Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC) has been struggling for the last 20 years to open up the community media (including Community Radio, Community Television) and giving focus on its vital role as voices of the voiceless rural people.

The Ministry of Information Government of People’s Republic of Bangladesh has declared Community Radio Installation, Broadcast and Operation Policy 2008, which was the citizens’ expectation since the year 1998. Accordingly, in April, 2010, Ministry of Information has approved 32 Community Radio Stations to operate for the first time in the country. In 2012 Ministry of Information has declared National Strategy for Community Radio to support implementation of Community Radio Installation, broadcast and Operation Policy.

After the approval of license Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has allocated frequency and then the Community Radio stations started broadcasting from 2011 in line with National Frequency Allocation Plan. BTRC has already reserved 5 frequency for Community Radio Operation like 99.2, 98.8, 99.0 FM etc.

Now 18 Community Radio Stations are on-air in the country, aiming to ensure empowerment and right to information for the rural community. They are broadcasting altogether 170 hours program per day on information, education, local entertainment and development motivation activities. Around 1000 Youth Women & Youth are now working with those Stations throughout the country as rural broadcasters. Of the total 1000 broadcasters 46% are youth women while the rest are youth.

These programs are quite supportive to the activities reflected in 7th 5year plan of Government of Bangladesh, UN World Summit on the Information Society (UN WSIS) Action Plan, and UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Community Radio in Bangladesh has potentiated fostering equitable access to and use of information, communication channels, media and information and communication technologies (ICT), including education and training programmes, and media programmes that address the needs, concerns and interests of women and girls, and promote balanced and non-stereotypical portrayals of them; that, consequently, more women and girls are being empowered through ‘connection,’ which supports their right to freedom of expression and to challenge gender stereotypes, share opinions and ideas, build knowledge and access information; and that there is increasing media and digital literacy among women and girls, which is critical to their being full and active agents in social and public life in rural areas.

Moreover, Community Radio has created scope for the poor and marginalized community to raise their own voice; it becomes the voice for the voiceless. This neo-media outlet opened scope to establish their rights of Information and communication in social, political, cultural and environmental arena.

Scope widened for poverty reduction and sustainable development because of the rights to raise voice of the community and accessibility to knowledge and information & cope created for Social debate, inclusion and preservation of cultural diversity by ensuring the inclusion of the marginalized community.

Scope opened for exchange of dialogue between local elected representatives, govt. and NGO professionals for the sake of establishing good governance. Direct linkage established between the community and the main sectors reflected in SDGs and 7th 5-year plan. Community Radio is now able to play more active role in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) due to establishment of effective linkage between the govt. departments and local/rural community. In Bangladesh there has been a progressive and positive growth in the numbers of rural women in radio newsrooms, working as producer, station manager and in the online space as writers and people of influence through community radio stations.

Twenty-Five years after the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which highlighted for the first time the critical role of media in the attainment of gender equality and women’s empowerment, now community radio stations in Bangladesh provides first-hand insights into how issues of gender impact the lives and work of community journalism in rural Bangladesh.

Freedom of expression, which includes freedom of information and freedom of the press, is a fundamental human right and a prerequisite for democracy. Over the past two decades, the concept of freedom of expression — traditionally based on the notion that state control is the primary threat to free expression — has been broadened to include several other aspects.

An important dimension is the role played by gender in determining access to these freedoms. “The undeniable link between freedom of expression and women’s human rights, which include the right to express their opinions, to have access to their own means of communication and to work in the existing mass media” was recalled by the 2010 Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights to Freedom of Opinion and Expression

The rural youth women in Bangladesh are working in the community radio for making good progress. Such as youth women are working as community broadcasters. They are working side by side with their counterparts building their career. There are many instances of youth women holding key positions where they are taking vital decisions in the affairs of program/news broadcasting.

Currently six CR stations are headed by female station managers. The same youth women are now managing the radio stations and such sophisticated radio transmission technology who once had a phobia. such the practice is in fact, reducing dependency on men and hence also helping in gender balance.

