UNESCO, through the O3 programme, created the “Let’s Talk EUP!” radio drama that is currently aired across the ESA region. The “Let’s Talk EUP!” campaign is a social and behaviour change campaign to reduce Early and Unintended Pregnancy (EUP) across 21 countries in the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) region. The ESA region has one of the highest adolescent fertility rates in the world, at 102 per 1,000 live births. Many of these early pregnancies are not planned resulting in an estimated 21.6 million unintended pregnancies per year. The radio drama will be aired across most ESA region countries in 2022 and 2023.
Malawi was the first country to air the radio drama in the region and started in September 2022. Blessings Mpinganjira, a 28-year-old journalist for Times Group was the host of the “Let’s Talk!” radio drama in Malawi on Times Radio. Out of 20 million Malawians, Times Group estimated that the radio reached more than 10 million people in the country.
Blessings accepted to share with us her experience of airing such an impactful radio programme. “For the longest time, I have been interested in doing programmes concerning children and women. I mostly did TV programming before and worked for two other media. The UNESCO programme “Let’s Talk EUP!” has been the biggest programme that I have hosted since I joined the Times Group last year. That was one of the biggest projects for me, especially in the radio section.”
Advocating for the rights of women and children is really close to her heart: “I'm the last born of a family of three. I was raised by a single mother, and that's where the motivation to do women’s programmes came from. Being in Malawi and being a woman raising three kids by herself has been a hustle for my mother. For a lot of women in Malawi, even if they are married, it is hard to raise the family, talk with the kids and the husband. Most women in Malawi don't really voice out their issue.”
The “Let’s Talk!” radio drama gave an opportunity for women in Malawi to voice their issues: “The radio drama brings out the voice of women and girls. It is important not to forget girls because the radio drama covers topics that are hidden by society, including gender issues. Women in different communities listened to the radio drama on Tuesday. There is more work to be done because more women don't really voice out the numerous issues they are facing. The radio drama really helped to engage with a lot of women and girls and see the issues that they are going through and how we can help them out. Women could ask their questions through phone calls and messages, we gave them the answers on radio. That's how I was able to connect with women around the country because our radio is everywhere in Malawi. We would get calls from each side of Malawi. It's been a journey where a lot of women, but even men themselves, were interacting with us.”
The programme was helpful not only to women and girls, but also to men: “It has been a very good programme because it has now opened the way for not just women and girls, but also men to be able to know how to deal with issues that come with sexuality. In Malawi, issues related to sexuality are kept in the bedroom. It is secret and taboo. You cannot discuss it in front of people. Women are not supposed to voice out their issues when it comes to sexuality, so I feel the programme has really helped. It has broken that barrier for women and girls that now have more knowledge about sexuality education. A lot of people have changed their minds. I'll give you an example of a man who called us from the northern part of Malawi in Karonga. This man actually said it was hard for him to open up with his children when it comes to sexuality education. But soon after the programme, now he's able to talk with his children about this.”
Girls got empowered thanks to the positive messages of the radio drama, but much more has to be done. “Across the country, girls are now able to make decisions when it comes to sex and their bodies. It has been a very positive programme that offers a constructive perspective. Moving forward, we still need to empower women so they can speak out because I feel like men still dominate these issues. Women don't really come out to talk about how they feel. They think sexuality is dominated by men. Men are the ones who still make the decision when it comes to sexuality, but I feel like there's more to be done. Especially we need to do more to empower girls and women so they can stand up for themselves. They can still make a decision, and if they become pregnant after delivery, they can go back to school. In rural areas, if girls find out that they are pregnant, they don't go back to school. Through the “Let's talk EUP!” programme, I could see parents, especially men, say when a girl is pregnant, it doesn't mean that she should be treated like an outcast. We just have to be patient with her. She delivers and she goes back to school. I feel like this programme has really changed mindsets.”
“I'm so happy because, through the radio programme, we reached the whole country. We also got calls from people from Zambia and Mozambique, so it seems it's not just Malawi that has benefited from it. People from the communities in the rural areas were not really familiar with these subjects, they had less knowledge about comprehensive sexuality education and how to make decisions. They were thinking that a man is supposed to be the one making all decisions in a relationship, even if it is a boy. We addressed this specific question in the radio drama: who is supposed to take the lead in a relationship. A girl also has the power to say no to sex, if the boy in the relationship is asking for it, she can say no and it's not a bad thing.”
The radio drama helped clear up harmful misconceptions: “In the radio drama there is a character that thinks she could not get pregnant because she was having sex while standing up. There were similar misconceptions in Malawi. For example, we received a text message from Mangochi (where there is a big lake), the person thought while having sex in the lake the girl could not get pregnant. We made sure those misconceptions are addressed as well as the taboo around sexuality education.”
