How have female radio presenters tapped into the power of the radio and used it to improve their personal wellbeing and their effectiveness to accomplish social change?

Susan Bakesha


Doing research about and with women requires one to understand their lived realities and experiences. This is what I have come to learn through my GRACE 2 project titled, “How have female radio presenters tapped into the power of the radio and used it to improve their personal wellbeing and their effectiveness to accomplish social change?”

My research demanded that I build rapport and gain the confidence of my respondents before conducting any interview.  My expectation was that as media people, it would be easier to obtain information from my respondents.  However, even after getting the permission to have the interviews, each my of the respondents was hesitant to share their stories.

I was later to learn that although people working with the media demand information from the public, they themselves are not ready to share their information about their lives to the public, due to the fear of being misrepresented and their private lives exposed to the public.  To them this was a major threat to their lives, friends and families especially if it was negative. Publicity was often interpreted as encroachment to their privacy.  This fear was also reflected in their working environment, seated behind closed doors of their well guarded studios.

I also learned that public policy plays a major role to either facilitate or constrain freedom of expression and interaction between the media practitioners and the public.  The time I did my field work was after a series of demonstrations that had taken place in Kampala and other areas in the central region.  The media and especially FM radio stations were under the careful scrutiny of the government. The reason being, the FM radio stations had played a major role in what government termed as ‘inciting the public against government’.  Five radio stations in Kampala had been closed down and some of the presenters were arrested and lost their jobs.  Government threatened to close any radio stations that held discussions or reported on the ongoing crisis and banned all public debates commonly known as the ‘bimezas’.

Through the research, I have learned that although modern ICTs have opened up new opportunities for women in terms of employment, networking and visibility, success in the industry is greatly influenced by the gendered social expectations.  For instance, to be a successful radio presenter, one is expected to have a ‘good, audible and appealing’ voice, be creative, confident, knowledgeable and fluent in the language the programme is aired in, and be flexible to work anytime during the day or at night.   The questions to ponder are: can women compete favorably with men given these criteria? If not, does this then create other forms of gender inequalities?  What does it take for a woman radio presenter to fit into these qualities and succeed in her job?


I employed different research methods. The dream drawing exercise was one of the methodologies that I used to enable respondents to share their personal journey as radio presenters, relating it to their experiences and professional development.


   Participants engaged in a dream drawing exercise

Participants in one of the focus group discussions

The focus group discussion proved a better forum where respondents opened up and discussed new issues and experiences of female radio presenters. During the discussions, individual perceptions of their jobs and experiences were shared as respondents reflected on their conditions and terms of work in relation to their empowerment and personal development.  The discussions also brought out the existing social stratifications experienced by the respondents and how it affected their professional relationships. 


Left:respondent presenting her programme Right: Susan conducting and in-depth interview with one of the respondents


Babirye interacting with some of the beneficiaries of her programme
initiative of providing bursaries to school children


Related activities:

As a researcher and Head of the GRACE Africa Secretariat, the GRACE project has given me an opportunity to interact with people working on related projects through different events.  I have participated in the following activities:

a) The Acacia Research and Learning Forum, 4th -8th October 2009 in Dakar Senegal:

The forum attracted about 150 Acacia project partners from Africa. The forum provided participants an opportunity to share their experiences and research findings on the role of ICTs in facilitating development in Africa and influencing policy. The GRACE project was represented by 6 participants including Ineke Buskens the Project Director/Leader, Susan Bakesha- Head of Africa Secretariat/Researcher, Gisele Yitamben (Cameroon), Kiss Abrahams (Zambia), Alice Wanjira (Kenya), Ibou Sane (Senegal) and Comfort Kazanka (Nigeria).

GRACE actively participated in all the forum sessions which included plenary, workshop and group discussions.  The GRACE group work discussed questions of how to prevent gender discrimination in the knowledge society and made recommendations on the way forward.

GRACE also showcased its research work and publications including the book titled, African Women and ICTs: Investigating Technology, Gender and Empowerment and the GRACE MENA poster.

b) The GRACE book launch in Kampala, 11th February 2010: This was one of a series of launches of the GRACE book, African Women and ICTs: Investigating technology, gender and empowerment.  I organized and coordinated the launch which gave publicity to the book as well as raised the profile of the GRACE project. The function was attended by the Uganda Minister of state for ICT, the deputy vice chancellor, Makerere University as well as representatives from civil society and the media.

L-R: Susan Bakesha,Prof. Grace Bantebya and Prof. Lillian Ekirikubinza,
The Deputy Vice Chancellor, Makerere University at the launch

L-R: Prof. Grace Bantebya, Hon. Alintuma Nsambu-Minister of State of ICT,
Susan Bakesha, Head GRACE Africa Secretariat officially launching the book.

Participants contributing at the book launch discussion

  1. The IFIP – African Voices conference held in Makerere University, Kampala Uganda on 22-23, March 2010: The conference was intended to provide a forum for discussion of ICT research approaches and findings that emerged from and are relevant to African contexts.
  2. The MENA Sharing and Writing workshop, May 25- 6th June 2010: The sharing and writing workshop for the MENA group provided me an opportunity to interact with the researchers from the MENA region and also create the linkage between them and the Africa group. I also participated as a resource person and delivered a presentation and tutorials on the Invivo, a qualitative data analysis package to the participants.


Participants at the GRACE-MENA Tunisian
Workshop held in May 2010

  1. On 2 July, 2010 I held consultative discussions with the official, Mr. Enock Mugabi from the Grameen Foundation – MTN (Mobile Telephone Network) partnership project called Community Knowledge Workers (CKW).  The Community Knowledge Worker project is part of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) initiative whose main objective is to build a self-sustaining, scalable network of rural information providers who use cell phones to help close critical information gaps facing poor, smallholder farmers.  Mr. Mugabi identified GRACE on the internet and approached me as the contact person in Uganda to find out how CKW could learn from the GRACE work to develop appropriate strategies and approaches to ensure that poor women benefit from their interventions.






Grace is an initiative envisioned and funded by
the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), developed by Research For the Future (RFF) and managed by The GRACE Project Voluntary Association
Grace est une initiative initiée et financée parle Centre de recherches pour le développement international (CRDI), développée par Research For the Future,
et gérée par l'Association Volontaire Projet de GRACE .