Friends’ Circle and frank talk: Radio Bikrampur in Bangladesh
An hour’s drive from old Dhaka, Munshiganj is an agricultural area in part of the Dhaka division in central Bangladesh. Here a local community radio station, Radio Bikrampur, provides information and skills to local people about the things that matter to them.
Radio Bikrampur broadcasts up to 17km away, claims an audience of some 300,000 and receives around 500 text messages a day from listeners. The station broadcasts 25 different programmes including the popular playlist show Ichapuran and Jaya Go Vogini which focuses on gender issues. Local guests such as councillors and government officials are sometimes invited to take part.
"Through these shows girls now know their rights, that they shouldn’t go for early marriage."
— Lipi, radio jockey
Every Saturday afternoon Radio Bikrampur hosts a two-hour programme in Bangla called Friends’ Circle, entirely devoted to sexual and reproductive health and rights issues. Health and Social Action Bureau (HASAB) designs the programme and its content and pays half the production costs; the radio station pays the other half. HASAB also supported a two-day training workshop and provided participants fact sheets on human rights, sex and sexuality, drugs, early marriage and gender.
“Friends’ Circle is an information-based programme that is popular with young groups because they’re eager to know about sexual health and HIV, about the do’s and don’ts,” says Radio Bikrampur’s marketing manager and radio jockey Shihab.
The listeners appreciate the show as a way of finding things out that are difficult to talk about. “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. There’s shyness regarding the facts and I was a bit scared to talk to my parents but now, after listening to the show, the shyness isn’t there any more,” says listener Shahnaz.
Stopping early marriage
After discussing early marriage on the show, listeners became aware of the dangers.
“I think that early marriage is not good for a girl’s health, a girl is not physically or mentally developed yet, and during pregnancy so young a girl can die. Through books I already had a hazy notion of this but through the show we now actually know the details,” says Tareq.
Shihab tells us how Radio Bikrampur stopped an early marriage, after they heard on one of their shows that a 12-year old girl was about to be wed. The station notified the Upazila Nirbahi officer (chief executive of a sub-district) who went to the ceremony and threatened legal action if the girl married before 18.
Eve-teasing, a euphemism for public sexual harassment and molestation of girls and women, is a problem here, and drove one local girl to suicide last year. Talking about eve-teasing on the show has been good, as one of the local radio jockeys explains.
“Eve-teasing is a big problem, if you force a girl to marry there’s a legal punishment for that but we want to mention eve teasing in this show so people know they have a legal right. One of my close friends who was a very bright student, but at 14 because of eve-teasing she had to stop her schooling. Her parents felt under pressure so they got her married,” says Lipi.
Lipi is 19 from Munshiganj, and has been a radio jockey with Radio Bikrampur for four months. She is also in her second year of a Business Studies degree with the National University. She got the role of after three interviews and was trained by radio jockeys from Dhaka.
“I am very passionate about radio, I’ve been a huge fan of FM since class 10. At this age it wasn’t possible for me to go to Dhaka to get a job so when Radio Bikrampur opened it was very convenient for me. 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. Through these 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. Girls should also know they are not less than a boy in any way.”