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A Rural Radio Program Is Encouraging Communities to Talk About Dowries

Dowry image

Dowry imageDowry-related violence against women continues to be an issue that affects many women and girls in Afghanistan. Numbers are hard to come by as disputes involving families are not usually reported. In Human Rights Watch 2017 World Report on Afghanistan, over 2,500 cases of domestic violence were reported in the first eight months of 2016, about the same as in the year before. If one were to include cases of dowry-related violence, one can safely estimate the numbers to be significantly higher. Despite the request for money by the bride’s family (known as the Walwar system) being technically illegal, increasingly high sums are demanded. Unfortunately, the practice is widely followed by communities and tolerated by local authorities across the country.

The producers of ‘One Village, A Thousand Voices’ (OVATV) set out to tackle an issue that is rooted in cultural beliefs and norms that has been passed down from generation to generation and is largely accepted as part of life.

“We knew this was going to be a tough storyline,” said OVATV scriptwriter Nadia Rasuli, “but it is an issue that affects everyone, in every community across the country and we felt it was important to let listeners know that there were other ways.” The dramatic storyline focused on a young man who, with the support of his family, village elders and religious leaders was able to negotiate with the bride’s family not to pay a large dowry.

The storyline clearly resonated with listeners. A listener, Mr. Alam Jan, said, “I found that the person who was in Qadir and Ahmad role was facing the same situation I was facing (they used) the power of elders and influences of the village…to solve what they were facing. This was a hint for me”. After several meetings between his father-in-law’s family and the village elders, Alam Jan was able to get the dowry reduced and finally arrange his wedding. After struggling for four years he is happy to be married and is now looking to the future: “I hope to be father within a few months.”

Having built the trust of its listeners, the popular Afghan radio drama OVATV decided to tackle the delicate subject of the dowry or Walwar system.

Equal Access’ (EA) OVATV community facilitators also focused on dowry legislation and violence against women. “Not having the basic legal knowledge and an understanding of what Islam says on the topic can leave people feeling ill equipped to take a stand against the dowry system,” said EA’s project manager. “When they know they have the law and God on their side, it certainly becomes easier.”

This was the case for Ms. Raihana whose daughter was assaulted by her in-laws after her family demanded a high dowry. Participating in the weekly OVATV listening circle sessions with other women in her village, Ms Raihana began to feel more confident. She said, “I participated in the sessions and got knowledge about several topics related to the rule of law…I tried to get justice for my daughter and finally succeeded in convincing my husband to reimburse the amount of 250,000 AFN to (our daughter’s) husband”. With the money that was reimbursed to him, their daughter’s husband bought a taxi and is earning money for the family and their daughter no longer suffers.

“It only takes one family or one community to inspire change in others” – Nadia Rasuli, Script Writer for OVATV

The system of Walwar continues, but the program team working on OVATV feels that opening up more conversations within families and communities is the best way to end the system and the suffering it causes. As Nadia states: “We want to use our radio program to show listeners that they have a choice and them support them to make that change through our listening circles. It may only start with one family or one community, but their stories will inspire others and eventually we hope the system will change.”

 

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