Women in Fata find a voice

Women in Fata find a voice By Huma Yusuf
Dawn, 30 Jun, 2009

PESHAWAR: In a small recording studio in Peshawar, Asma rushes around with a minidisc recorder. She has to finish editing a news bulletin and make it back to her home in Nowshera before it gets dark. ‘If I don’t get the bulletin done in time for this evening’s show, the station won’t let me continue as a radio journalist,’ she says. ‘But if I don’t get home on time, then my parents won’t let me continue working either.’

Asma is one of 15 reporters for Radio Khyber, a Jamrud-based FM radio station, and one of the few legal media outlets in Pakistan’s tribal belt. The station, which is supported by the Fata Secretariat, aims to counter the extremist, pro-jihad and anti-West programming that is typical of dozens of illegal radio stations run by hard-line clerics throughout the tribal agencies.

The station’s programming is notable – listeners enjoy a mix of infotainment shows, call-in talk shows, development-oriented programmes that touch on social taboos and health care, and music, particularly hits in Pashto by Fata-based artists. Broadcasting for a total of six hours a day – three hours in the morning, and then again in the evening – the station also airs religious programming, but sermons or religious discussions are kept short and are sandwiched between music shows and humorous chat shows.

What is particularly remarkable about Radio Khyber, though, is that it employs three women as radio journalists. Given that women in the tribal belt do not have as many job opportunities as their counterparts in settled areas or major cities, the option to work for Radio Khyber is invaluable. But the symbolic value of these women’s participation in the station is even more important.

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