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Women Opening Up to Baghdad Radio Station
By Mona Mahmoud
They want to be heard.
A woman called to say she had been beaten by her husband so much she feels like killing him. Another woman said she was afraid of her husband at the outset of her marriage, but she has learned to assert herself. Now he is the one who is afraid.
Other women said they never wore a hijab but are now being forced to wear the head covering because of pressures or threats from newly powerful religious groups in their neighborhoods.
Launched earlier this year, al-Mahaba, which means "love" in Arabic, is the first independent women's radio station in Iraq. The format is a mixture of news, music and talk.
Ruwaida Kamal, 30, who hosts a program, said callers address a slew of personal and political issues that affect them as women, including family relationships and the wearing of head scarves. The station receives between 70 and 100 calls a day, says station executive director Ali Abbass Hamoudi, 42.
"Iraqi women suffered a lot," says Kamal Jabbar, 47, chairman of the station. "The radio station ... does not belong to any political party and helps women tell their concerns and opinions without fear."
Much of the broadcast now will focus on opinion and news about the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum. Some women fear that Shiite Muslims, the dominant political force, will bring back a strict form of Islamic law.
"The biggest problem for Iraqi society is women's rights, which have been confiscated by political regimes," Hamoudi says. "This radio station is the first step in recovering these rights."
It was launched with funding from UNIFEM, a United Nations agency that supports women's issues. The station broadcasts on 96 FM and has a reach of nearly 100 miles. It started broadcasting four hours daily and now is on the air for 18.
"Women are so happy to have their own radio stations to tell their stories and voice their ambitions and fears," says Kamal.
Lubna Ra'ouf, a regular listener, says the station is a great idea. "We feel that we are forgotten," she says.