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Broadcasting Women's Voices in Haiti's Reconstruction: Women's Community Radio

Broadcasting Women's Voices in Haiti's Reconstruction: Women's
Community Radio
By Beverly Bell

Haitian women have been increasingly vocal and active in social,
political, and economic issues since the fall of the Duvalier
dictatorship in 1986. Though it has not come easily, their progress in
changing gender relations of power within the home, within social
movements, and within the nation has been steady.

Women’s organizations have been key to these advances, helping create
the space to foster and protect women’s activism. One network is
helping women gain voice, literally: the Haitian Women’s Community
Radio Network (REFRAKA by its Creole acronym).

The importance of radio cannot be overstated in a country where 45% of
men, and 49% of women, are illiterate.[1] Nor can the significance of
women taking the microphone, in a country where aggressive patriarchy
in the home and society, as well as violence from male partners and the
state, have tried to keep them silent.

Founded in 2001, REFRAKA includes 25 member stations in nine of Haiti’s
ten geographic departments. The network has trained about 150 women as
journalists, program hosts, and production technicians.

Moreover, REFRAKA helps women in various radio stations make programs
about local issues, while also producing national-level shows which are
then aired on member stations. REFRAKA staff produces a special
radio-magazine each month, one hour each, on specific gender-related
topics such as women’s political advocacy, gender relations, Haitian
women’s social realities, violence, HIV-AIDS, and news about women from
around the world. They also produce 30-minute shows especially for
girls aged 11-15 in community schools, called Own Your Body, Care for
Your Body which discuss issues including girl’s bodies and health, and
relations between girls and boys.

REFRAKA’s office was destroyed and all their archives, materials, and
supplies were lost in the January 12 earthquake. Their work is
temporarily on hold as they reestablish their institution. Soon they
will resume their programs, this time with a sharp focus on the status
of women in this catastrophe phase and the participation of women in
the reconstruction.

Marie Guirlene Justin, program director of REFRAKA, tells more.

“When we started working, it was very hard because of the machismo from
men who couldn’t accept women’s voices getting out like this. Before it
was hard to find women speaking on the radio; now it’s not.Now women
are advancing. More women are trained in reporting and production.
There are more women on the radio, and there are more women’s radio
programs. Now we have women who are directors of radio stations, though
there are still no women owners. Men are starting to understand, and
gender issues are crossing over into other radio programs.

“More women are speaking their own truth. For example, you have CONAP
[the National Coalition to Advocate the Rights of Women by its French
acronym]… When CONAP hosts something in Port-au-Prince, REFRAKA does a
radio program on it and gets it out into the countryside. That way
rural women don’t feel alone. We cover what groups like SOFA
[Solidarity Among Haitian Women] are doing, which gives the women’s
movement a lot of strength.

“We’re taking small steps. Today on the radio, you hear less music and
proverbs discriminating against women. This has to be reinforced so
that we don’t go backwards. You know that relations between women and
men are fragile today, especially with all the displacement since the

“One of the new concepts following the earthquake is reconstructing
another form of participation, where women can participate in
everything, in the big debates about reconstruction, in planning
national development for another Haiti. A process where women and men
put their hands together to build something new in this country will be
very different than one where men are making decisions for everyone.
When we have a society where women have a say in what they want and
need, we’ll be closer to having a society based on social justice, an
equitable society. Then we’ll have balanced relations, with the
possibility for everyone to live in peace.

“Popular communications is a big part of this. It’s an important form
for people to have their own voice to speak about questions that impact
their lives with the reconstruction. Community stations are close to
the people, and they give people a chance to understand what’s
happening and insert themselves in it.

“In the context of Haiti’s reality today, we really need solidarity.
In the earthquake, our office was smashed and we lost everything we had
collected over nine years: our computers, records, cameras, office
furniture… It’s all gone. Myself, I was trapped inside the office alone
and I thought I would die. My ear was sliced open when a cement block
fell on it. My home was destroyed.

“We don’t want the kind of international ‘help’ that we’re seeing
throughout Haiti today, much of which is about domination. We want an
exchange of experiences in the North and South where we each bring our
own contribution. Today we need that type of solidarity, especially
globally in the women’s movement.”

Northern America
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