With support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and other donors, Population Media Center (PMC) broadcast two social-content radio serial dramas in Ethiopia from 2002 to 2004, designed to change reproductive health behaviors.  Yeken Kignit (“Looking Over One’s Daily Life”) was broadcast in the Amharic language, while a second program, Dhimbibba (“Getting the Best Out of Life”), was broadcast in the Oromiffa language.  These programs became the top rated programs on the air – even out-competing television in urban areas.

People will go to a lot of trouble to listen to their favorite program.  Take, for example, the letter PMC received from Iyassu, one of the listeners living in northern Ethiopia.  “I live in a small village.  I was looking for a radio one night but was unsuccessful. So, I was literally eavesdropping to listen to your broadcast, and I was leaning on a wall of a house where there was a radio set, when suddenly a woman came out and splashed me with dirty water.  When she realized that I was simply interested in listening to your drama, she sympathized with me and asked me to forgive her.  The reason why I am taking such great pains to listen to the drama is that I am a poor man.   For a poor man like me, the drama is a great source of hope.  It provides encouragement and assures us that life is worth living and that it is full of meaning.”

The PMC programs generated a huge audience response, with over 15,000 letters from listeners.  A woman listener from the Southern Region wrote, “I have five children and all of them are girls.  A doctor told me that I had a very serious medical problem, and he warned me that I would die if I continue to give birth to children.  My husband, however, insisted that I continue to bear children for him.  As you know, bringing up one child is a big problem nowadays let alone five children. In Yeken Kignit drama I heard how a couple ought to discuss such matters and also that there are medicines to control childbirth.  I repeatedly talked with my husband on the subject of family planning.  After that, we agreed that henceforth we would have no more children and we would do our best to give proper care to those we have.  On the basis of the advice you gave us in the radio drama, I went to the nearby clinic and received counseling services.  Now I am taking birth control injections regularly.  I have regained my health.  Your program, therefore, has benefited my husband and me and the family as a whole.  There are many families who face the same problem.  I think that the program would be helpful to them and should be continued.”

In just two and a half years of nationwide broadcasting, that project achieved the following:
•45% of women and 47% of men identified themselves as regular listeners to the program.
•The fertility rate in Amhara (the most populous region) fell from 5.4 to 4.3 children per woman.
•Demand for contraceptives increased 157%.
•Listeners to Yeken Kignit were 5 times more likely than non-listeners to know 3 or more family planning methods.
•Among married women who were listeners, there was a 52.1 percentage point increase in those who had ever used family planning methods, while among non-listeners, family planning use increased by only 20.5 percentage points.
•Among married men who were listeners, there was a 42.7 percentage point increase in those who had ever used family planning methods.  Among non-listeners, use increased by only 17.5 percentage points.
•Spousal communication about family planning issues among currently married women climbed from 33% to 68%.
•There was a corresponding decrease of 70% in the proportion of respondents to the surveys who said that the decision to use family planning should be made solely by the husband.
•There was a 50% increase in communication between mothers and their children about sexuality issues.
•Female listeners sought HIV tests at three times the rate of non-listeners.
•Male listeners sought tests at four times the rate of non-listeners.
•There was a 51.7 percentage point increase among men and 20.8 percentage point increase among women in recognition of the importance of girls’ education.
•There was a 34.7 percentage point increase among men and 13.1 percentage point increase among women in the belief that women are fit to hold public office.

As of November 2004, 63% of new clients seeking reproductive health services at 48 clinics in Ethiopia reported that they were listening to one of PMC’s serial dramas.  In fact, 27% of new clients named one of PMC’s programs as the primary motivating factor for seeking services.  Of new clients who cited radio programs as the impetus for seeking services, 96% said that they were motivated by one of PMC’s programs.

The PMC radio programs addressed issues of reproductive health and women’s status, including HIV/AIDS, family planning, marriage by abduction, education of daughters, spousal communication and related issues.  The following letter from a woman listener in Oromiya Region shows the impact of the program on the issue of marriage by abduction.

“The story of Wubalem in your radio drama reflects clearly to the general public the harmful traditional practices in our country such as abduction and sexual violence.  These practices have prevented us from sending our girls to school even though they are only 12 years of age.  This is because we were afraid that they would be abducted on their way to school.  Our first child was married at the age of 14 after she was abducted.  We were worrying for years as we thought that our second child would face a similar fate.  At present, however, the radio drama focusing on abduction and sexual violence that you have presented to the public, and the discussions conducted on these topics, have aroused considerable popular indignation. The people have now strongly condemned such inhuman traditional practices.  In our locality and especially in schools, more and more people are engaged in discussions on these crucial issues.  Unlike in the past, special punitive measures have been taken by community people against offenders involved in such crimes.  As a result, we have no worry in sending our girls to school.  Our children go to school safely and return unharmed.  Please keep the program on the air.”

A woman listener from the Amhara Region wrote, “My story is similar to that of Anguach, the heroine of your drama. Because I could not bear a child, I used to be insulted by my husband’s relatives.  They said I was barren and couldn’t have a child, and they put all the blame on me as often is the case in our tradition.  They left no stone unturned to compel my husband to divorce me and marry another woman.  After listening to your radio program, I identified myself with Anguach and took the bold decision of asking my husband to consent for a medical check-up in a local hospital.  He hesitated for some time, but at last we were both tested.  The test proved that the cause of my apparent “infertility” was him and not me.  This way I was freed from the bondage of insults and hatred I was subjected to for no less than six years.  Now peace and harmony has prevailed in our family.  The threat of a family break-up that hovered upon us has been overcome, thanks to your radio program.  I convey my gratitude to you all.”

The actress who played the positive female role model Fikirte in the Amharic language program reported that, one day, she went to a market to buy some vegetables.  Several of the women in the market recognized her voice from the radio program.  “You’re Fikirte,” they said to her.  “Well, sort of,” she replied.  “No, we know you are Fikirte.  We recognize your voice from Yeken Kignit,” they said.  Then one of them said, “I named my baby daughter after you with hopes that she would be as wonderful as you are.”  Of the 15,000 letters PMC has received from listeners, several hundred report that they named their daughters Fikirte after the character in the program.

Over the two-and-half years the radio programs were on the air, each episode was awaited with great anticipation.  The Ethiopian mass media have given extensive coverage to the project.  Some 70 feature articles and news reports have been published in various newspapers. No less than 30 talk shows and discussion programs have been presented by radio and television stations regarding the PMC serial dramas.  A Ph.D. and two Masters theses were written focusing on the dramas at the Addis Ababa University.  No less than ten senior essays at the first degree level were written about the dramas.  Having realized the importance of the program, the Government of Ethiopia allocated funds to support the project.  As a registered NGO in Ethiopia, PMC is one of very few international organizations receiving support from the Government of Ethiopia.

William N. Ryerson


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