Jamra primary scholl for children affected by HIV/AIDS, drugs or poverty, Senegal (c) Nell Freeman/Alliance Participants in the Photovioce project, Ecuador © Marcela Nievas for the Alliance
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Reaching remote areas with radio: Bangladesh

4
FEB
2013

Lipi, radio jockey (c) Alliance

Every Saturday in Munshiganj, an agricultural area outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh, a two-hour radio show entirely dedicated to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) issues is broadcast.

‘Friends’ Circle’ is one of 25 programmes broadcast by Radio Bikrampur, which claims an audience of 300,000 and receives 500 texts from listeners each day.

Listeners in a 17km radius are eager to receive the SRHR information. In a culture where discussing sex and sexual health remains taboo, the radio show is filling a void of silence. Aimed primarily at young people, it’s also listened to by parents and others, opening up avenues of conversation.

One young listener, Shahnaz, explains: “I got to know about such topics like puberty and HIV which I couldn’t talk to anyone else about as these are sensitive issues… I was a bit scared to talk to my parents but now, after listening to the show, the shyness isn’t there anymore.”

The radio show is supported by HASAB, the Alliance Linking Organisation in Bangladesh. Under the European Commission ( EC) funded programme ‘Community Action for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Asia’ HASAB has been in a position to  design the programme and its content, provide a two-day workshop for radio jockeys on key issues, and provide the station with half of the production costs for the show.

Early marriage on the airwaves

Lipi, 19, is one of Radio Bikrampur’s young radio jockeys. She’s in her second year of university and she got the role after undergoing three interviews.

“I am very passionate about radio,” says Lipi. “I like doing the work because it’s a remote area to some extent and people don’t talk very openly. It’s important for students of class 10 and 11 (age 15 and 16) in particular to know about these issues.”

Among the SRHR issues, early marriage is a hotly discussed topic – not surprising when Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Child marriage puts young girls at increased risk of HIV for a number of reasons including having unprotected sex from an early age, and typically their husband will be an older man who has had more sexual partners. Also typically, young wives will be cut off from education when they are married, limiting their access to SRHR information despite the fact that they are at great risk of complications in pregnancy and child birth

“Through the shows girls now know their rights, that they shouldn’t go for early marriage and that they can protest to their parents and say no, it’s not the right age to get married,” Lipi is proud to claim.

The radio show has directly intervened to prevent two early marriages after they became aware of the marriage plans through the radio show. The station was able to contact the local Upazila Nirbahi officer (chief executive of a sub-district) who in turn threatened legal action if the marriage took place before the girl was 18.

HASAB hopes not just to continue supporting radio Bikrampur but to replicate the success in other areas. The EC programme, which ran in both Bangladesh and India since 2010 ended in January 2013. Supporting the radio show is just one initiative under the programme which has reached up to 150,000 young people plus parents, religious leaders, healthcare providers and decision makers, with SRHR information.

The work in Bangladesh will dovetail with a new ambitious three year programme funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the government of the Netherlands (BUZA). Its aim: to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people living with and affected by HIV in five countries (Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Uganda).

It expects to reach over one million young people over the three years.

Read more:

The Alliance is a part of the Girls Not Brides global partnership, find out more here, plus more on what VMM, one of our Linking Organisations in India, is doing to tackle child marriage and support vulnerable girls.