FEATURE Since its birth in the 1920s radio has been a beacon for change in many aspects of human life. Most notably it has been used to amplify women’s voices all around the world. 

The British radio magazine programme Woman’s Hour, which first broadcasted in 1946 and was the first radio programme dedicated to women, has not shied away from tackling the most important and difficult issues facing women. 

Today, with the advent of the internet, the radio has, if anything, become even more powerful. The introduction of podcasts along with the social media revolution has sent powerful messages to women and about women all around the globe.  

The power of radio

In spite of decade long predictions of its demise, audio broadcasts have not lost their particular power to communicate. They occupy a niche as the ideal secondary medium – you lose yourself in a podcast while commuting to work or sleep to the rhythm of your favourite music.  

In the morning, the sound of the radio in the background while the kids are getting ready for school is a reassuring companion that is still the soundtrack to the beginning of many people’s days. The ubiquity of smartphones now means that the soundtrack can continue to play when you leave the house.

Its unique ability to reach a very wide audience anytime of the day and the comparatively low cost of production in comparison to other media makes it an essential tool available to even the most marginalised groups to help change societies. 

In the last five years, there has been an explosion in public consumption of podcasts. The online world has re-democratised access to the platforms where people can make their voices heard. Audiences can now witness young girls producing their own viral feminist content such as Feminist Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies by Scarlett Curtis. Women activists producing material that once was niche like When Feminists Rule the World by Nobel Women’s Intitiative, Tea with Mama Cash  and The Guilty Feminist by Francis Deborah Francis White. 

Both traditional linear radio broadcasting and downloadable podcasts have the power to deliver messages and affect change without need for expensive images or the distraction they can cause. Audio broadcasts are often a far better way of conveying potentially complex ideas and information quickly. It is a focused medium that can reach anyone, anywhere in any remote place in the world. 

Caroline Mitchell, an expert on radio and participation describes her desktop as “a transnational audio time machine: through it, I can listen to women’s voices across different eras and continents.” She explains that her heart starts beating a little faster, listening to an early recording of Florence Nightingale’s voice made in 1890 or the sound of the New York Feminists’ Network where she says “I feel like I actually sitting amongst them.” 

Christine Ehrick a historian with an interest in gender and audio, argues that “women’s growing visibility in the twentieth century was accompanied by a greater audibility.”

Radio and Syria

“Growing up in one of the most oppressive regimes on earth meant that childhoods were robbed away from a whole generation. School was militarist, styled on North Korea. But one of the happy memories I and so many other Syrians cherish is the sound of the radio every morning playing the songs of the legendary Lebanese chanteuse, Fairuz. For a half an hour we felt optimism before the military exercises began at school. A member of WILPF’s team  says and continues: 

After the uprising in Syria, radio outlets flourished. More than 22 radio stations opened in rebel held areas and nearby in Turkey. A lot of them were community stations talking about issues confronting Syrians in their everyday lives during  the conflict. Some of them had a greater agenda of building civil society in Syria while others had a purely feminist agenda.  

Radio Souriat (Syrian Women’s Radio)

Radio Souriat was founded by Amera Malik and inspired by a Palastinian Radio Station Called Nissa (Women). Amera said her dream was to create a media firm called Souriat (Syrian Women) focusing entirely on women and women issues in Syria. After the uprising, Radio Souriate emerged as an online radio. The team behind it began producing programmes and conducting interviews all about women and to broadcast them to a general Syrian audience. 

As the uprising went on and power cuts became a regular problem, Radio Souriat turned to social media as a new outlet for their activism. 

Amera says: “Radio is my passion, I feel it is the most powerful medium and has the ability not only to truly shape societies but also connect them.” 

Since its inception Radio Souriat has been tackling difficult issues facing women in Syria. From honour killing to sexual harassment. It gives a platform to women in Syria to make their voices heard and it runs many projects on the ground to raise awareness about women’s rights and advocate for change.

Though far from a traditional radio broadcaster, Radio Souriat understood the power of the medium in delivering messages. The ‘radio’ in their name is there to evoke the powerful impact of the great radio broadcasts of the past on Syrian history and to signify that women now aspire to a similarly powerful voice in the country’s future, that they will use to broadcast the messages about women’s rights and equality loud and clear. 

Radio Silence 

The war in Syria is still going on and the last few weeks have been amongst the bloodiest. With Idlib devastated by air strikes and barrel bombs, with most of its population made homeless the world has greeted these many tragedies with radio silence. 

Most of the radios operating in the area have had to shut down, a number of radio journalists have been assassinated or forced to flee. In the face of this kind of persecution, we can only hope the experience of a free press and a free radio that Syrians have cherished as a respite from the propaganda of an oppressive regime can survive and endure.

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World Radio Day

Proclaimed in 2011 by the Member States of UNESCO, and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2012 as an International Day, February 13 is World Radio Day (WRD).