Reaching Out to Women Through the Airwaves in Palestine

May 7, 2013 • 11:00 pm

The Yale Globalist


Cruising around Ramallah in June 2010, Yazan Samara, a thirty-two -year-old music and production su­pervisor, was fiddling around with the dials on his radio. “I felt like listening to some other genres of music than the ones that I have on the CDs in my car, which led me to check the local radio stations. Surprised, I heard one of them stand out with the name ‘96 NISAA FM!’” Samara recounted.

NISAA FM’s radio sweeper, the pre-re­corded promotional used by radio sta­tions as a segue between songs and pro­grams, lilted across his radio [in Arabic]:

Wherever you are (female “you’ ’)

We shall talk about you

extensively and in details

So you won’t say

We have forgotten you

We have thought a lot about you

Nisaa means “women” in Arabic, and NISAA FM is the first and only radio station in the Middle East solely dedicated to wom­en’s issues. “It grabbed my attention that we have a women’s radio station in Palestine, which is unique, and from that point I start­ed listening to it,” Samara recalled. A month later, Samara heard that NISAA FM was hir­ing. The US-trained information technol­ogy specialist left his job at the Palestin­ian Broadcasting Corporation and joined a team of what is now six women and three men, plus a number of volunteer string­ers, who compose the staff at NISAA FM.

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While his gender may make Samara seem an unlikely candidate for a radio station focused on women’s issues, Sa­mara does not view his job in gendered terms—and neither does the station. As Maysoun Gangat, the director of NISAA FM, explained, “we recognize the importance of men as partners for change, rather than enemies or partisans.” As such, the radio station commonly interviews both male and female experts on a given program topic, and the daily segment Eileh (“Fam­ily”) caters to both husbands and wives.

However, the radio station does not gloss over the evident gender disparities in Palestinian society. A 2009 study published by the Gaza-based Palestinian Women’s In­formation and Media Centre found that 67 percent of Palestinian women reported be­ing subjected to verbal violence on a regular basis, 71 percent to psychological violence, 52.4 percent to physical violence, and 14.5 percent to sexual violence. Aware of the hurdles that women face in society, NISAA FM aims to project a discourse of women’s empowerment, rather than victimization.  Gangat believes that by focusing on wom­en’s stories of achievement, female listen­ers will realize their own potential as well: “NISAA FM is all about inspiration and em­powerment. Inspiration is very important in our society. Through [the] airwaves we can share our experience and knowledge, and support women to realize themselves.”

The radio station first began as a web radio station in December 2009 with the support of the Womanity Foundation, a Swiss non-governmental organization that launches women’s empowerment pro­grams around the world. Yann Borgstedt, founder and president of the Womanity Foundation, decided to test the concept in the Palestinian territories after starting a similar radio station for women in Afghani­stan. Through personal contacts, Borgst­edt was introduced to Gangat, then the managing director of RAM radio station, the first English radio station in the region. Funded by a South African businessman, RAM sought to connect Palestinians and Is­raelis on issues that concerned both parties through a neutral language. Having caught the “radio bug” while working there, “I came to NISAA FM with a spirit to create a station [that would] connect Palestinian women together…[and] engage more women in senior positions in media and empower them through media,” Gangat explained.

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Borgstedt, impressed by Gangat’s ex­perience and entrepreneurial spirit, pro­vided her with the seed money necessary to officially launch NISAA FM in June 2010. Now the radio station can be heard in the central, northern, and southern regions of the West Bank, and can also be streamed online. While most of the listenership comes from the Palestinian territories, there is also significant listenership among European nations, the United States, and Egypt. In 2011 the station ranked as one of the top five most popular sta­tions in the central West Bank, according to Jawal Telecommunications Company.

NISAA FM is markedly non-political and secular in a region commonly characterized as otherwise. As Gangat asserted, “Person­ally, I do not believe that religious beliefs fuel gender inequality. Islam as a religion has called for the equality between men and women… We still see some Christian families in Palestine who are more con­servative than Muslim ones.” Only during the month of Ramadan are issues related to women and Islam tackled extensively.

During the rest of the year, the station runs three live programs that span 7 am to 6 pm on Sundays through Thursdays. The NISAA FM audience is diverse, reaching a blend of listeners based in urban, rural, and refugee camp areas, along with Pales­tinian diaspora communities throughout the world. As such, the programming is equally varied. The morning show, called Qahwah Mazboot (“Coffee Moderately Sweetened”) remains the most popular and commonly utilizes NISAA FM’s volunteer reporters who provide stories from the ru­ral villages. Segments range from Turath, which seeks to unite the Palestinian com­munity by highlighting various aspects of Palestinian culture, to Tamkeen, a daily segment that hosts women from rural and marginalized areas who have started proj­ects through microfinance loans. By noon, the station transitions to heavier issues, such as domestic violence, poverty, and early marriage, targeting the housewives who tend to listen in at this time. The late afternoon show addresses issues related to Muasassat (NGOs), Eileh (family), and Iktisadiyat (economics). Topics include women’s rights in the workforce and how to launch social enterprise endeavors. Listen­ers are even encouraged to call in and ex­plain ideas that they would like to develop.

Despite NISAA FM’s rapid success, the radio station has had to work hard to sus­tain itself. As Gangat explained, “there are 43 radio stations in the West Bank, so you can imagine the competition for the lis­tenership and for the market share…. The economy is donor dependent and very volatile.” In an effort to reach out to even more women and augment their program­ming, NISAA FM has secured grants from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and other international organizations operat­ing in the West Bank. Last year, with the additional UNESCO funding, NISAA FM was able to train four community reporters who now work at the station on a volunteer ba­sis. Going forward, NISAA FM would like to hold focus groups with women to discuss their radio content. The station also hopes to extend their daily programming to 7 pm and add a Saturday weekend program.

