A million farmers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are enjoying radio broadcasts designed to empower women. Presented by Jasmin Baluka of the Lorna Young Foundation (LYF) radio outreach programme, the shows use women’s stories to inspire other women to start a business growing cocoa as part of a co-operative.
Because they can grow cocoa next to other foods including bananas, maize, soya and beans, farmers can benefit from food for the table and for market alongside a cocoa cash crop. But Jasmin says women in the DRC underestimate themselves, largely a result of their role in society and at home.
Although they work in partnership with their husbands much of the time, it is often the man who benefits from the proceeds. “Women in the Congo face huge difficulties,” she explains. “They have confidence issues, often they feel they don’t have a voice.
“Traditionally people thought that women could only grow certain types of crop and lots of the cash crops were left to the men. This project helps them find themselves and perhaps find a place in society.
“We also want to encourage these women, as mothers, to participate in the protection of the environment; to sensitise them and their children about the forest, to help them send their children to school.”
Jasmin is an experienced radio presenter who broadcasts her LYF show to one million listeners on Radio Graben in North Kivu. She also delivers the LYF’s training programme in the area.
“In the DRC radio is a massive form of media,” she says. “Men, women and children will huddle around a transmitter in the evenings to get their news. All my life I wanted to be a journalist, someone who could paint a picture with words and spin a good tale. You know in Africa, we love telling stories.
“What I really like about this project is that it reaches out to women. It gives women the opportunity to contribute to the family income and also develop themselves through cocoa as a cash crop.”
The women she interviews, for example Maman Fanic and Maman Jose, are inspiring. “They are straight talking and sharp and they’re always encouraging other women to lift their heads and believe in themselves,” she says.
“Fanic is a widow and felt abandoned to her own fate after her husband died. Maman Jose, who is older and can’t read and write, always reminds listeners that if she can do it, so can others. This has really helped boost our listeners’ confidence.”
Jasmin has already seen changes in the women she works with. “You can hear how freely they express themselves. We gave a workshop to train producers on how to set up their nurseries and those from the listening groups came and took part in the activity. This is the first time I’ve seen a programme on cocoa targeting women and really reinforcing them in their capacity.
“I know it will have a positive impact for the beneficiaries. They’ve had training, they’ve made a huge effort in following the programmes, setting up nurseries and taking care of their cocoa trees. It would be good to see them properly rewarded for their efforts through good quality and also good prices.
“There should be a programme which just targets women and addresses the question of their role in society. Something to raise their confidence.
“In the same way that we’re open to include neighbours of producers in the programme, it would be good to have local groups which could support women that are vulnerable; women living in a precarious situation, widows, mothers and older women who can’t fend for themselves.
“I’d like to do more programmes to promote the role of women. I’d love to meet other presenters from other countries and to be part of an international team. I hope the LYF continues to help me develop these exchanges with other journalists and to discover new ways of doing things.”
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