Radio dramas spark conversations and challenge gender norms

Farm Radio International

Three women from the Koalma community listening group in Burkina Faso examine their solar powered radio. Farm Radio International.

Once a week, families in western Burkina Faso gather around the radio to hear the fictionalized story of Batogma and her husband, Mahadou.

“Head of the family, how many bags did we store after threshing?” asks Batogma to her husband.

“You’d better talk about something else. The question of stocks is not for women,” Mahadou chastises in response — he soon learns differently.

The conversations happening on air between Batogma, Mahadou, and their family and friends often reflect those happening in households around the country. They gently challenge listeners to think differently, and change their ideas when it comes to gender norms and family relationships.

“We [look forward] to see what Mahadou will do again to Batogma and his children. We have fun and learn at the same time without getting bored. The show ends without us realizing it,” said Pierre Tankuy, a listener in Tiomboni. He tunes in every Friday at 8 p.m. to listen to the show in Dioula, his local language.

The dramas are part of Farm Radio International’s Scaling Her Voice on Air project. It’s a five-year project funded by Global Affairs Canada that is designed to solve key development issues related to food security and gender equality in four West African countries: Senegal, Mali, Ghana and Burkina Faso. More than 14.9 million people listen to the programs.

Konaté Nagnon Madjélia sits around the radio listening to the Scaling Her Voice on Air radio programs with her family in Goufogouon, in the Hauts-Bassins region of Burkina Faso. Farm Radio International

Farm Radio worked with women in the targeted communities to determine what subjects they wanted programs on. Based on those conversations, they then worked with local women’s organizations, agricultural experts, local farmers, and radio stations themselves to develop several series of radio programs. Some, like the ones above, take the form of radio dramas.

The dramas vary from seven to 10 minutes in length and expose common challenges such as secured access to land, the involvement of women in decision-making about harvests, economic dependence, and even gender-based violence and forced marriages. The scenes are modeled on local realities and are intended to open inclusive and productive discussions among community members.

Later in the episode, for example, Mahadou attends a gathering in the village square where men and women speak with the community leader and share knowledge on the need to involve women in decision making on the farm. As the radio series progresses, he acknowledges the benefits of involving his wife in planning at home and in the field.

For 29-year-old Oumou Sangaré from Yèrèssoro village, the drama had already made a difference. Previously, she said, her husband never consulted her as he planned agricultural activities and she was not involved in decision-making about their family. 

“But today, thanks to the programs we listen to together, these practices have changed and this has helped us a lot to succeed in our agricultural activities,” she said.

By using radio dramas to address sensitive topics, radio stations are able to transform societal norms in a non-threatening, entertaining way — and in a way that encourages conversation and discussion rather than lecturing about a subject.

The dramas are also backed up by other types of gender-sensitive radio programming; participatory radio campaigns support farmers through the growing season as they try new agricultural practices — with special sections designed specifically to engage and encourage women. Shows on nutrition and hygiene respond to women’s requests on how to keep their families fed and healthy — and include ways that men can take part in that process.

Women like this one, from the Volta Region of Ghana, are sharing their visions for their communities thanks to Farm Radio International’s Scaling Her Voice on Air project. Jesse Winter/Farm Radio International

Farm Radio’s research shows that it’s effective. Community listening groups in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Senegal say the radio programs had a positive effect on gender transformative practices:

  • 93.5 per cent said it helped improve women’s access to land
  • 96 per cent said they helped reduce gender based violence
  • 95 per cent said they helped increase joint decision-making
  • 96 per cent said it meant an Improvement in the sharing of chores

Far from obsolete, radio continues to provide an accessible, engaging way to share good and gender-sensitive agricultural information. By combining entertainment with educational messaging around gender equality, women’s rights and rural livelihoods, radio dramas continue to be an effective way to reach local audiences and prompt much-needed discussions. And it provides a safe space to amplify the voices of women farmers, so they can exchange ideas with each other and with other stakeholders in their communities, allowing them to become leaders and fully participate in the food and nutrition security of their families.


This blog is part of the GFAR Partners in Action series, celebrating the achievements of our diverse network of partners who are working together to shape a new, sustainable future for agriculture and food. Each month we will be showcasing stories related to a key theme in agri-food research and innovation. The theme for March is ‘Creating change: Gender Transformative Approaches in agriculture’.

Join the conversation in the comments below or share this article on social media using #GFARinAction.


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