Konika Rani, Assistant Station Manager, Community Radio Meghna 99.0 FM 768w" sizes="(max-width: 960px) 100vw, 960px" />Konika Rani’s father feels honored when people in public places enquires about his young daughter who now works as the station manager of the local community radio–Radio Meghna located in the coastal district of Bhola, about 350 km south of the Bangladesh capital Dhaka.

“I feel so proud when people want to know about my daughter. She has earned quite a lot of reputation broadcasting radio programs to change lives of the local community,” says a delighted face of Deb Sagar, Konika’s father who is a fruit vendor in Charfasson in Bhola where most people live on agriculture and fishing. “The height of Konika’s reputation reached its peak when she was promoted to take charge of the radio station as the assistant station manager early this year. During occasional social exchanges friends, relatives and even local bank and government officials share compliments to show respect to my daughter for her role as a radio broadcaster in the society,” says Deb with tears of happiness.

Konika joined Radio Meghna on 18 Feb, 2015 and gradually she climbed the ladder amid 15 other reporters, producers and presenters. She is now studying management and preparing for her graduation. A delighted Konika shares, “I had to work very hard to earn such reputation. Everybody welcomes me whenever they greet me. But more importantly, I am so proud to say that I am able to contribute to my family’s earnings.”

Like Konika six other youth women fellow station managers or assistant managers are also known to have been successfully managing their respective radio stations. They are; Shahana Parveen of Radio Padma, Allaya Ferdous of Radio Mahananda, Parvin Nahar of Radio Jhenuk, Papia Sultana of Radio Sagardwip and Esrat Jahan of Community Visual Community Visual Radio Voirob.

Most of the youth women living in remote rural areas, have faced patriarchy and challenged to prove that women are equally capable of doing any job that men usually dominate in a society ruled by influential people. Known as courageous, passionate and highly enthusiastic, these youth women have conquered their fears breaking the traditional religious and social barriers and working with men side by side.

Papia Sultana, Station Manager, Radio Sagordwip 99.2 FM

Papia Sultana Jhumu has been promoted to station manager of Radio Sagordwip located in the island of Hatiya which is about 280 km south west of the capital Dhaka. Since joining in 2016 Papiya has had many opportunities of being one of the leading programs and news presenters in her radio.

As its location clearly illustrates, Hatiya island is vulnerable to cyclones and similar natural disasters. “We are forced to design our program to make people aware on how to protect and be safe during cyclones or tidal surges. Apart from our professional duties we also have great responsibilities towards our community. During peak season (May – April) the community is on high alert and vulnerable to disasters,” says Papiya.

Due to constant awareness programs that we broadcast, Radio Sagardwip plays a vital role in the community. “People always pay respect and gratitude for the roles played by us,” says Papia.

Allaya Ferdous, Station Manager, Radio Mahananda 98.8 FM 768w, 1536w" sizes="(max-width: 2048px) 100vw, 2048px" />Allaya Ferdous, station manager of Radio Mahananda has been associated with Proyas, a leading NGO in Chapainawabganj, a district located in northeastern region prior to joining the station.

Already having vast experiences in holding courtyard meetings, discussions and generating ideas working as a project official, Allaya looked for opportunity to join Radio Mahananda as the project coordinator. She soon was able to show her abilities and performed well in the radio.

“It was a challenge for me since I was offered the job to produce radio programs. As I already had been exposed to similar programs, it took me no time to demonstrate my capabilities,” said a confident voice of Allaya. “In fact,” she said, “I was lucky to see and attend a workshop on community radio in Jadavpur University in Kolkata in 2010. This gave me an added experience and use the knowledge to perform in Radio Mahananda.”

Women are advancing in the societies with greater roles of responsibilities. Such exposure has given youth woman like Allaya the right to express, enjoys more empowerment and voice concerns for women in a much open and liberal manner without fear or obstacles. Men’s attitude towards women, especially working women, have significantly changed which is now well reflected in the community.

