The radio stations, which are run in the community through local journalists, have been providing a great education that encourages people to take action to liberate them economically and politically as well as to oppose issues of abuse of women and children.
Haji Adam Haji is the director of the Tumbatu community radio located in the Unguja North Region, Zanzibar, who says in the past women in Tumbatu were not involved in income generation activities and were not reporting issues related to gender-based violence (GBV) as they believe that those issues are regarded as taboo.
Tumbatu Island is the third-largest island making up the Zanzibar Archipelago. It is located off the north-west coast of Zanzibar's main island.
Launched in 2014, the radio station has taken efforts to encourage women to work in groups, getting education on election-related issues. Through the station, women are able to report GBV-related issues— rape, early marriages, domestic violence, and sexual exploitation.
According to him, through awareness people are more open and they now report almost all cases related to rape, slander, beatings, and neglect. “This is a big achievement to us and people who are campaigning against GBV,” he says.
Citing examples, Haji says in 2019 about 31 cases were reported to the police where his station was involved in monitoring at various levels from the community level.
In the past, women were voting in accordance with the wishes of their husbands or relatives, but after receiving voters’ education, women in the area use their rights to decide who to vote for.
Tumbatu Radio Station has been monitoring the formation and growth of 12 women’s groups that are involved in various businesses including beauty, tailoring, and animal husbandry, the official says.
Throughout the period, the station has been assisted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for training and equipment through Sustainability Program for Community Radios.
“One of the things I remember before the radio station was established was that it was common for many men to run away from their marriages without providing services and go to various places for fishing activities where others stay there for more than a year.
“Many families suffered a lot as they lacked basic services and many of them, found themselves falling into the abyss of extreme poverty and sometimes causing children to drop out of school,” he recounts.
Radio’s editor-in-chief Juma Haji Juma says through various radio programmes there has been a major reason for the construction of the maternity ward at the health center on the small island of Tumbatu.
“Before the health facility was built, many expectant mothers gave birth at home and sometimes while in a boat as they travel to seek health facilities outside the island and sadly some lost their lives,” says Juma.
Despite all the achievements, he says: “We need speed boat for us to easily get information from the neighboring islands. This radio is being heard in many parts of Unguja South Region, but we’re interested to work on various reports that occur outside Tumbatu. The challenge is the lack of reliable boat transport.”
Some community members who listen to the radio are of the view that there has been a dramatic change since the station’s inception.
Among the community members is Mzee Makame Mcha who describes the station as a ‘game-changer’, saying: “The radio station provides us with important information on different socio-economic issues.”
Through the radio station, Mcha says many people are aware of the importance of conserving the marine environment, taking their children to schools, understanding basic human rights and fighting against gender-based violence (GBV).
Similar experiences have been seen for the Micheweni Community Radio in North Pemba Region in Pemba Island.
Micheweni Radio director, Ally Masoud says the station was established in 2009, and the targeted goals are almost realized. He says the radio carried out a number of campaigns such as the fight against severe hunger for the people of the area as most of them did not do farming due to the fact that their land doesn’t support agriculture.
“Most of the people had no alternatives as our land is rocky. They had to have other methods and that is what we went to teach them and we have succeeded," he added.
Acting manager for Mkoani Radio, Said Omar Said, revealed that his station has been able to encourage women to engage in rice farming in valleys such as Mjimbini, Kiwani, and Makombeni. And for them to actively engage in this farming, we also encouraged to embark in irrigation.”
The radio station, according to Said, involved various stakeholders to ensure that farmers are installed with irrigation equipment.
The radio has been also at the forefront of encouraging children to go to school and empowering them with skills on how to report GBV issues, where for many years, people in the area saw it as a taboo to talk about it.
So far, he said: “There are still villages, which are reluctant to report such cases but we are closely monitoring them to eradicate such heinous acts.”
In some villages, he says girls are not taken to school at all, something that needs to be addressed “and our radio station will continue to change the mindset of those community members.”
One of the parents from Mkoani area, Mize Mohammed said before the presence of the radio, she did not fully understand the importance of education.
“In the past, I used to send my children to sell different merchandise so that I get money to run my family. But now I’m a different person. I encourage children to go to school,” she says.
“We must be honest; the presence of this radio has contributed to a great change in our society because many children initially grew up not going to school.”