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Palestine’s Maysoun Odeh Gangat Uses Radio To Smash Stereotypes Of Arab Women In Media

Posted: March 16, 2019

Through positive and empowering portrayals of women via her NISAA FM and NISAA network, Maysoun Odeh Gangat, is challenging stereotypes and changing views about women.

Maysoun Odeh Gangat was one of four siblings raised in Jerusalem, in occupied Palestine, by a widowed mother. She watched her mother’s struggle, and this informed her opinion of women as being strong and capable.

For her higher studies, she went to France and then the US. She worked at the South African Representative Office in Ramallah for a while, before marrying a South African diplomat and moving to South Africa. It was here that she began her career in media. She moved back to Palestine with her family in 2005.

She started her first English radio station RAM FM in Palestine, with a goal to “bring people together through music.” But it was shut down in 2008 by the Israeli government and she and her colleagues were arrested.

This however, did not discourage her. She took this as a learning experience and the opportunity to do something new. In her own words, “Six months after the closure of RAM FM, I set up NISAA FM. The challenge was a big one as I brought a new concept to radio in Palestine –a specialized radio station focusing on gender and gender inequality.”

Maysoun had noticed that the stories being told about Arab women in media, always portrayed the negatives in their life and portrayed them as victims or as submissive people. With NISAA FM, she brought the positive stories to the fore, of inspiring women from all sectors, women in refugee camps, both young and old, housewives, students, and working women. “There were radio stations with programs for women before we launched, but it was programs about cooking and health. We don’t want to undermine these topics, because they are important, but we want to show a bigger picture. We came up with the idea of portraying the positive role of women in our society instead of always the gloomy side, and that it could be an inspiration for other women,” Maysoun explains.

The interactive programming of NISAA FM, includes talk shows, investigative reporting, entertainment, and practical information, such as legal advice about their rights as women. The morning shows are produced and presented by a young female graduate, Nesrine, who is from a refugee camp. This enables them to convey their message in a lively manner that engages the audience. In 2018, one of their programmes Taswaq, helped 24 women entrepeneurs to increase their sales through a free advertising campaign. The music they play is carefully chosen to ensure that they do not undermine the status of women in society.

Instead of viewing digitization as a threat, Maysoun and her team have embraced it. One of their shows, a radio serial titled B100Ragl is now presented as an animation series on the internet. It features a female journalist, Noha, who encounters a wide range of social issues.

The teaser for the first episode of the third season, for instance, shows Noha having to deal with her boss, who thinks that women’s issues are “weight loss and skin whitening” and patronizingly asks her to focus on those instead of on social issues that are “boring and depressing.”

In 2016, Nisaa Broadcasting Corporation and the Womanity Foundation, in partnership with Bank al Etihad of Jordan, launched Nisaa Network. NISAA Network is a centralized multimedia platform for media outlets, civil society organizations, and leading personalities, who work together to “create and share inspirational, gender-inclusive media content; enhance the voice of women in the public sphere; and foster their career perspectives in the media.”

These efforts are surely having an impact. For example, after honor killings were discussed on NISAA FM with the presence of a religious figure, a sociologist, a CO representative, and a government official, government actors were convinced that the penalty for such a crime should be strengthened.

“There are not so many women leaders in the media industry; I mean decision-makers. If there were, the whole industry would shift in favour of women. We still see women mainly as beautiful faces, and the content is more determined by men. I’d like to see that change,” Maysoun says.

She has received multiple awards for her work. She has a Synergos Fellowship, and an Ashoka Fellowship. She was among those awarded “Social Entrepreneur of the Year,” in 2015 by The Schwab Foundation of Social Entrepreneurship. She has been recognized and awarded by the Palestinian Ministry of Local Government and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. She was also the recipient of President Mahmoud Abbas’s Award: Palestine Cavalier in 2016.

Rasha Allam, professor of journalism at the American University in Cairo, opines that stereotypical images of women as weak, docile, and subservient persist throughout the Arab world. The Arab media have helped to perpetuate these stereotypes in various ways.

In fact, globally, the way media represents women needs to change. As per this 2015 report of the Global Media Monitoring Project, women make up only 24% of the persons heard, read about or seen in newspaper, television and radio news, exactly as they did in 2010. In fact this invisibility of women has crossed over into digital news delivery platforms as well. Only 4% of stories clearly challenge gender stereotypes, a one percentage point change since 2005, and news that acknowledges women’s participation in economic life is still lacking. We will have to wait for the 2020 report to show how much has changed in the five years since, but these statistics give us an idea about how we can do better.

We all know and understand the power of the media. Its capacity to change minds and to bring about change is indisputable. This is why Maysoun’s work is so important.

The theme of International Women’s Day, 2019, which falls on March 8th, is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change”. #IWD2019

With women still a minority in science, technology & related innovation, it’s time to shine a spotlight on female innovation champions! Enjoy our Women Innovators Around The World series, where we profile 19 inspiring women innovators, from 19 countries, whose work has a big social impact.

Want to know what other innovations women around the world have pioneered? Read about Reet Aus here.

Image source: YouTube

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