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Middle East/North Africa

Tunisia: "Being the voice of the People"

To date, the only way for Tunisians to get local news has been by word of mouth. But in Jendouba province, that's about to change. DW Akademie is helping an NGO set up an online radio service to broadcast local news.

DW Akademie Tunesien

Young radio novices brainstorming on reports for an upcoming online radio service

Tunisians have never read or heard stories about things happening in their own community. Five years after the ousting of the dictator Ben Ali, many regions still don't have independent local journalism. Although the Tunisian media today enjoy more freedom and independence than before, most of the country's journalists focus almost exclusively on national politics and events in the capital, Tunis. News from Tunisia's 24 provinces and stories about the people who live there remain an exception.

But that's now set to change - in Jendouba province for example, Tunisia's most northwesterly province. The local non-governmental organization (NGO) Rayhana is working there to promote women's rights and greater equality for women. With help from DW Akademie, fifteen Rayhana volunteers are aiming to set up a community radio outlet to broadcast regional news. DW Akademie trainer Sarah Mersch is helping prepare the young women for this new challenge. "It's important that people living here can find out about things happening in the region that directly affect them," says Mersch, who has been living and working in Tunisia for the past several years.

DW Akademie Tunesien

Promoting women's rights: Student Marwa Whibi will be working as editor for Jendouba's community radio

The community radio station is set to go "on air" this year - as an online radio service. Marwa Whibi, a student from Jendouba University, is taking part in the DW Akademie training to learn the tools of the radio trade. "I'm hoping that I and the other young women working on the project will become the voice of people living in the region who otherwise have no voice at all."

In various seminars participants practice interview techniques, discuss how to identify the appropriate interview partners and transform dry news items into lively radio reports. By the second day of training, Mersch is very optimistic. "I've seldom worked with a group that’s so motivated and quick to learn," she says.

Digital radio as mouthpiece and source of revenue

Professional use of audio-editing software is just one of the topics that Mersch and her co-trainer, Imen Ezini, will be focusing on. Thirty-year-old Ezini is editor-in-chief at Radio 3R (Radio Regueb Revolution), a community radio station in the province of Regueb in central Tunisia. Ezini herself is a graduate of a DW Akademie train-the-trainer program. "Well-trained female journalists can help tear down the walls that still exist for women here," she says with conviction.

Compared to the rest of North Africa, Tunisia is seen as being particularly liberal and progressive on women's rights, but huge problems remain, especially in the regions,” says DW Akademie country coordinator for Tunisia, Bernd Rössle. "Women in a rural province like Jendouba are doubly disadvantaged. The region offers little in the way of opportunities, jobs or infrastructure, and as women, they're tied down with children and families. They also often need permission from their husband or father to travel to another city." An important part of DW Akademie's country strategy in Tunisia is to give these women a distinct voice.

DW Akademie Tunesien

Jendouba online radio volunteers at their editorial meeting. It's still just practice, but the station will soon go on air

Working together with Rayhana fits into the concept, and the NGO has already made some progress on improving local women's rights. In Jendouba, for example, Rayhana has been organizing cultural events as well as a catering service that uses local products. This way, Rayhana aims to become more independent in the longer term. In addition to broadcasting about issues concerning women and girls, the journalists also want to reach other target groups and are working on ideas to develop the right mix of topics.

Strengthening civil society from the ground up

There are also other joint regional projects on the agenda this year. With DW Akademie support, Rayhana is planning to hold its own events and campaigns to highlight women's rights, and as a way to create an effective lobby group for women. The NGO also wants to get a clearer sense of its main target groups in order to better understand their needs and aspirations. To do this, says Bernd Rössle, the first step is to create strong and reliable structures within the organization. "The demonstrations across Tunisia over the past weeks clearly show that people are demanding better prospects," he says. And these, he stresses, have to be developed from within the country itself, inspired and promoted by organizations like Rayhana.

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