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Gaza radio station gives a voice to refugees, women

In its first month on the air, Hawwa radio station based in Nuseirat refugee camp has tackled issues prominent in Gaza refugee camps and aims to encourage women to stand up for themselves.

On the air since the first week of August, Hawwa radio station in Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip aims to become the voice of Palestinian refugees, and women in particular. It is the product of years of preparation, efforts to find funds and volunteer work.

“I first had the idea to start a radio station in 2011, but it took me until 2013 to find the financial means to start online broadcasts,” Bahaa Abed, Hawwa’s director, told Al-Monitor. He had no money to pay for an FM broadcast band so he used the internet. Abed saved until he could afford headquarters and equipment, and since Aug. 5, the radio station broadcasts both online and on the air.

Hawwa (Eve) is the first radio station that targets women, children and refugees from Nuseirat refugee camp, which has been the home to displaced Palestinians since 1948.

Since Hawwa does not follow any specific political movement, it does not receive support from any party, and so the radio station is solely funded by Abed. For now, he said the station will rely on income from commercials. The 20-member team of presenters, talk show hosts and technicians all work as volunteers.

Since Nuseirat camp is near several other refugee camps in central Gaza — such as Bureij, Maghazi and Deir el-Balah — Hawwa also aims to cover topics that are important in these camps. Abed noted that he would like Hawwa to be the voice of at least a quarter of a million refugees.

“We want to broadcast to all refugee camps, especially since most camps are in low-altitude areas where the service is usually bad,” Abed said, noting that the radio station reaches listeners in Hebron city in the West Bank, as Nuseirat is close to the eastern border with Israel.

Social, political and even emotional issues in the refugee camps are high on the agenda of the radio station. Abed believes there are many issues in the camps that are not covered by mainstream media.

In addition, Hawwa addresses day-to-day issues from outside the refugee camps. “The residents of the Gaza Strip rely on radio stations for their news. Despite the daily power cuts, people can still access the news via radio applications through their cellphones. Radio devices are relatively cheap and only require a couple of batteries to function,” Abed said.

According to radio show host Ibtisam Abu Shamala, over a million followers tuned in on Hawwa’s website in the first week the station went on the air. “Our shows alternate between social and cultural topics, entertainment, health and sports,” Abu Shamala told Al-Monitor. She said that while they would report political news, this was in the form of headlines rather than in-depth analysis."

She added, “We broadcast three hours in the morning, three in the afternoon and three in the evening — during all of which we tackle different and important topics."

Hawwa gives a voice to refugee women to help them deal with the harsh living conditions and be productive members of society. It hosts strong women to help inspire listeners and overcome prejudices on what women can achieve.

Relationships are also high on the list of topics of discussion, and the relationship between men and women in eastern societies, especially in the Gaza Strip, is discussed frequently.

Abu Shamala noted that she focuses on the topics that are repeatedly raised in society, such as inheritance issues and difficulties experienced by women in Gazan courts.

Rawan Issa, who has been hosting the evening show on Hawwa for three months now, told Al-Monitor that she often discusses topics to show women in a different light and to break stereotypes.

“Some women do not dare talk about crucial family issues, thinking they have to follow their husband’s opinion. This is one of the most important topics I address, and I try to host guests with powerful opinions who express their readiness to take charge and change some of the negative aspects of our society,” she said.

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