MAYSOUN ODEH GANGAT

Target Population:
Palestinian Territory,

Maysoun Odeh Gangat persevered to start the first commercial Arabic-language women’s radio station and website in the Levant region, called 96 NISAA FM (meaning women). She is empowering women in and through the media. Maysoun provides a platform for all actors (public, private, and government) to discuss women’s issues and creatively engages both men and women in solution-oriented discussions about pressing issues relating to women. Next, she creates role models by employing and training women media students and professionals in a male-dominated industry, transforming women from media consumers to media producers.

This profile below was prepared when Maysoun Odeh Gangat was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012.

INTRODUCTION

Maysoun Odeh Gangat persevered to start the first commercial Arabic-language women’s radio station and website in the Levant region, called 96 NISAA FM (meaning women). She is empowering women in and through the media. Maysoun provides a platform for all actors (public, private, and government) to discuss women’s issues and creatively engages both men and women in solution-oriented discussions about pressing issues relating to women. Next, she creates role models by employing and training women media students and professionals in a male-dominated industry, transforming women from media consumers to media producers.




THE NEW IDEA

Maysoun’s idea is to empower women through the use of media by transforming their view of themselves and how they are viewed by and presented in regional and global media. She also works from within her radio station to inspire role models of women media professionals to increase the number of women working as top professionals in the media field. Thus, Maysoun is empowering women on all fronts and addresses all stakeholders to work on advancing women in society and improving her image. Maysoun’s systematic and inspirational approach to women’s issues gradually changes the perception of Arab women amongst themselves and within society, by highlighting the positive role of women in their community and presenting a fresh image of the multi-faceted, Arab woman, who has always been a strong pillar of support in the community, but can also make a profound difference for herself and those around her. Maysoun eliminates the common stereotype of women as victims. As one of the few female, top media professionals, Maysoun established 96 NISAA FM the only station run by and for women. The streaming is also available online making it accessible to listeners in the MENA region and Diaspora, connecting people together in one comprehensive platform focused on one goal, improving women’s quality of life and dissolving the gender gap in political, social, and economic participation of women.

Maysoun’s media platform combines interactive entertainment programming with social and informative journalism to engage both men and women alike and involve both in the process of transformative change. Improving women’s status in society betters the lives of everyone. Maysoun reaches men and women at different social, educational, and economic levels through radio because of its wide reach and affordability in all communities including refugee camps and remote areas. Maysoun also informs and inspires Palestinian women in the media sector by providing successful role models—including herself and her staff—and offering training opportunities for female journalists. She will be hiring more women media professionals as she expands geographically covering Gaza and elsewhere. Thus, Maysoun gives a new face to women and cheerful voice to Palestine, much needed inspiration and upbeat programming to relieve the stresses of living under occupation. She exposes the richness of Palestinian culture and the diversity of women in the region, which are the positive counterparts of conflict.   




THE PROBLEM

The image of women in media is often negative, discouraging women and adversely affecting the way they are viewed by the local and global community. Arab women are commonly portrayed in the media as victims of violence, abuse and oppression, undermining their major contributions and successes. Misperceptions and misrepresentation of women have been embedded in regional and international media for decades. Critics confronted the focus on women’s bodies prevalent in the media and called for new images of women as mothers, wives, and active participants in society. Most of the Arab media don’t present—directly or indirectly—women as equal to men. Women are most presented in images that reflect daily life through featuring women in the Arab world as submissive wives “happily” using the products being sold. There is too much of a focus on housewives and too little attention given to women community leaders, politicians, professionals, scientists, and experts. 

Women in the Arab World face a number of serious problems. One of them is their limited mobility. The reasons for that vary from territory to territory, being it in Palestine because of endless checkpoints, roadblocks and separation wall, or in other countries of Levant because of cultural and social norms. The limited mobility makes it harder for women to communicate, access information, network, and seek job opportunities.

