed.

Music shows proved popular with 18.6 per cent, followed by religious programmes with 18 per cent and then talk shows with 16.7 per cent.

These were the top-ranking three programme types across all tehsils. Talkshows topped the list in Mardan with 36 per cent, while respondents in Takhbai favoured religious programmes (38 per cent) and people in Katlang enjoyed music shows with 39 per cent.

Around 62 per cent of women responded that sufficient programming for women existed on radio, 32.7 per cent negated this and 21.7 per cent said they didn't know.

Participation of women TNN has been among the first and few organisations so far to understand the needs and benefits of recruiting, training and promoting women reporters and editors to gain access to stories told by women and to have women present them on the radio.

Women from all backgrounds welcomed increased women participation.

There should be programmes for women, by the women and about the women. Women listeners will participate in these types of programmes, said one respondent. I want more opportunities for girls in radio, said another. There is not a single programme that has been designed especially for women and from which they get encouragement, was the open answer provided by another.

What happens next Together with TNN and Thomson Media's international experts, the results will help shape content ideas for the new radio station in Mardan. Existing formats that were planned to be broadcast in Mardan might also be revised and modified based on the preferences revealed by audiences in that district.

For TNN, this research is just the beginning of an ongoing dialogue with its audiences - both women and men - located in Mardan.

About the project The project Valley Voices - Enhancing political participation of women in the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistans Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province thr
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