“Because of my top position in the radio station, I think we have more female working in our station than other stations. A total of 16 youth women work in Radio Mahananda. Due to such efforts to remove discrimination against women the societies are now more aware of the rights of the women. Allaya says, “Women today enjoy a dignified life than before. Men show more respect and recognize their contributions. Such changes were unthinkable even five years ago but women have truly demonstrated that women have potentials and often can perform superior works given the opportunities.”

Parvin Nahar, Station Manager, Radio Jhenuk 99.2 FM 768w, 1536w" sizes="(max-width: 2016px) 100vw, 2016px" />Parvin Nahar of Radio Jhenuk has been literally associated with the radio station ever since its inception in 2009 when she was working for Srizony Bangladesh, a local NGO. She described her joining as ‘by sheer luck’ as she had been asked to replace a then popular local presenter and participate in a month-long training on radio programs production. “That was the beginning of my career. When I took charge, I was given overall responsibilities of establishing the entire radio station from paper works to installing transmission equipment,” said Parveen adding “It’s indeed a huge achievement!!”

Parvin has had the opportunities of traveling to many community radios in India, Nepal and even in the United States gaining technical knowledge on how to operate a community radio station. “The visits greatly helped me to learn mechanical operation of the machines we use in our stations. In fact, I can fix from minor to even some major faults of the machine we use in our studios,” said Parveen.

She said, “I am very proud today that I am able to contribute to my community. The programmes I produce are custom-designed to cater the needs of the local society. Radio Jhenuk acts as a central platform for learning and changing behaviour. Women’s increased participation in workplaces and their enhanced awareness are some of the examples.”

Parvin continued, “Women are better empowered as it is well reflected in our society. Radio Jhenuk has a lot of contributions for broadcasting advocacy programmes but what is more important, we have been able to change men’s attribute from negative views on women working in public places to men now thinking positively about women’s participation in public work places. With enhanced knowledge, men are now supporting women’s role in the society.”

Shahana Parveen, Station Manager,  Radio Padma 99.2 FM 768w, 1536w" sizes="(max-width: 2048px) 100vw, 2048px" />Shahana Parvin, station manager of Radio Padma in Rajshahi, located in north of Dhaka, has been associated with the station ever since its journey began in 2011. While in her studies as a student of journalism Shahana was passionate about working as a broadcast journalist in a radio station. “Although I worked in a local NGO but I was always fascinated to working in a media,” said Shahana.

A confident woman, Shahana explains, “In a male dominated society, especially where religion prevails, women are largely confined to homes. Such primitive view was once common but steady improvement has changed our society.”

Shahana had the opportunity of visiting USA in a five-week tour during a fellowship offered by the American English Radio Project. “It was an eye opener for me. I learnt many positive things which I could not have if I did not visit USA.”

Esrat Jahan, Station Manager of Community Visual Radio Voirob. 768w" sizes="(max-width: 960px) 100vw, 960px" />The journey of Radio Voirob has been started for last one year as a community media. The concept of visual radio is comparatively new in our country. As a result, as the Station Manager of such a new type visual radio station, Esrat Jahan thinks that she has to learn a lot about the technical aspects of the station.

However, her experience in community journalism is around 15 years. It was started from 2004 with the participation in a fellowship program offered by the Pratichi Trust. The Trust was founded by Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen.  journalism became a passion hobby and social responsibility for Esrat Jahan. Then one by one she gained experience gradually working in several dailies and electronic media.

Esrat Jahan thinks that with this experience and the efforts of a group of lively and enthusiastic broadcasters of Radio Voirob, the Radio Voirob will soon be able to alleviate the information poverty of the coastal area of Bagerhat as well as spread its culture and heritage from national to international level. Community radio is one such platform where youth women have played substantial role in raising voices of women, in particular those who are marginalized and neglected in the society.

Youth women in the rural Bangladesh are gradually advancing contributing to the socio-economic development of the nation. Instead of being confined and restrained at home these women earned equal respect and dignity through hard works. They are now more empowered to make their own decisions.

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