Even though women in the Levant constitute a very large percentage of the student bodies of schools and universities, increased educational opportunities for women have not translated into higher numbers in the labour market. Women are getting higher education, but are still unable to access as many jobs as men. The unemployment in MENA region is alarming, and it is in particular affecting women. Only 25.2 percent of region’s female population aged 15 and above participates in labour market. Except in low-income economies where women work primarily in agriculture under conditions of poverty, they tend to find jobs in the services sector, which in the Arab world is characterised by low productivity and low remuneration.

A low participation of women in the society, public sphere and in media means less opportunities and less decision-making power for women, causing a vicious circle where women are even more marginalized and voiceless, which is more emphasized by low presentation of certainly existing role models and successful female figures. The lacking and inaccurate image that women are taught about themselves and have internalized over decades is a major impediment to advancing women’s status. Thus, Maysoun’s positive reinforcement of success stories of women in the region is extremely useful to reversing this negative trend. Increasing the number of women working in the media field as top professionals, in Maysoun’s own station, creates new role models inspiring more young women to do the same. Usually, women are given inferior assignments and less serious topics as compared to men, who are chosen to report on political changes and conflict zones. Maysoun’s radio station proves that women are equally as capable as men at producing, reporting, and presenting difficult issues.




THE STRATEGY

To achieve her goal of a Levant region that is proud and inclusive of women -giving them equal rights and opportunities to participate fully in civic and political life- Maysoun chose radio as her tool because of its accessibility to a large audience at a low cost. Maysoun presents inspiring role models of women in the region from all sectors, women in refugee camps, both young and old, housewives, students, and working women. 96 Nisaa FM began in Ramallah, Palestine, and expanded to further locations, including the Northern territories, with many marginalized communities. Maysoun’s comprehensive strategy is systematic and orderly both in geographical expansion as well as its diverse programming bringing all stakeholders in one place to bring about real changes from within the community and through government support.

Maysoun designed her interactive programming to include a mix of talk shows, investigative reporting, entertainment, and practical information, which enables the station to fulfil its social mission whilst engaging its audience in a professional and attractive manner. The morning shows are produced and presented by a young female graduate, Nesrine, who comes from a refugee camp. Through her work in the station she became a role model for young women in Palestine. The show includes, five community reporters, who provide content for the show, covering marginalised communities, women’s issues, and cases of economically successful women from different villages and cities. Once a week there are also interviews with various Diaspora women and COs. The morning show is concluded by an entertainment segment that reviews books and films related to women. The afternoon discusses women’s economic status, women COs, and various topics such as travel, trivia, family, and men & health tips. The noon show is a platform for various stakeholders to shed the light on pressing social issues such as domestic violence, polygamy, divorce and women’s access to the labour market.
 
Through the show, women get legal advice and relevant support for situations that might arise at home, at work or elsewhere. Maysoun is altering the traditional views by presenting the news and other programs to the community under a new light. She does that through the lens of women journalists addressing issues from the perspective of a woman. For example, after honour killings were discussed on Maysoun’s radio station 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.

Furthermore, Maysoun also plays an important role in responding to a real hunger for knowledge and the need of information that can truly help transform the lives of women by providing useful information to help them flourish rather than simply survive. Nisaa FM serves as a platform that connects listeners with COs that can support them in different areas of their lives, such as; counselling for domestic violence, how to file for welfare, educational opportunities and job training.

While there are two other women radio stations in Egypt and Iraq, Maysoun’s station is the first and only station operating on a commercial model, airing both online and on air, while addressing women’s issues from a non-traditional approach and encompassing men in the process of change. Furthermore, Maysoun’s radio station is unique for its non-confrontational discourse when talking about serious issues, which diffuses criticism and covers all facets of the issue catering to local needs and beliefs. After only 15 months of being on air and online, Maysoun’s 96 NISAA FM managed to climb to number 3 according to the Ministry of Interior ranking across the Ramallah Governorate out of 20 stations and number 5 according to a ranking by PALTEL. The website gets about 600 hits per month and the radio’s Facebook page has around 946 fans and 20 SMSs and calls per hour, which reflects a high rate of interaction and engagement from listeners.

