Empowering working Palestinian women through radio

Palestinian women waving Palestinian flags during a march in the village of Nabi Saleh in the occupied West Bank on March 9, 2012. Women make up only about 16.5 percent of the workforce in the Palestinian territories, but one radio station is hoping to help change that.

Jeremy Hobson: Well here in the U.S., women represent almost half of the labor force. But in the Palestinian territories, the number is far lower -- which is where Maysoun Odeh comes in. She has started a radio station to get more women into the workforce.

She joins us now from Ramallah. Welcome.

Maysoun Odeh Gangat: Hello.

Hobson: I noticed that right now, women make up about 16.5 percent of the workforce there in the Palestinian territories, which is actually well behind the 26 percent average for the rest of the Middle East and North Africa. How do you account for that?

Odeh Gangat: I think it's a weak economy in general. It's dependent very much on donor aid, so if there are some restrictions on access to this foreign aid, this affects the employment of men and women -- but specifically women in this case. I would also attribute this possibly to some cultural restrictions. We have a patriarchal society -- men are the breadwinners; in certain cases we have also women who are the breadwinners. But still we see that males are still dominating senior positions, especially in the private sector.

Hobson: Obviously you don't have to convince me of the power of radio, but tell me why you decided to start a radio station as opposed to a business or an organization that would try to help women become empowered in that area?

Odeh Gangat: The reason why it's radio specifically is because radio is accessible to everybody. As we know, it's a cheap medium. We like to talk at women in refugee camps or villages, because our social mission is directed towards women in those areas. Such societies have radios. It is a very personal medium. You can have your radio in the car, you can have it while you're having your shower, you can have it while you're preparing your dinner. So it's all over.

Hobson: Well of course radio knows no borders, so do you have listeners in Israel?

Odeh Gangat: Of course it knows no borders. I mean, listen -- by default, we hit Israel, as other Israeli stations reach the West Bank. We do not have any Israeli listeners because we broadcast in Arabic, but we do have possibly or maybe certainly some Arabs who live in Israel.

Hobson: Now I mentioned at the beginning that women make up 16.5 percent of the workforce there right now. What do you think you can get it up to with the work of your radio station?

Odeh Gangat: I mean, listen, firstly and foremostly, what we're trying to do: yes, increase the number of women in medium and senior positions; encourage the public and private sectors to absorb more women in the workforce, given that they are very educated, given that we have lots of qualifications for that. Let's hope for something like 25 percent or even 30 percent. If we can do that; after all, we are 50 percent of the society.

Hobson: Maysoun Odeh Gangat, who is the founder and CEO of NISAA FM in Ramallah. Thanks very much and best of luck with your station.

Odeh Gangat: Thank you Jeremy, and thank you very much for hosting us.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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