Author: BBC Media Action's Geraldine Sweetland, originally posted on March 8 2017 - To celebrate International Women’s Day 2017 (whose theme is #beboldforchange) – we take a closer look at some of the inspirational female characters (past and present) from our TV and radio drama around the world.

Drama is just one of the ways in which BBC Media Action works to empower women and girls, help them adopt healthier (sometimes life-saving) practices and opens up discussion on important issues around health, resilience and gender equality.

The following fictional characters from our radio and TV dramas in Syria, Nepal, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, South Sudan and India – have one thing in common. They bring strong and complex female characters to the airwaves, help raise women’s voices, ‘turn up the volume’ on women’s participation in public life, and act as inspiring role models for women and girls.

The quest for gender equality isn’t over – but as you will see from these kickass female characters - drama is a great way to show what it can look like!

India: Kitty

“My father had just one regret in life that I’m a girl…”

Kitty is one of the key characters in AdhaFULL (which means ‘half full’ in Hindi), a TV drama exploring many of the trials teenagers face while growing up in India. Kitty will prove to anyone that girls and boys are equal. A free-spirit, full of ‘josh’ (unbridled energy in Hindi), breaks every boundary that ties her down as nothing is ‘impossible’ for her.

Syria: Archi

“She’s escaped with her life – but her restaurant, has been completely destroyed in the blast. Gazing back at the ruins, Archi has already resolved to rebuild what she has lost…”

Businesswoman Archi – played by actor Najwa Kondakji - is a feisty and determined character in Hay el Matar (Airport District), a BBC Media Action radio drama. Set in a fictional city suburb in Syria, it follows the daily lives of residents as they cope with the impact of prolonged war.

One young listener living in a refugee camp in Lebanon told us he could relate to Archi’s resolve to revive her business. “I feel like I have her determination too.” 

Ethiopia: Warite

Ethiopian radio drama Golaafala (meaning ‘solution from within’ in Oromiffa), revolves around 18-year-old Warite. Played by actor Hanna Adem, Warite is a sparky young woman who enjoys her life, despite facing hardship. After her father is murdered Warite leaves school early to care for her sick mother and the cattle on their farm.

When a character is rushed to hospital with a serious lung problem Warite and her two male admirers look for practical solutions – such as using stoves and lamps that use ‘cleaner’ technology and improving ventilation in the home.

The drama – which forms part of a project called Air We Breathe - shines a light on indoor air pollution in Ethiopia.

Nepal: Maala

Maala is the dynamic narrator of Katha Maala (Garland of Stories) – a radio drama helping people in Nepal to rebuild lives following the devastating 2015 earthquake. In the first series Maala goes from door to door selling milk – helping people she encounters - and in series two, she trains as a mason to rebuild homes in her village, a job traditionally undertaken by men.

Listeners describe Maala as ‘inspiring’ and a ‘role model’ and say her practical advice and can-do spirit is a reminder to them to take action within their communities.

Bangladesh: Anika

“She is really good at her studies. Why do you want to marry her off at this age?”

Anika is the hero of Ujan Ganger Naiya (Sailing Against the Tide) a TV drama devised by BBC Media Action in Bangladesh. She’s a clever, confident young woman who is married at the age of 16 despite wanting to finish her education. Despite her early marriage, she decides to train as a health worker.

The drama – which aired for three seasons – raised awareness of the importance of regular antenatal check-ups, birth preparedness and newborn care. Our research showed that viewers knew more about antenatal care than non-viewers and were more likely to plan antenatal check-ups.

South Sudan: Mama Sunday

Life in Lulu is a popular weekly radio drama broadcast across South Sudan. Lulu is a fictitious village home to a variety of colourful characters.

A central figure in the drama is Lulu village elder, Mama Sunday, a woman everyone looks up to. She is the village peacemaker. Her role is truly tested when people displaced by the conflict in South Sudan set up camp across the river from Lulu. This dynamic sets the stage for much drama, as tensions rise, misunderstandings and rumours flare up between the new residents and villagers. Peace on both sides of the river is threatened and only Mama Sunday can bring harmony, inspiring peace through dialogue and encouraging understanding of difference.

“What I have learnt is that women contribute a good idea when it comes to issues of resolving issues. It was a woman who came of an idea that led to resolving issues that aroused between the community of Lulu and the people across the river”. Male research participant, Torit.

Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their work. 

Image credit: BBC Media Action

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