Introduction

Maysoon is creating the first accessible media platform in the Levant region that empowers women – long discriminated against – through positively portraying women as equal citizens, deconstructing taboo subjects about women and hiring women in otherwise male gender-controlled media industry.

Maysoon is establishing the first and only women run radio station and website in the Levant region in order to influence society’s negative perception of women and their exclusion from important jobs within the media industry.

Maysoon is using affordable and accessible communication medium for generating discussion about taboo subjects pertaining to women such as honour killing, early marriage, female genital mutilation and women’s exclusion from public life.

In contrast to predominantly male controlled radio stations and websites, Maysoon’s strategy also includes training women on non traditional jobs to become producers, anchors, technicians, managers and community based broadcasters. In addition to creating job opportunities, the programs which are designed and produced by and for women, promote concepts such as gender equality, gender rights, social and economic inclusion of women, diversity etc. Finally, and unlike most programs, Maysoon is promoting women as carriers of peace within Arab society.

Maysoon’s 96’NISAA FM is not just a station to promote women’s issues, it’s a statement that addresses structural problems causing women’s exclusion by breaking through the old male-controlled communication mediums and creating unconventional, but non-confrontational space for women to interact within society. By engaging men as equal partners Maysoon is also changing how other members of society perceive the position and status of women in the Arab region.

Media in the Arab world is associated with and controlled by men. Consequently, the male perception of women’s role and position is the narrative that is aired, which in turn reinforces traditional views of women. The male-controlled media does not create an inclusive platform to address many existing social problems affecting women, but instead contributes to maintaining the status quo. Furthermore, the current state of the media industry directly limits women’s economic role since the industry does not give women space to compete for jobs, which are tacitly reserved for men. Women are given opportunity to perform only few limited roles, such as anchors and presenters, reinforcing traditional stereotypes of women.

Media in the Arab region neither touches upon nor encourages discussion about many gender sensitive taboo subjects, such as domestic violence and female genital mutilation, among others. This has a myriad of consequences. When it comes to sexual and physical violence against women, a lack of awareness and education on the matter means that social phenomena, such as rape, are not properly understood. Consequently, a twisted reality has become the popularly accepted norm whereby women bear responsibility, and thereby become both the victims and perpetrators of crimes done against them.

The media commonly portrays women as victims and do not present, directly or indirectly, women as equal to men. The general image of women in media is often passive-negative, discouraging women from taking action or responsibility and adversely affecting the way they are viewed by the community. Arab women in the media are commonly presented as sufferers of violence, abuse and oppression, undermining their major contributions and successes. While there are many inspiring examples of Arab women’s important contributions to their families, communities and the wider society, the general trend when portraying Arab women is submissive; there is little attention given to women community leaders, politicians, professionals, scientists and experts. Critics confronted the focus on women’s bodies prevalent in the media and called for new images of women as leaders, specialists, organizers, mothers, wives and active participants in society. Consequently both genders are unaware of women’s rights and the true nature of women’s potentials, having very few role models of successful women.

In spite of many talk-shows and the interactive media, there has never been a constructive, accessible and affordable form of media that involved women and addressed women’s issues. The other shows serve mostly entertainment purposes, presenting women’s issues in a superfluous way, leading the viewers to ignore the importance of structural challenges facing women such as gender inequality.

Maysoon, a communication and media veteran herself, started the first English-language radio station in Palestine in 2005. It was closed down because of political reasons and Maysoon had several life options to choose from like going with her husband back to his home country or staying in Palestine to establish a family and children oriented radio station. Because of her commitment to women’s issues and her desire to address the structural problems women face in the media industry, she established 96’NISAA FM.

In 96’NISAA FM Maysoon designed the interactive program to include a mix of shows, investigative reporting, entertainment and practical information, which enables the station to fulfil its social mission whilst engaging its audience in a professional and attractive manner. The morning shows are produced and presented by a young female graduate, Nisrine, who comes from a refugee camp. Through her work in the station, Nisrine became a role model for young women in Palestine. The show includes five community reporters, who provide content for the show, covering marginalized communities, women’s issues and cases of successful women from different villages and cities. Once a week there are also interviews with Palestinian diaspora women and CSOs. The morning show ends with an entertainment segment that reviews books and films related to women. The noon show is a platform for various stakeholders to shed light on pressing social issues, such as domestic violence, polygamy, divorce and women’s access to the labour market. The afternoon discusses women’s economic status, women CSOs, and various topics such as travel, family, and men and health tips.

