Using Radio for Public Education on Violence Against Women

Posted on 01 March 2001

How WAO Used Radio to Tackle Domestic Violence

Over the years, WAO has organised innovative public education programmes on violence against women on radio, television and newspapers. In 1997 and 1998, WAO discovered the use of radio as an effective means of communicating issues surrounding domestic violence.

Live Talk Shows on Radio

In 1997 WAO was approached by Sony Music Malaysia. Sony offered the use of the song "How Come How Long," written and performed by Babyface and Stevie Wonder. The song is a poignant rendition of a woman's abuse by her husband while their son watches helplessly. Neighbours ignore the cries and screams until, one day, catastrophe occurs.

"How Come How Long" was already popular in Malaysia and was being played not only on radio but also on television, accompanied by a dramatic video. We knew the song attracted the attention of listeners. Sony Music offered us free use of the song and 200 autographed CDs by Babyface.

WAO came up with idea of having a live talk show on radio. Live talk shows are immensely popular, but their discussions range from rearing children, to saving money, to self-improvement. If there were any discussions on violence against women, they were usually one-off events.

WAO approached the government radio stations because we knew that the private stations would charge us. We managed to persuade two radio networks: Radio 6 which broadcasts in Bahasa Malaysia, the national language, and Radio 4, an English language network, to work with us. Both networks offered us five hours, i.e. five one-hour talk shows over five weeks. The programme on Radio 6 began on 1 July 1997, and airing on Radio 4 began 2 September 1997.

The shows opened with the song, followed by an interview cum discussion between the host and two guests which centered on one particular aspect of domestic violence. After the discussion, the phone lines were opened to the public for questions and comments. The hour ended with the song, and an appeal for listeners to buy the CDs at specific shop outlets to benefit WAO's fundraising efforts.

Because we had only five weeks, we wanted to attack some of the myths surrounding domestic violence that were still seen as truths, and to provide information on help available for battered woman.

Posing these myths as questions the five topics were:

  • Should no one interfere in the domestic affairs of man and wife?
  • Does alcohol cause battering?
  • Is it only poor and uneducated men who beat up their wives?
  • Do husbands have the right to beat their wives?
  • Is there help out there for victims of domestic violence?

In each episode, we made sure that all our speakers always brought up these two points:

  1. Domestic violence is an outcome of power and control.
  2. Domestic violence is a crime under Malaysian Law/ Domestic Violence Act 1994. We also made it a point to clearly give out the WAO telephone counselling number.

Listeners' Response

The response was tremendous, not only during the shows but for weeks after, with women calling WAO for counseling and information. During the shows' "call-ins" both men and women called to agree with, ask questions about, and challenge the myths. Invariably, on every show we were asked "What about men who are beaten up?" or "What about women who provoke men?"

We made sure that we had workers stationed at the phones throughout the five weeks and the following weeks. There was a 150 percent increase in telephone enquires and counseling calls. We also had women interested in volunteering or offering donations.

There were difficult moments on air. A few callers decried feminism and our perspective on violence against women. It takes a lot to be patient with outright sexism. But the impact of this public education program far outweighs the difficulties.

Community Messages over the Radio

Realising that to bring about long-term changes, our public education programmes must be sustained and continued, we took on a second radio initiative in 1998. When AMP Radio Networks, which ran five FM radio networks (AMP Radio Networks is part of ASTRO, Malaysia's first digital satellite radio and television broadcast) approached WAO to develop community messages on domestic violence, we responded eagerly.

The objective was primarily to raise awareness on the Domestic Violence Act, which was finally implemented in June 1996. The radio messages were designed to impress upon the Malalysian mindset that domestic violence is a crime, and that there is information and help for victims.

Starting February 1998, the messages were aired two to three times a day on three networks: Hitz FM, Mix FM and Talk Radio. While Hitz FM, reaching over half a million listeners. AMP Radio networks used their own recording studios and aired these following community messages free:

"A colleague reports for work with bruises on her face, arms and legs. This is not the first time and she is reluctant to talk about it. What could this mean? She is probably a victim of Domestic Violence. What can you do to help? Encourage or help her make a police report so that necessary action or protection can be done before it is too late. For more information, call your local Welfare Officer at toll-free 1800-3040. For immediate counselling, call WAO at 03-79563488."

"What is Domestic Violence? Domestic violence is an abuse of power. It is when one partner in a relationship (usually a man) uses violence or the threat of violence to control the other partner. The abusive partner will probably maintain control of the couple's finances and social life. For more information call your local Welfare Office at 1800-3040. For immediate counselling call WAO at 03-7955-4426 or7956-3488."

It was estimated that 800,000 Malaysians, mostly young people, listened to these messages at least once a day. While we are unable to conduct a social impact survey, WAO's profile was certainly raised as more people came to recognise that WAO is synonymous with domestic violence aid. Crucially, we started receiving more phone calls for either information or counseling.

Copyright (C) 1998-2001 Isis International-Manila.

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