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7 musts when creating successful radio and TV programmes to address child marriage

Girl Rising organises screenings to promote girls’ education in communities across Africa. Photo credit: Crystal Stafford, IMA World Health and Girl Rising

For more insights into how entertainment – education can address child marriage, read our solutions brief.

A growing number of organisations are harnessing the power of mass media – TV, radio, internet, etc. – to tackle sensitive issues affecting girls’ rights, including child marriage. But designing successful radio and TV can be challenging. We asked several organisations with experience in this area for their advice.

1. Understand what’s stopping behaviour change

First things first, says Development Media International (DMI). “Carry out formative research across your target communities to understand the obstacles to changing behaviour.” DMI runs a family planning radio campaign on eight radio stations across Burkina Faso. The campaign includes messaging about the harms of child marriage.

Once you understand the barriers to change, you can incorporate them in your script, explains DMI. “There is legislation in Burkina Faso to prevent early marriage, which many people may not be aware of. So we’ve used the promotion of this legislation and the possible penalties as a lever to promote change”.

2. Invest in high quality

Or in the words of Garth Japhet, co-founder of the Soul City Institute: “Be as good as, if not better than anything else on air”. It does not matter how powerful your message is if no one is watching your programme!

The secret lies in the writing, according to the Population Media Centre (PMC), a Girls Not Brides member working to improve the health of people using entertainment-education soap operas on radio and TV. Virginia Carter, drama trainer at PMC, explains: “Adherence to the entertainment-education methodology is important, but if placed in a drama that is dull and predictable, you’ll get almost nothing by way of social change because no one will listen.”

Oxfam Pakistan, which uses entertainment-education to address violence against women and girls, says you will need “a local team of scriptwriters” and that as a responsible NGO you must “stay on top of the process”, checking that “situations are real and not over romantic” or that “characters act, dress and speak according to real life local situations”.

Oxfam Pakistan also uses street art to raise awareness of violence against women and girls. Photo credit: Oxfam Pakistan.

3. Choose the channel and time wisely

You cannot have an impact if your audience is not exposed to your programme, says Population Media Centre. “Choose a medium (radio, television, Internet, print, etc.) to which your audience has access, and a time and channel which is popular with them. […] If funding constraints require using a channel not widely consumed by your audience, promote the programme extensively.”

4. Build your characters strategically

Characters are essential to draw people in and convey the right messages. Oxfam Pakistan recommends incorporating three types of characters:

  • Negative characters who are punished for their behaviour;
  • Positive characters who are rewarded for their behaviour;
  • Transitional characters who go from negative to positive values and behaviours. They are meant to be aspirational and mirror the audience’s own life, taking them through a process of change.

A young girl listen to a radio programme by the Population Media Center in northern Nigeria. Despite the rise of digital media, radio remains a channel through which millions of people around the world get their news and entertainment. Photo credit: Population Media Center via Flickr.

5. Make sure you seek local input

Girls Not Brides member Girl Rising uses mass media to spark conversations about girls’ education within communities. They explain: “As an international organisation, we depend greatly on local input to ensure the content is culturally and contextually relevant. It’s worth remembering to make sure translations are checked multiple times before sharing to a new place and that content meant to scale is shared with focus groups.”

6. Ensure that high quality services are available

Make sure services are available before pushing out your campaign or it may result in backlash, warns Population Media Centre. If you’re trying to promote uptake of family planning for instance, make sure these services are available.

They explain: “Communication programmes can change behaviours in a positive way – but only if the infrastructure that is needed exists and is accessible to the target audience. If the promoted services are not readily available, a communication campaign can actually backfire by increasing frustration.”

7. Consider partnerships

Girl Rising has had to be creative and collaborate with others to reach new audiences. Here’s their advice: “Consider how to bring your content into a place where the audience might not expect it. For example, we broadcast a Public Service Announcement series in movie theatres. People did not go to the cinema intending to hear this message, but the media was there to make it part of their day-to-day conversations.”

For more insights into how entertainment – education can address child marriage, read our solutions brief.

This blog was originally published in 2017 to mark World Radio Day. It relates to Goal E “Learning” of Girls Not Brides’ 2017-2020 strategy. The goal is about ensuring efforts to end child marriage are based on evidence. Find out more.