Victor Kaonga – Malawi

Date: September 2, 2015
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The gender mainstreaming journey has seen me writing a will

Victor Dagha Kaonga is a seasoned Malawian journalist and the National Director at Transworld Radio. (TWR). TWR is the oldest privately owned Christian radio station in the country. Interestingly, Kaonga’s name is not as famous as the radio programmes that he has been doing over the years.

But how is this so? Kaonga is fond of running radio columns using a pseudonym, hence many people associate with the programme and the voice as opposed to the character.

“We (my wife and I) are currently running a radio programme called Waboliwane (my wife) in which we tackle various social issues and gender features highly in it,” soft spoken Kaonga says. “We have never disclosed our identities to our audience and very few of our listeners know the characters behind the microphone.”

Kaonga recalls that when he first shared the idea with the rest of the team at TWR, many “gave him a look of disapproval,” thinking that the programme would not work. “Although not to my face, some members of staff even laughed at me,” says Kaonda. “Many thought it was absurd for a man like me to start a programme and talk about marital or family issues on air under the ‘My Wife’ banner.”

Over time, Kaonga says, the programme has amassed a huge listenership to the extent that listeners started demanding that it was unfair to call the programme “My Wife” and yet she was never featured on the programme. This compelled Kaonga to convince his wife to be part of the programme. “Probably this was another gender lesson for me,” Kaonga says jokingly.

His wife reluctantly accepted because she is not fluent in Tumbuka (the language used in the programme) and she had never been on radio before. This is what happened to Kaonga when she started featuring on the programme: “partnering with my wife has not only added value to the programme, but it has also made me not only talk about gender, but live it as well”.

As National Director, Kaonga says he wears three hats at the institution. “I am the shepherd of all the employees of the institution. I do not only mentor many, but I also provide strategic direction about the institution”, explains Kaonga. “Secondly, I am a shepherd for the listeners and I always ensure that they are getting the right products at the right time. Last but not least, I am responsible for all the partners and the people that contribute to making sure that we are always on air and giving the people the products they desire from TWR”.

Kaonga says his position of influence has given him many opportunities to mainstream gender and put in place deliberate measures to do this. “There was a time that we hired a female driver and many could not believe it because perhaps it was unexpected for a Christian institution to hire a female in such a role,” he recalls.

Kaonga says while he started championing gender issues way back in 2004 through HIV and Aids reporting, a 2011 encounter with Gender Links’ Media Centres of Excellency project strengthened his muscle and has seen him take gender issues this far. He says soon after the Gender Links’ gender mainstreaming training sessions that were facilitated by Pushpa Jamieson around that time, he began putting in place mechanisms that would ensure that gender was mainstreamed.

He, however, recalls that it was not a rosy process. “Since most Christian values that govern the institution have for a long time been less accommodating of women, I met some pockets of resistance when I started even talking about gender issues. Many, including the then leadership at the institution, did not see the importance of mainstreaming gender. There was a mixture of acceptance and resistance. But as the course was designed to resolve issues that I had come across or experienced in my life, I had all the resources to soldier on.”

Interestingly, Kaonga says, the process of mainstreaming gender at the institution has not only changed the face of the institution but his life as well. “My gender mainstreaming journey has seen me writing a will, something that I never thought I would do before,” he says.

Kaonga feels he is driving the institution in the right direction now that gender mainstreaming has gone beyond the media content and into the institution’s structures as well. He considers it a success that an institution that had never had a female board member a few years ago, now has five women out of the eleven members and its current chair is a woman.


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