Maysoun is continually developing partnerships with government bodies to increase her level of impact and change. Officially, the Ministry of Women Affairs that is in charge of policy changes within the government for issues related to women is a main partner. Maysoun has formed an extensive network of partners including local COs such as Filistaniyat (meaning Palestinian Women), the Human Rights & Democracy Media Centre “Shams,” Women Technical Committees, and the Media Centre of Birzeit University. Maysoun also offers the Business Women’s Forum her expertise in holding their advertising and PR campaigns and connects them to women professionals through her radio station.

Building such an extensive network of partnerships was followed by a series of challenges that Maysoun had to overcome. She faced some concerns from the community claiming that women’s dedicated programming will alienate men. She successfully provided counter arguments showing how instead of excluding men, she is actively engaging them by relevant topics like family life and men’s health, inviting them to participate in the discussion, and including them in the process of change for women that will have positive ramifications on their lives as well. Another obstacle for Maysoun was to find the proper frequency for her radio, since settlers in the West Bank are not subjects to the Palestinian law and have set up pirate and illegal radio stations. She conducted many field visits to ensure her reach.

In the next five years. Maysoun will continue to diversify her funding sources, strive to generate income, and eventually become self-sufficient, which is the reason she chose a commercial model rather than a non-profit. In the first year, Maysoun generated $25,000 in revenue followed by a big jump to $80,000 in the 2nd year, which is a great success that she hopes to build on until she reaches full sustainability, covering her expenses and hiring more journalists to expand her geographic coverage. Funding sources include cash, in-kind donations, pro bono services, advertisements, and programme sponsorships from private sector companies, public announcements for government agencies to support the expenses of running the station allowing her to expand geographically.

Maysoun is working on a monitoring tool that will measure the extend of her impact through the number of indicators such as number of women working in media and in Nisaa FM, number of COs working on similar issues as Nisaa FM, number of local community initiatives and COs that want to collaborate with Nisaa FM, number of listeners, number of advertisements (especially from the business sector), and replication scale of Nisaa FM in the Levant region.




THE PERSON

Growing up in occupied Palestine without her father who was killed in the 1967 war, Maysoun hardly has any recollection of him. She was raised by a very strong mother who refused to re-marry and opted to raise her four children alone. This could be the experience of any Palestinian family or child, but Maysoun was taught to defy all obstacles and find creative ways to overcome them. Failure was not an option in her upbringing. Given her mother’s example living as a pillar of strength, Maysoun learned to believe in the power of women in society, what they are capable of, and that education can be a starting tool kit for a successful public and private life.

Maysoun moved on from her childhood in Jerusalem, characterized by the difficulties of living under occupation, to explore abroad and pursue her university studies in France and the United States. She then worked at the South African Representative Office in Ramallah and learned from the South African experience and their struggle. After marrying a South African Diplomat, she started her career in media in South Africa, while raising a boy Adam who is now 6-years-old.

Even though Maysoun could have continued living abroad, she chose to move her family to Palestine so that she can do something to give back to her country. In 2005, she started “RAM FM,” the first English radio station in Palestine. Unfortunately, it was closed down in 2008 by the Israeli government and Maysoun along with five other colleagues were arrested. After her release, Maysoun fought to continue her work and started NISAA FM in 2009.

Maysoun is not only a courageous woman with exceptional passion and a strong set of ethical values from her mother, but she is also a successful media professional who has won the attention of many in the field. Maysoun was honoured by the Palestinian Ministry of Women’s Affairs and invited to several regional and international events to present her radio outlet and its achievements including the Women’s Forum in Deauville in October 2010 and the International Conference of Women Media Leaders in Washington D.C. in March, 2011. Maysoun was also selected by Synergos as an Arab Social Innovator in 2011. 




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