Local radio station helps break taboos to stop early marriage in South Sudan
By Rebecca Fordham
Kajo Keji, South Sudan, July 2012 – ‘Let’s value our young girls. So they are able to learn and not be used by adults,’ says DJ Super Binyason during his evening radio phone-in on Grace FM, ‘Tell us what you think? How can we protect young girls from marriage?’
The blunt yet ground breaking discussion about the role of girls and women in South Sudanese society is traveling across airwaves from a couple of miles outside Kajo Keji village. Amidst the maize crops, DJ Super Binyason battles to be heard against the noisy generator. A self-professed local celebrity he broadcasts from a single story room under a corrugated iron roof. Old cables snake under his feet, across the floor, and up along the wall next to the posted paper schedule.
Grace FM, which has 16 hours of programming a day, currently covers a 50 mile range across Kajo Keji in the Central Equatoria State. Programmes vary from school curriculum classes using repeat-after-me English language lessons, to topics such as HIV/AIDs awareness, rule of law, good governance, parenting and domestic violence to the ever popular funeral notices.
With many people returning to the area after years of exile during the war or moving back from Sudan, creative ways to build up community understanding and discussion are needed. The station, which has partnered with UNICEF on the Polio eradication campaign by creating awareness among communities, is also participating in a broader nationwide policy effort to engage communities in a dialogue to bring about behavioural and social change.
‘It’s mainly men who carry individual radios, but in places like markets women can hear and participate too,’ said Steven Sokiri, Manager of Grace FM, ‘If you don’t share information there is no point having access to the information. Poverty eradication begins with the minds of the people. When you have testimony it’s already saving lives.’
Radio remains one of the most cost effective and ground-breaking ways of transmitting information to rural populations. In South Sudan, these populations are often hard to access both physically during the rains and because the new nation has some of the world’s lowest levels of literacy, 70% of kids 14-18 have never set foot in a classroom. Most households however, have access to a radio, and increasingly listeners are able to tune-in to their mobile phones, through FM channels.
The small team at Grace FM hold regular editorial meetings where they decide which themes to discuss. The team also meets with the community leaders - including village elders and chiefs - to facilitate discussions and behaviour change about girls’ education, early marriage, child rights and healthy hygiene practices.
Stephen Sokiri, Manager of the radio station, said that child marriages remain the norm in many communities for reasons related to poverty, culture and lack of access to education. Girls are often seen as commodities and the property of their fathers until they are married for a bridal price.
South Sudan has one of the highest levels of early marriage worldwide. 40.1 % of young women aged 15–19 are married or in a relationship with 6.9% of girls married before their 15th birthday.
‘The most popular show, is run by a visiting DJ and it’s about sex education. It’s easier for an outsider to discuss an awkward topic rather than a local, ‘says Steven Sokiri, organizer and developer of Grace FM.
Local child protection committees work closely with the village communities and also sensitize parents and girls to the psychological, health and developmental risks associated with child marriage and other impacts on girls and society.
Struggling to Stay On Air
UNICEF and partners understand that it takes commitment, coordinated effort, local ownership, and a holistic approach involving all actors – government, donors, civil societies, communities, and religious and traditional leaders – to address harmful cultural practises. Child marriage is a practice that has been embedded in cultures for generations.
Steven Sokiri developed the station after a grant but keeping the station on air is a constant struggle. The government-imposed austerity measures and shortages mean the generator intermittently stops throughout the day. This interrupts the pre-recorded lesson plans, which teachers use as live teaching tools, in addition to interrupting the development of new content
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