During the last 17 months 96’NISAA FM has stimulated community participation in the debate about gender inequality and women’s exclusion from public life. NISAA FM serves as a platform that connects listeners with citizen based organizations that can support them in different areas of their lives such as counselling for domestic violence, how to file for welfare, educational opportunities and job training. For example, during the shows women can call in and ask for advice, share their opinions, receive legal advice and relevant support for situations that might arise during their day-to-day routines. Another example is including men in discussing taboo subjects like honour killings and domestic violence. By doing so, Maysoon expanded on the diversity of stakeholders engaged and gave credibility to the opinions presented in her programs.

Maysoon’s strategy also includes using 96’NISAA FM to endorse unconventional employment opportunities in the media industry. The station opens opportunities for women to become producers, camera persons and technicians not only developing their skills, but also fighting gender-stereotypes in the labour market.

Maysoon is continually developing partnerships with government bodies to increase her impact and influence to create change. Officially, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, which is in charge of policy changes within the government for issues related to women, is a main partner. Maysoon has formed an extensive network of partners including local CSOs such as Filistaniyat (meaning Palestinian Women), The Human Rights & Democracy Media Center “Shamps”, Women Technical Committees, and the Media Centre of Birzeit University. Maysoon also offers the Business Women’s Forum her expertise in holding their advertising and PR campaigns and connects them to women professionals through her radio stations.

To ensure success Maysoon is creating a new monitoring tool that will allow her to measure the impact of 96’NISAA FM programs on the advancement of women issues. Maysoon’s goal is to expand to other countries in the region such as Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt in the next 3 years. In order to achieve that she is designing 3 expansion models; by creating branches of NISAA FM in Jordan, by franchising her station in Lebanon, and by training and partnering with women’s organizations in Egypt.

Although 96’NISAA FM is a commercial radio station and website, Maysoon has committed to reinvest all profits in the expansion and the strengthening of NISAA FM in the coming 10 years. This would include setting up a fully run women news room, creating more job opportunities for women in media, enrolling the community reporters on NISAA’s fully paid staff and providing internships and scholarships in media for female students.

Growing up in occupied Palestine without her father who was killed in the 1967 war, Maysoun hardly has any recollection of him. She was raised by a very strong mother who refused to re-marry and opted to raise her four children alone. This could be the experience of any Palestinian family or child, but Maysoun was taught to defy all obstacles and find creative ways to overcome them. Failure was not an option in her upbringing. Given her mother’s example living as a pillar of strength, Maysoun learned to believe in the power of women in society, what they are capable of, and that education can be a starting tool kit for a successful public and private life.

Maysoun moved on from her childhood in Jerusalem, characterized by the difficulties of living under occupation, to explore abroad and pursue her university studies in France and the United States. She then worked at the South African Representative Office in Ramallah and learned from the South African experience and their struggle. After marrying a South African Diplomat, she started her career in media in South Africa, while raising a boy, Adam, who is now 6 years old.

Even though Maysoun could have continued living abroad, she chose to move her family to Palestine so that she could do something to give back to her country. In 2005, she started “RAM FM,” the first English radio station in Palestine. Unfortunately, it was closed down in 2008 by the Israeli government and Maysoun, along with five other colleagues were arrested. After her release, Maysoun fought to continue her work and started NISAA FM 17 months ago.

Maysoun is not only a courageous woman with exceptional passion and a strong set of ethical values from her mother, she is also a successful media professional who has won the attention of many in the field. Maysoun was honoured by the Palestinian Ministry of Women’s Affairs and invited to several regional and international events to present her radio outlet and its achievements including the Women’s Forum in Deauville in October 2010 and the International Conference of Women Media Leaders in Washington D.C. in March, 2011. YannBorgstedt, ASN Member from Switzerland, recommended her for the Ashoka Fellowship.

This year, Maysoun was selected as the 2011 Arab Social Innovator amongst a small group of social entrepreneurs supported by Synergos, which have offered her support in the form of a mentorship program and access to professional networks. With Ashoka, she hopes to gain invaluable experience from the organization’s much longer history working in the region and large global network of professionals, consultants, and social entrepreneurs who can help her with business plans and market segmentation to scale up and expand her reach across the Arab region.

Maysoon has committed to reinvest the station’s profits for the next 10 years in ideas and projects related to women empowerment and education in media. This would include setting up a fully run women news room, creating more job opportunities for women in media, enrolling the community reporters on NISAA’s fully paid staff and providing internships and scholarships in media for female students.