World Radio Day: Celebrating Tawakalitu Braimah
When we get in our cars each morning and switch on the radio, we think little of the entertainment we get from singing along to the latest hits or insights we gain from listening to the local news report. This is probably because our car radio is merely one resource in our on-demand access to entertainment and information. We can easily and rapidly turn on our phones, computers, and televisions at a moment’s notice and be flooded by the latest entertainment buzz, international news reports, documentaries, podcasts, and more. It’s important to consider though that for millions of women around the world, radio is the only or main resource that provides critical information needed to support the well-being of families.
Today, as Òman Baako celebrates World Radio Day, we wish to highlight and celebrate the work of our colleague, Tawakalitu Braimah, the editor and primary anchor of the Business Desk on Starr 103.5 FM in Ghana. Before being assigned to the Business desk, Tawa covered many stories which shed light on the challenges faced by girls in accessing education, victims of domestic violence, and other human rights issues. She is a devoted human rights advocate who actively uses her platform to support individuals regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, religion or political affiliations. We interviewed Tawakalitu to learn more about her important work in radio.
What attracted you to radio?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a journalist. There was (still is) something about the power and influence that journalists wield to effect change in their communities. I remember growing up, there was only one radio station, the national broadcaster, GBC. My dad would always insist that we be quiet while the news was on. No matter our level of interest, we had no choice but to attentively listen to the news. I’m not sure how it happened, but it seems to me my young self may have been drawn to the power of news anchors who were able to cause a rather raucous home like mine to become absolutely silent, even if it was for just 30 minutes.
Much later in life, I realized there was more to that power and influence than what I had come to believe as a child. Radio sets were the most visible companions of many workers, especially those in the informal sector. They depended on radio for the latest news; they learned new words and expressions through the radio, they got to know about happenings outside the borders of Ghana through their wireless sets. So it was from that realization that I decided to be on the other side of the radio sets, delivering what people needed and impacting their worlds.
How did you come to enter this field?
My entry into radio journalism was somewhat seamless. Knowing that it was something I wanted to do, I took advantage of the volunteer program at the University of Ghana based radio station. I was successful with the station and that launched my journey. Just like every new territory, it wasn’t easy at first, but one responsibility after the other got me into the groove of things. Since leaving school, I got into mainstream radio due to the experience I had garnered from being a volunteer journalist on campus. How does your awareness of gender dynamics inform your work?
Before I began working professionally in radio, I took for granted that gender imbalances and discrimination were common knowledge. It took me sometime to realize that most people were not aware of the nuanced gender dynamics in every story. The voices and opinions of women and girls were usually not heard in the news. Journalists failed to ask their perspectives and inputs. Gender issues were simply not given prominence. While I am still working to improve my own ability in this regard, I’ve made conscious efforts to bring to the fore ‘the other side’ of every story. I make special efforts in reports of rape and violence against women and children. My contributions to the development of these story ensure that the injustice is accurately captured and a complete narrative is presented. As a business reporter, I also pay careful attention to telling the stories of women in the corporate world who are accomplishing impressive milestones, in the hope that their stories will inspire young girls to aspire for more. I pay equal attention to women in the informal sector. Women make up the majority of that sector but are often excluded from decision making that impact them. So through my interactions with them I work to elevate their concerns and challenges, while also highlighting their success stories. How do you think radio can be used to empower women and girls?
Radio is a powerful tool in Ghana, no doubt about that. It’s the main source of information for many people, even in spite of the influence of the internet. The information that is shared over the radio has shaped lifestyles and caused change across many communities. And that change is not a one off occurrence; it informs and impacts generations.
I believe more needs to be done by radio stations to encourage this trend. For example, through the creation of platforms specifically designed to hear from women and girls’, voices that have been silenced and discounted as irrelevant can be heard by a broad segment of society. Women and girls who are still in the trenches of abuse, neglect, and self-doubt, need to hear the stories of others who have broken through the glass ceiling. We’re talking about a group of people (women and girls) who have systematically been overlooked for so long that it is difficult to get them to speak up even in their own homes. Radio stations must be conscious of this and find encouraging ways to ensure that their views on issues known and acted upon. That’s one sure way of empowering them.
It would also allow policy makers and major stakeholders to respond to information and insights that they otherwise might not be exposed to. Radio stations must gradually move from telling stories only from the male point of view to a more gender inclusive perspective if our communities expect to see transformation and development.
Furthermore, having dedicated time slots for gender related issues will guarantee fair treatment of such issues. I support this because even in newsrooms where gender issues are recognized, they are thrown out in favor of more politicized content. Journalists in these radio stations must be supported by their leadership to incorporate gender dynamics in their stories.
My final note is that the tendency to only portray women and girls always as victims not only fails to empower, it actively harms those who need insight into their agency. When women and girls know that their views and voices attract the same attention and reaction as their male counterparts’ they become confident in the abilities and there’s no telling how far they’ll go.
I’m glad to be a part of this medium and I know the potential it has to promote empowerment among women and girls. I’m playing my part and I know others are too. But a lot more work needs to be done.
Tawakalitu Braimah graduated with BA in English and Theatre Arts from the University of Ghana, Legon. She is a journalist with over 7 years’ experience in radio broadcasting. She is presently the acting Editor of the Business Desk on Starr 103.5 FM. Tawa is a member of the Institute of Public Relations. She is currently studying to become a member of the Project Management Institute in Pennsylvania, USA.