Initially, the programme received more calls for men and not many calls from women. “We realized that it was because women don’t share their opinions on topics like sexuality and politics. There is more to be done when it comes to educating women to stand up for themselves because it's not necessarily that they don't stand up for themselves in other aspects. But when it comes to sexuality and politics, women in Malawi take a step back. They don't really want to be at the forefront of this, so I feel like there is a need for civic and sexuality education. It is important to target young girls in primary school because if we teach them at a young age to open up to these issues growing up, I feel like Malawi is going to have women who are always able to speak out any issues that is around them, not just issues to do with business or marriage. Comprehensive sexuality education can help them gain knowledge and confidence. This could also benefit mothers to be better able to open up to their children, boy or girl. You can tell them more about comprehensive sexuality education, so that when they grow up, they know about those subjects. Girls at a young age will be able to say: “this man wanted to rape me or abuse me, but I said no”. They will be able to speak up. As the programme was airing, we could see that more women were calling us. A lady from Lilongwe in the central region of Malawi shared that she got pregnant in secondary school, but she did not have the confidence to go back to school. I know that the programme helped girls who got pregnant. It instilled confidence and gave them this hope that good things can happen to them in life. It is important that girls have that confidence to make good decisions about themselves, but also that the parents are able to open up with their children when it comes to sexuality education.”
Blessings was able to deliver the radio drama efficiently to different cultures and languages: “I am proud of myself because this was not an easy programme to implement. As a Malawian girl, I have been able to create a safe environment for girls and women to talk to their children about comprehensive sexuality education. It was a challenge incorporating everyone despite the different cultures and beliefs we have in Malawi. We have people from the Center, the North, the South, and our cultures and beliefs are quite different, but we incorporated all of them while making sure that everyone felt safe. I think that is why I was able to receive a lot of positive feedback that this programme has really changed a lot of people’s lives. We also faced challenges related to the language we could use. My producer and I thought of a way of convening the message that is going to be more comfortable. So that when a girl and his dad are listening to the programme, they will not feel ashamed. We were just trying to simplify it because some words like “sex” in English can be too strong in Malawi. We found a way to say that so no one can feel offended, we use a word from our local language Chichewa: "Kugonana", so everyone can be included. In my culture, if there is a scene on a TV and the people are kissing most of the time the parents would say that the girl needs to walk away. Because it's just uncomfortable for you and your parents to be watching such things on TV. I remember while growing up when these topics came up on radio, our mother would ask us to turn it off. It was central to make this programme culturally sensitive so it could reach all generations by using words that everyone will be able to listen to.”
Blessings recognized the positive impact not only for her country but also for her professionally: “It has boosted my career because I have never done a programme where I was able to interact with people like that. I think now I can do any other programme that involves talking to different people of different ages and different cultures. It is a plus to my career because it has made me more open-minded to people’s suggestions, people’s views, and how to respect them.”
Blessings Mpinganjira is proud of this project and ready to continue to engage in advocating for children and women: “It's been a very interesting journey, not just for the people that were listening to us, even for myself as a Malawian and as a woman, there are some things that I didn't even know. And I think moving forward we need more of these programmes, we need more of these engagements to ensure that we reach out to as many girls as we can. We need to reach out to a lot of girls but I also feel like we need to do more to engage the parents, the pastors and the politicians. Everyone needs to be incorporated to ensure that comprehensive sexuality education is everywhere in Malawi.”
Learn more about the “Let’s Talk!” campaign
The “Let’s Talk!” campaign was commissioned by the Technical Coordinating Group of the ESA Ministerial Commitment because Early and Unintended Pregnancies (EUP) are affecting an increasing number of adolescents throughout the ESA region. The ESA region has one of the highest adolescent fertility rates in the world, at 102 per 1,000 live births. Many of these early pregnancies are not planned, as evidenced by the high rate of unintended pregnancy in Africa at 89 per 1,000 overall and 112 per 1,000 in Eastern Africa, resulting in an estimated 21.6 million unintended pregnancies per year. The radio drama creates dialogue and opportunities to engage audiences on the issues of EUP through a medium that not just educates but entertains. There are three main areas of focus which frame the “Let’s Talk!” campaign, which are tackled in the radio drama and are intended to distinguish the core social and structural barriers that keep adolescents from effectively preventing early and unintended pregnancy. These are Health, Education and Rights. The drama address issues related to early and unintended pregnancy such as reproductive health, SRHR, contraceptive use; family planning; early onset of sexual activity; violence against women; and improvement of women’s reproductive health. Going forward, UNESCO, through the O3 programme, will continue the work with radio stations in Malawi through the diffusion of the Back-to-school series.