Gangat was recognized in 2011 by the Palestinian Ministry of Women’s Affairs for helping to place women’s issues on the national agenda. As just one marker of women’s increasing empowerment, the proportion of women in Palestinian uni­versities has been growing, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statis­tics, such that there are now more women than men pursuing post-secondary de­grees. Maysoun wants to see that trend continue, and she believes that radio is the answer: “Radio is a cheap, accessible com­munication medium for all socioeconomic groups; it also has a personal approach, [is] mobile…and reaches remote areas.” Just as education has long been viewed as the “great equalizer,” Maysoun views the radio, and the wisdom that it can bestow, as the new great equalizer for women— whether these women reside in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank or the more urban neighborhoods of Ramallah.

Erin Biel ’13 is a Global Affairs & Ethnicity, Race, and Migration double major in Ezra Stiles College. Contact her at 

 This article appeared at The Yale Globalist

Rana Baker responds to Dawber’s article in The Independent: Misconceptions Abound On Gaza’s Women, Politics

By: Rana Baker for Al-Monitor Palestine Pulse

Posted on April 25.

It has become commonplace when reading about Gaza to come across descriptions of it as an “Islamist enclave” or “Hamas-controlled territory” and so on. In case someone exists who does not know what Hamas is all about, commentators make sure their readers understand that it is the “fundamentalist” group bent on the “destruction of Israel” and nothing else.

The Palestinians of Gaza, therefore, are often categorized as either ardent Hamas supporters or suppressed dissidents, including women, who receive the severest treatment imaginable, not only from the Hamas government, but also from misogynistic and backward average male residents. Such categorizations are then followed by sweeping generalizations about each of these stereotypes. Whereas the Hamas supporters consist of “terrorists” and “bloodthirsty barbarians,” the dissents are seen as peace-loving minorities who seek neighborly relations with Israel, the occupying entity.

A recent example of such portrayals can be found in a feature story published in The Independent on April 13. In “Tales from Gaza: What Is Life Really Like in ‘the World’s Largest Outdoor Prison’?” the author alledges to provides “a small snapshot into life in Gaza.” Before he proceeds, however, he assures us that what follows are “testimonies” by people “who can rarely get their voices heard.”

At the start of six interviews, the author makes clear that all of those featured are men not because that was his intention — he is a Westerner who believes in gender equality after all — but because in his two and a half days in Gaza, he could not find a woman willing to speak to him “independently.” In fact, the only occasion when he had the chance to speak to a woman, he tells us, was in the presence of a male guardian, the woman’s husband in this particular instance. Hence, while he was able to “give voice” to men, his attempts to do the same for women were all thwarted.

Such assertions play into Orientalist notions. This usually results from foreign journalists coming to Gaza with a set of preconceptions about the place and its people and then seeking to confirm them rather than verify them. While Gaza is, indeed, no haven for women or anyone else, there are thousands of educated women who are willing to speak for themselves and do so in every field, from medicine, theater, and politics to fishing and farming.

Just a few months ago, a play written by the renowned Palestinian writer Samah Sabawi was read at one of Gaza’s cultural centers, which continue to thrive despite Israel’s ceaseless attempts at cultural de-development. Nearly all the participants who performed the play were women, as was the case with the vast majority of the audience. They were not accompanied by husbands, brothers or fathers in order to attend or to perform.

Events like this, however, hardly ever make it into the mainstream media. Moreover, any mention of a considerable number of women going out without a hijab instantly provokes expressions of surprise by those who have only heard about Gaza through mainstream and particularly Western publications. To say women in Gaza are also allowed to drive would sound like a lie to many ears.

Women are not the only part of this story. To claim that Gaza is “Islamist” automatically dismisses the existence of the leftist and secular groups there, most of which denounce religion in its totality. Homogenizing “life in Gaza” could not be more obvious than in The Independent feature.

Of the six interviews the author conducted, one was with a Hamas official, while four were with blue-collar male workers, and the remaining one was with an unemployed man. Despite being at odds with Israel, five of them belong to the category of “ready to forget the past,” has no problem inviting former Israel prime minister Ariel Sharon for coffee, and even views Yitzhak Rabin — the man behind the Iron Fist that broke hundreds of bone in the lead up to and during the first Palestinian intifada — as a man of peace.

With the exception of the Hamas official, the interviewees followed suit in reiterating the same unconditional desire to achieve peace with Israel that one might think no other viewpoint existed. At the same time, they viewed Hamas as the primary source of their distress. Israel was seen as only secondary to their everyday ordeal.

That no evidence was provided to challenge the views in question suggests that there is none — just as the author claims to have found no women able to speak to him. Thus, portraying the residents of Gaza as a homogenous people who all experience life in the same way is condescending at best and Orientalist at worst. The views expressed in the article are undeniably extant but do not reflect the reality.

Israel, which has launched two deadly assaults on Gaza in less than five years, is rarely perceived as a friendly entity. The vast majority of the politicized and non-politicized segments of Gazan society are not ready to “forget the past” that continues to shape the lives of 1.1 million local Palestinians officially registered as refugees at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

Rana Baker is a student of business administration in Gaza and writes for the Electronic Intifada

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